The best books on aging and end-of-life decisions and care

Karen Laura Thornber Author Of Global Healing: Literature, Advocacy, Care
By Karen Laura Thornber

The Books I Picked & Why

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life

By Louise Aronson

Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life

Why this book?

Professor-physician-writer Louise Aronson’s Elderhood is a powerful study of aging in the United States. The book argues passionately and convincingly for the necessity of integrating medical science and care for individuals of all ages, and especially those closer to the end of life. This impressive volume moves seamlessly among memoir, critique, the history and current state of medicine and medical practice, literature, popular culture, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, highlighting the importance of respecting and being inspired by individuals of all ages, as seeing old age as far more than bodily decline.


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The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor

By Arthur Kleinman

The Soul of Care: The Moral Education of a Husband and a Doctor

Why this book?

Professor and psychiatrist Arthur Kleinman’s The Soul of Care movingly explicates the practical, emotional, and moral aspects of caregiving. Based on Kleinman’s experiences as the primary caregiver for his late wife Joan after she developed early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, this book skillfully reveals caregiving – however grueling, however much about enduring the unendurable – as resonating with emotional, moral, and, for many, religious meaning, and ultimately enabling us to realize our humanity most fully. Moreover, inspired by the work of Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kleinman poignantly argues for the importance of recognizing care as a basic human right.


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Inheritance from Mother

By Minae Mizumura, Juliet Winters Carpenter

Inheritance from Mother

Why this book?

This expertly translated novel draws from the prolific Japanese writer Mizumura Minae’s experiences caring for her aging parents and eloquently exposes the vulnerability of women whose elderly family members require substantial care. To be sure, financial security mitigates precarity as does having professional caregivers who respect the family’s wishes concerning the medical treatment of their ailing loved ones. At the same time, Inheritance emphasizes that with so many younger individuals already overextended – whether because of their own health concerns, spousal conflicts, childcare responsibilities, employment challenges, and other factors – there are few reserves with which to compassionately care for others.


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Longevity Park

By Zhou Daxin

Longevity Park

Why this book?

This expertly translated Chinese novel tells the compelling story of a family in Beijing with an aging patriarch. Narrated largely from the perspective of the rural nurse hired to care for him, Longevity Park reveals the many difficulties facing Chinese individuals as they age as well as the difficulties facing Chinese families with an aging loved one. These challenges resonate with those of individuals and families globally, including pervasive stigmas against the elderly, particularly those who are not as agile mentally or physically as they once were; and the particular hurdles facing family members with their own mental health and other concerns. Zhou’s novel also eloquently describes the many hurdles facing healthcare providers.


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The Ones with Purpose

By Nozizwe Cynthia Jele

The Ones with Purpose

Why this book?

South African writer Nozizwe Cynthia Jele’s exceptional novel The Ones with Purpose features a family grappling with the death from breast cancer of their oldest sister, eldest daughter, wife, and mother Fikile. The novel depicts caring health professionals who plead with the family to take Fikile home where she can die peacefully, without further intervention. Fikile too begs her loved ones to let her go. But her mother cannot accept that her eldest daughter is dying. Jele’s novel depicts a caring family torn apart by cancer and highlights the importance of making certain that a family’s desperation does not augment the suffering of their dying loved one.


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