The best brief books on the art of living and dying

Who am I?

Loren Mayshark is the author of three non-fiction books. His first book Death: An Exploration won the 2016 Beverly Hills Book Award in the category of Death & Dying and was selected as the honorable mention recipient for the book of the year in the 2016 Foreword INDIES Awards in the category of Grief/Grieving (Adult Nonfiction). Mayshark has a BA in World History with a minor in World Religion from Manhattanville College.

I wrote...

Death: An Exploration: Learning To Embrace Life's Most Feared Mystery

By Loren Mayshark,

Book cover of Death: An Exploration: Learning To Embrace Life's Most Feared Mystery

What is my book about?

This book will help anyone who is interested in learning more about death, coping with a loss, approaching death, or explaining death to a child. It is an exploratory journey that includes multiple viewpoints, including Steve Jobs’s embrace of his death, Ray Kurzweil’s striving for immortality, and Joseph Campbell’s view of death as the “ornament of life.” The book looks at death from the perspectives of atheists, Christians, and Tibetan Buddhists, among many others. Interestingly, it considers the often unexplored aspects such as the curious relationship between death and ayahuasca. It is a guidebook, offering insights and comfort on a topic that many find frightening or macabre.

The books I picked & why

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The Bhagavad Gita

By Eknath Easwaran, Vyasa,

Book cover of The Bhagavad Gita

Why this book?

Mohandas Gandhi once said: “When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.”

This ancient foundational text from Hinduism had such a profound effect on one of the greatest men of peace in the twentieth century. There is so much to discover in this book about the world and the human experience.

Into the Wild

By Jon Krakauer,

Book cover of Into the Wild

Why this book?

Krakauer is a fascinating man and a great writer who has created a modern classic that tells an extraordinary story of youthful exuberance, pushing it to the limit, and ultimately loss. This book fascinated me as an adventurous young man filled with desire to push the limits and feeling that I had something to prove. There is much to gain from this slender volume. Also, it is one of the few books that I have seen turned into a movie that does not disappoint.


By Christopher Hitchens,

Book cover of Mortality

Why this book?

Hitchens was a man on a mission with a razor sharp intellect. These precious words written while Hitchens was losing a fatal battle with cancer are fascinating and he touches on some profound ideas. I was especially struck by the conviction of a man who was a staunch atheist unflinchingly prepared for a godless death. Hitchens was not only witty, but inspirational and courageous.

Tao Te Ching

By Lao Tzu, Gia-fu Geng (translator), Jane English (translator), Toinette Lippe (translator)

Book cover of Tao Te Ching

Why this book?

Rarely do I read a book more than once since I subscribe to the “so many books, so little time” school of thought. But this gem from ancient China is one of the most profound books of my lifetime, and I have been through it countless times in numerous translations. Since discovering it as a college freshman at the age of nineteen, it is hard to say if any book has had a greater impact on my life.

The book is only about 5,000 Chinese characters which translates to 9,000 words. Some say the Tao can be read in a day or in a lifetime. I started with a day, but now I realize that Lao Tzu’s Tao will be a mentor for life.

Becoming Enlightened

By Dalai Lama XIV,

Book cover of Becoming Enlightened

Why this book?

This is the longest book on the list and the one I have read most recently. I keep coming back to this book again and again for insights and inspiration. The ageless wisdom of the Dalai Lama comes alive in a book that is not only informative but is actionable. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism this gem not only is a deep dive into the philosophy of Tibetan Buddhism but it goes into the theme of Enlightenment in a way that I have never found elsewhere.

This book is filled with insights that reveal so much about the Dalai Lama and the ancient philosophy that governs himself and his people. There is something profound here to be discovered for anyone thinking deeply about life, death, Buddhism, and enlightenment.

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