The best books on death, medicine, and end of life care

Who am I?

As a physician, I have been in innumerable situations where people and their loved ones were facing off a serious illness but felt like they were completely lost. The reality of the end of life is nothing like how we have experienced it throughout our history. I have written about end-of-life care for the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic amongst others, but felt that this was such an important and vast issue that it deserved a deeper dive. My research also focuses on end-of-life care and I was able to weave a story presented through stories, historical texts, and research papers in a way that readers will feel like they have a map of just how life and death have evolved with scientific advances and a changing society. It doesn’t hurt that I trained at Harvard Medical School and Duke University, providing me the best environments to shape my views and perspective.

I wrote...

Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life

By Haider Warraich,

Book cover of Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life

What is my book about?

As a physician, on an almost daily basis, I have countless encounters with patients and family members who find themselves in some of the most difficult circumstances in their lives. Many of them find themselves facing death, an experience that they find completely alien and foreign. The fact is that how we die these days is diametrically different from how we have died as a species for our entire history.

Modern Death provides a historical and scientific review of how death and dying have evolved over the past few decades and provides an in-depth overview of the landscape of the end of life in our society. I tackle some of the basic questions of death – the whys, wheres, whens, and hows – but also some larger questions. Technological and social changes have made death and dying completely unfamiliar terrain for most people. I wanted to write something that would spread this message beyond the four walls of my clinic or hospital.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Why did I love this book?

Atul Gawande is a surgeon, a staff writer for the New Yorker, who wrote this influential book inspired by both his work at the cutting edge of medicine and as a son with ailing parents. His work forces us to confront our mortality, and the health system designed to provide a false promise of immortality.

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Being Mortal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?




For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's…

Book cover of How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

Why did I love this book?

Sherwin Nuland wrote How We Die in the 1990s and this book won the National Book Award. In this genre, How We Die was the first major book reframing how end-of-life care was changed with the advent of modern medicine. While a bit out of date already, it remains a seminal read in this space from an authoritative surgeon and historian.

By Sherwin B. Nuland,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How We Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER • NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The definitive resource on perhaps the single most universal human concern: death.

Even more relevant than when it was first published, this edition addresses contemporary issues in end-of-life care and includes an all-embracing and incisive afterword that examines the state of health care and our relationship with life as it approaches its terminus. How We Die also discusses how we can take control of our own final days and those of our loved ones.

"Nuland's work acknowledges, with unmatched clarity, the harsh realities of how life departs… There is compassion, and often…

Book cover of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Why did I love this book?

Cancer is one of the leading killer of people, and has become an iconic disease of our age, cutting many lives short. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize winning book provides an inside look at how we have come to better understand this disease and curb its effects for many, but not all.

By Siddhartha Mukherjee,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Emperor of All Maladies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Guardian First Book Award 2011

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Non-fiction 2011

Shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize 2011

Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize

In The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee, doctor, researcher and award-winning science writer, examines cancer with a cellular biologist's precision, a historian's perspective, and a biographer's passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with - and perished from - for more than five thousand years.

The story of cancer is a story of human ingenuity, resilience and perseverance, but also…

When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi,

Book cover of When Breath Becomes Air

Why did I love this book?

Paul Kalanithi was a young neurosurgeon diagnosed with a terminal illness who took to the pen to describe the last of his days in a stirring memoir that was eventually finished by his wife after his untimely demise.

By Paul Kalanithi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked When Breath Becomes Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Rattling. Heartbreaking. Beautiful.' Atul Gawande, bestselling author of Being Mortal

What makes life worth living in the face of death?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade's training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi's transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity - the brain - and…

Book cover of Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

Why did I love this book?

Barbara Coombs Lee is a nurse, lawyer, and leader of the movement to promote assisted death in the United States and around the world for people with terminal illnesses. Lee is a patient advocate at heart, a position she embodied given her work as a nurse. In this book, she provides a humane, eye witness view of what she saw as a nurse that inspired her to spark a movement that strives to give patients control over their bodies and medical decisions.

By Barbara Coombs Lee,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the President Emerita/Senior of Compassion & Choices, THE guide to achieving the positive end-of-life experience you want and deserve.It’s hard to talk about death in America. But even though the topic has been taboo, life’s end is an eventual reality. So why not shape it to our values? FINISH STRONG is for those of us who want an end-of-life experience to match the life we’ve enjoyed. We know we should prepare, but are unsure how to think and talk about it, how to live true to our values and priorities, and how to make our wishes stick.The usual advice…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cancer, end of life care, and quality of life?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cancer, end of life care, and quality of life.

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