Best Books About Death

woman reading dark book

Why read books about death?

In our culture, death is a topic that most people avoid until it’s touching their lives personally. It could even be said that conversations about death and dying are taboo. Unfortunately this results in many of us not being ready for the death of a loved one, or confronting death ourselves when the time comes.

In hopes of advocating for healthy conversations about death to become the norm, we’ve compiled some of the highest rated books about death and dying. In addition to advocating for education and transparency around the process of planning a funeral, we also believe in encouraging healthy, collaborative conversations about death and dying.

How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter

By: Sherwin Bernard Nuland

Like many authors who write about death, the author of How We Die has extensive experience in the healthcare industry–meaning he has seen death first hand as part of his regular daily author of this book, Sherwin Bernard Nuland was a surgeon, with an emphasis on bioethics and the history of medicine. His book explores the current state of healthcare, and our relationships to the end-of-life experience. 

His book focuses on seeing death as a natural course of nature, rather than the enemy of life that should be avoided at all costs. 

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By: Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande, another practicing surgeon offers advice from the perspective of an  author who has spent much of his career in close proximity to patients and families dealing with the realities of mortality. 

In order to gain a comprehensive perspective on the topic of death “He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic, and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about.” 

When Breath Becomes Air

By: Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air explores a neurosurgeon’s exploration of what makes a meaningful life, in the face of death. 

Paul Kalanithi wrote this book while facing his own mortality after a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. His memoir gives readers insight into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of someone grappling with questions about life and death from the standpoint of a neurosurgeon, as well as someone facing death themselves. 

The Lost Art of Dying: Reviving Forgotten Wisdom

By: L.S. Dugdale

Dr. L.S. Dugdale, a Columbia University physician who specializes in medical ethics and the treatment of older patients, is uniquely knowledgeable about the end-of-life experience. 

After reading a medieval text on dying well during the European outbreak of the Black Plague, she was inspired by ancient wisdom on thoughts about death and the art of dying. In her opinion, far too many of us “die poorly” in a culture that has over-medicalized death, hiding it in sterile institutions, prolonging it with intrusive interventions, and avoiding it at all costs without considering the downsides.

In The Lost Art of Dying, she argues that we don’t have to die without dignity, but in order to do that, we must live well. Pulling wisdom from the medieval text which inspired her book (ars moriendi—The Art of Dying) she provides best practices for a life well lived, resulting in a more dignified death.

Life After Death: The Burden of Proof

By: Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra, a leading voice in the world of alternative medicine (or mind-body medicine) tackles the universal question of what happens when we die. Unlike many of the other authors on this list, his book explores more of the spiritual and metaphysical possibilities of what death might hold for us. 

If a deep exploration into the possibilities of the afterlife intrigue you, this book is likely where you’ll want to start. 

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