From the effects of the American Civil War, philosophical words of wisdom, historical accounts of death, African American experiences of dying, and personal accounts of loss, we’ve compiled a list of books on death and dying that touch on many facets of the human condition. Let us know your favorite books about death and dying in the comments below!
*Just so you know, all of the books were selected by the TalkDeath team. We are not receiving compensation from any of the authors or publishers to promote their products. TalkDeath may however collect a share of sales through the affiliate links used – which is a great way to support us, and we appreciate it!
More Books About Death and Dying
This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War – Drew Gilpin Faust
The American Civil War was a defining moment for America, with its repercussions still felt today. More than 600,000 soldiers lost their lives and the survivors struggled to reconcile the unprecedented carnage with their belief in a benevolent God. Religion, funerary practices and body preservation techniques were just some of the fundamental changes brought on by the Civil War. Drew Gilpin Faust reveals the ways that death on such a scale changed a nation.
How to Die: An Ancient Guide to the End of Life – Seneca
Nothing says ‘how to live your life’ quite like advice from someone who lived before electricity or the miracle of the internet connected fridge. All joking aside, the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BC–65 AD) wrote about death a lot, and his wisdom has finally been collected, edited and translated by James S. Romm. How to Die is a volume full of wise words and is a reminder to “study death always.”
The Work of the Dead – Thomas Laqueur
Why do we care about the dead? This question lies at the heart of Thomas Laqueur’s book The Work of the Dead. Diogenes and Socrates may have told their followers to leave their bodies to rot after their deaths, but the reality is that humans care deeply about the remains of the dead. Through an examination of Church history, politics, mortuary science, art, poetry and more, Laqueur seeks to recover the work that the dead do for the living.
Death (The Art of Living) – Todd May
Death (The Art of Living) is a philosophical treatise by Todd May. When we think about death, many of us find ways to avoid the inevitable. May asks us to confront death head-on. Socrates once said that the goal of a philosopher is learning how to die. Todd May wants us all to be philosophers, and see life and death through a new lens.
From Here to Eternity – Caitlin Doughty
In her latest book, Caitlin Doughty traveled the world to discover how cultures care for the dead. Doughty shares stories and funerary histories from Indonesia, Bolivia, Japan and North America. Illustrated by Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is a must read.
The Butchering Art – Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris
Before the advent of anesthesia, successful surgeons were fast and strong, or at least that was the best you could hope for. In The Butchering Art, historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris details the shocking world of nineteenth-century surgery and the evolution of medical care in early modernity. The only book that will make you want to hug your doctor the next time you see them.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – Atul Gawande
Named the Book of the Year by The Washington Post, The New York Times Book Review, NPR, and Chicago Tribune, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal is a tour de force. Gawande looks at the history of medicine, and its refusal to properly address death and dying. He argues that a good life, not only a good death, should be our ultimate goal.
My Father’s Wake – Kevin Toolis
My Father’s Wake by Kevin Toolis is a powerful exploration of mortality, loss, and Western death denial. Kevin Toolis describes the hurried anxieties, confusion and pain inherent within the experience of the death of the other. Toolis reminds the reader that while death is a collection of moments humans have experienced forever, it is nonetheless unique to those experiencing it.
Passed On: African American Mourning Stories – Karla FC Holloway
If you read our article about the race and the funeral profession, you would know that like many others aspect of life, death is easily whitewashed. Karla FC Holloway examines the myths, rituals, economics, and politics of African American mourning and burial practices in 20th century America. A great companion to our guest post from Dr. Kami Fletcher.
Let’s Talk about Death (over Dinner) – Michael Hebb
Michael Hebb founded Death Over Dinner as a way to make having difficult conversations a little easier. His end-of-life awareness campaign is now internationally recognized, inspiring conversations around death and dying at the dinner table and beyond. Death Over Dinner is a guide on how to start your own conversation, with practical and spiritual advice.
Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner – Dr. Judy Melinek
Dr. Judy Melinek began her training as a forensic pathologist two months before September 11th, 2001. Her memoir is pretty incredible, detailing her years as a rookie, the 9/11 attacks, anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the crash of American Airlines flight 587. Melinek’s page turner is a hard book to put down.
Hungry for more? Check out Part 1 of our series. Part 3 coming soon.