The best books to change your relationship with death and heal the Earth

Who am I?

I teach environmental education at Warren Wilson College outside Asheville, North Carolina, where I’ve raised my two daughters in a 900-square-foot campus rental with an expansive view of the Appalachian mountains. My students work in jobs ranging from managing the herd of cattle to growing vegetables for the cafeteria. After the sudden deaths of my parents, I decided to take this one-year journey to revise my final wishes with climate change and community in mind as a legacy to my children and my students. I’ve written five books, including the forthcoming Love Your Mother: 50 states, 50 stories, & 50 women united for climate justice (April 2023). 


I wrote...

Book cover of Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love

What is my book about?

As we consider end-of-life choices in a climate crisis, many of us long to leave a legacy that ensures a sustainable Earth for our loved ones and our communities. But where do we even begin? After the sudden deaths of her parents, Mallory McDuff found herself asking similar questions. She decided to research sustainable practices around death and dying, determined to honor their commitment to caring for the earth. For McDuff, an educator and environmentalist, what started as a highly personal endeavor expanded into a yearlong exploration of green burials, aquamation, conservation cemeteries, home funerals, human composting, and more. In the end, her story became a gift for her two daughters who gave input and reality checks about matters of life, death, and Earth. 

The books I picked & why

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The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

By Elizabeth Fournier,

Book cover of The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

Why this book?

I placed at least 30 post-it notes in this book as every page includes practical and compassionate advice for planning an affordable and sustainable green burial. This book’s pragmatic step-by-step suggestions were especially useful as I took my one-year journey to revise my own final wishes with climate and community in mind. The author operates the first green funeral home in the Portland, Oregon area, and she draws on her experiences to help you avoid exorbitant funeral expenses while helping the Earth and your community. 

The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

By Elizabeth Fournier,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Green Burial Guidebook as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Funeral expenses in the United States average more than $10,000. And every year conventional funerals bury millions of tons of wood, concrete, and metals, as well as millions of gallons of carcinogenic embalming fluid. There is a better way, and Elizabeth Fournier, affectionately dubbed the “Green Reaper,” walks you through it, step-by-step. She provides comprehensive and compassionate guidance, covering everything from green burial planning and home funeral basics to legal guidelines and outside-the-box options, such as burials at sea. Fournier points the way to green burial practices that consider both the environmental well-being of the planet and the economic well-being…


Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials

By Lucinda Herring,

Book cover of Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials

Why this book?

I was drawn to this book for its focus on stories about death care practices that empower family and friends to connect with the land and each other while honoring the dead. The author is a licensed funeral director who helped me understand what to do when someone dies and you want to care for the body at home, rather than at a funeral home. At first, my teenager wasn’t thrilled about the idea of a home funeral (“I’ll pay for a Motel Six!” she said), but these stories helped me reassure her that I could provide support to people to handle logistics and prepare a plan in advance. 

Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials

By Lucinda Herring,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reimagining Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Honor your loved ones and the earth by choosing practical, spiritual, and eco-friendly after-death care

Natural, legal, and innovative after-death care options are transforming the paradigm of the existing funeral industry, helping families and communities recover their instinctive capacity to care for a loved one after death and do so in creative and healing ways. Reimagining Death offers stories and guidance for home funeral vigils, advance after-death care directives, green burials, and conscious dying. When we bring art and beauty, meaningful ritual, and joy to ease our loss and sorrow, we are greening the gateway of death and returning home…


From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

By Caitlin Doughty,

Book cover of From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

Why this book?

I could watch mortician Caitlyn Doughty’s YouTube videos about death for hours. She’s like a stand-up comedian and tour guide in a cross-cultural journey about death practices across the globe. To research my own book, I turned to her adventures exploring sky burials and flame cremation worldwide, as well as embalming in this country as an interrogation into the practices of the conventional U.S. funeral industry. PS: I’ll never think about putting makeup on the dead in the same way again. Doughty’s storytelling strength is her use of specific details you’ll never forget. 

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death

By Caitlin Doughty,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked From Here to Eternity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fascinated by our pervasive fear of dead bodies, mortician Caitlin Doughty embarks on a global expedition to discover how other cultures care for the dead. From Zoroastrian sky burials to wish-granting Bolivian skulls, she investigates the world's funerary customs and expands our sense of what it means to treat the dead with dignity. Her account questions the rituals of the American funeral industry-especially chemical embalming-and suggests that the most effective traditions are those that allow mourners to personally attend to the body of the deceased. Exquisitely illustrated by artist Landis Blair, From Here to Eternity is an adventure into the…


Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

By Sallie Tisdale,

Book cover of Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

Why this book?

I turned to this book as a meditation on death and dying, which was written by an award-winning author who’s spent more than a decade working in palliative care and as a nurse. The first page of the book asks us to imagine our own death—and the details that follow. I appreciated the focus on preparing a death plan, much like a birth plan for a new mother, as well as advance directives. She helped me think about the question: What makes a good death and to what extent can we plan for it? 

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

By Sallie Tisdale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning writer and nurse Sallie Tisdale offers a lyrical, thought-provoking yet practical perspective on death and dying in this frank, direct and compassionate meditation on the inevitable.
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From the sublime to the ridiculous, Tisdale leads the reader through the peaks and troughs of death with a calm, wise and humorous hand. More than a how-to manual or a spiritual bible, this is a graceful compilation of honest and intimate anecdotes based on the deaths Tisdale has witnessed in her work and life, as well as stories from cultures, traditions and literature around the world.

As Tisdale explores all the…


Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis

By Robert Bringhurst, Jan Zwicky,

Book cover of Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis

Why this book?

A friend recommended this slim book of 100 pages that poses a profound and direct question: How should we live in the end times when the climate crisis threatens our very existence? How can we garner the moral courage to live with the responsibility our times demand of us—as individuals and in collective? These are heavy queries but the philosophical and poetic lens of the authors opens that space to approach the challenge with more grace than fear. Plus, it’s a book that can fit in your back pocket, perfect for walks outside when you’re thinking about life and death in uncertain times. 

Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis

By Robert Bringhurst, Jan Zwicky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning to Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Truth-filled meditations about grace in the face of mortality." -MargaretAtwood In this powerful little book, two leading intellectuals illuminate the truth about where our environmental crisis is taking us. Writing from an island on Canada's Northwest coast, Robert Bringhurst and Jan Zwicky weigh in on the death of the planet versus the death of the individual. For Zwicky, awareness and humility are the foundation of the equanimity with which Socrates faced his death: he makes a good model when facing the death of the planet, as well as facing our own mortality. Bringhurst urges readers to tune their minds to…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in funerals, environmentalism, and death?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about funerals, environmentalism, and death.

Funerals Explore 21 books about funerals
Environmentalism Explore 122 books about environmentalism
Death Explore 248 books about death

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Dark Archives, Body of Work, and The Silent Teacher if you like this list.