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

The Books I Picked & Why

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

By Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Why 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.


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How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

By Sherwin B. Nuland

How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

Why 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 While a bit out of date already, it remains a seminal read in this space from an authoritative surgeon and historian.


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The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

By Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Why 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.


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When Breath Becomes Air

By Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

Why 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.


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

By Barbara Coombs Lee

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

Why 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.


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