stack of death-related books

Recommended Reading List

We’ve been running our bi-monthly “Living Well, Dying Well” book club now since 2018, spanning genres from memoir and fiction to general non-fiction and how-to workbooks. We have touched on a wide range of topics from the dying and grieving process to specific concerns such as dementia, aid in dying, and the burdens of caregiving. And we try to balance the “dying well” side of things with the “living well” side, too. Friends frequently ask for our list so we will post it here and update it regularly.

Atul Gawande, Being MortalPhysician/philosopher on centering quality of life

Kathryn Mannix, With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of DenialPallative care expert dymystifies dying and end of life processes in lyrical style

Paul Kathanithi, When Breath Becomes Air Neurosurgeon writer reflects on the medical system and his own diagnosis

Margareta Magnusson, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning  — How to-style book on thinking about physical/psychological accumulation/cleaning

Kate Bowler, Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved  — Commentary from biblical scholar on Prosperity Gospel upon receiving her own cancer diagnosis

Bruce Feiler, Council of Dads  —  Memoir about collecting alternate adult figures for your  children in light of a diagnosis

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying  — Now-famous idea of the five stages of dealing with death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed  —Classic reflection on grief and faith after wife’s death

Caitlin Doughthy, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and other lessons from the crematory  — Twenty-something medieval historian goes to work in a crematorium

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking  Classic memoir probing the illness of her child and sudden death of husband

Frank Ostaseski, Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully  — Reflections on life after decades of bedside hospice

Jason Karlawish, The Problem of Alzheimer’s  — Non-fiction look at the history of the disease, treatment approaches, and fall-out in U.S.

Matthew Haig, The Midnight Library  — Sci-fi/fantasty novel about choices, regrets, and embracing life

Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner, Modern Loss: Candid Conversation About Grief. Beginners Welcome. Handbook/short stories on grief

Amy Bloom, In Love  — Memoir centered on her husband’s diagnosis and choice to go to Switzerland to exercise their end of life option

Kate Washington, Already Toast  — Journalistic look at caregiving in America

Barbara Lee Coombs, Finish Strong: Putting YOUR Priorities First at Life’s End  — How to-style book on thinking through end of life planning

Robert Waldinger and Marc Shultz, The Good Life: Lesson’s from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness  — Leaning into the Living Well side of the group’s title, lessons from the Harvard longitudinal study on wellbeing

Bruce Greyson, After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal About Life and Beyond  — Narratives and attempts at scientific explanations of near death experiences

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life  — More leaning into the Living Well side of the group’s aims, exercises on intentional life planning around purpose, meaning, and wellbeing

Oliver Sacks, Gratitude  — Slim volume of four short essays written at the end of Sack’s life. The prolific neurologist and author captures the sense of what it means to have lived well and to face death with gratitude and wonder

Hayley Campbell, All the Living and the Dead With a thru-line from the author’s own life, each chapter touches on another occupation that centers death and teaches something about life in some way.


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