The best books on loss that do more than make us cry: they inspire us, teach us, help us uncover our own quiet strengths

Who am I?

Loss, with its many contours, finds us all. For me, it came quite unexpectedly. During a long decade of profound grieving, I found inspiration in books. Through real characters and fictional ones, I learned and questioned and found strength. Adversity should evoke more than sadness. When we cheer for the characters on the page, we learn about ourselves. These are books that have helped me dig deeper into my own loss and to live fuller. I start with The Right Stuff because I know what it means to be married to a test pilot and to get the knock on the door. Loss does not have to be the end.

I wrote...

Flight through Fire

By Carol Fiore,

Book cover of Flight through Fire

What is my book about?

On October 10, 2000, an experimental test aircraft crashed on takeoff, dragging a wing, before turning into a fireball. Barely alive and suffering horrific burns, test pilot Eric Fiore was the only survivor hauled from the wreckage. He has asked his wife to promise him something.

Based on actual events, Flight through Fire is an unforgettable love story centered on a deep devotion to aviation. Deftly interweaving the past and present, the author takes the reader on a wondrous adventure around the world with a complicated and passionate man who was born to be a pilot. Insightful, brutally honest, and unexpectedly humorous, this is the story of what it takes to be a test pilot, and what it costs to love one.

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The books I picked & why

The Right Stuff

By Tom Wolfe,

Book cover of The Right Stuff

Why did I love this book?

It seems incomprehensible that I didn’t read this book until my test pilot husband died. He’d applied to NASA, just before the plane crash.

This book is popular in the aviation community because Tom Wolfe nailed it—the pilot lingo, the tall tales from the cockpit, the egos, the spot-on descriptions, and mostly, the brilliance and love of adventure. I’ve spent most of my life around pilots (I’m a licensed private pilot) and Wolfe gets it. He is an extremely talented writer who helped bring Chuck Yeager’s ultra-cool bravery into the mainstream. Wolfe traces the successes and horrific failures of the early NASA program, weaving characters together in a way that is more action fiction than true life. This book will change the way you look at airplanes and the people who fly them. 

My late husband was buried with his tattered copy of The Right Stuff.

By Tom Wolfe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Right Stuff as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A wonderful novel and perfect book club choice, The Right Stuff is a wildly vivid and entertaining chronicle of America's early space programme.


'What is it,' asks Tom Wolfe, 'that makes a man willing to sit on top of an enormous Roman Candle...and wait for someone to light the fuse?' Arrogance? Stupidity? Courage? Or, simply, that quality we call 'the right stuff'?

A monument to the men who battled to beat the Russians into space, The Right Stuff is a voyage into the mythology of the American space programme, and a dizzying…

Book cover of Autobiography of a Face

Why did I love this book?

Perhaps it takes a gifted poet to write about loneliness and pain in a way that is free of self-pity. Lucy Grealy is that poet, and this is the book I recommend in my grief self-help workbook (published in 2014).

Ms. Grealy, diagnosed with cancer at only 9, lost a third of her jaw and eventually underwent 30 torturous surgeries. She endured not only ridicule from classmates, but her own feelings of ugliness and rejection. This memoir is full of wit, insight, and beautifully crafted sentences that spare the reader from much of the frightening details. If ever there was a book that made you dig deeper for your own buried strength, this is it.

Lucy said before her death that she didn’t want to be anyone’s inspiration or role model; she wanted to be recognized as a serious writer. She did both.

I. Love. This. Book.

By Lucy Grealy,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Autobiography of a Face as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Notable Book

"Grealy has turned her misfortune into a book that is engaging and engrossing, a story of grace as well as cruelty, and a demonstration of her own wit and style and class."—Washington Post Book World

“It is impossible to read Autobiography of a Face without having your consciousness raised forever.” – Mirabella

In this celebrated memoir and exploration of identity, cancer transforms the author’s face, childhood, and the rest of her life.

At age nine, Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a potentially terminal cancer. When she returned to school with a third of her…


By Madeline Miller,

Book cover of Circe

Why did I love this book?

Historical fiction—set in ancient Greece and Rome—is my favorite genre. I usually avoid Greek mythology because I find the Greek Gods to be rather one-dimensional and flat. Until now.

Enter classics expert Madeline Miller. Her book is a triumph. Do you remember the Greek goddess Circe? Odysseus landed on her island and she turned his men into pigs. Ah, you’re thinking, that Circe. Ms. Miller’s Circe is layered, daring and introspective, complicated; a misfit that rises above her tragic misfortunes. Can a fictional character teach us about our own grief and illuminate what it means to love and lose? In the hands of a gifted writer like Ms. Miller, the answer is an emphatic yes.

You will not be able to put this book down.

By Madeline Miller,

Why should I read it?

26 authors picked Circe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The international Number One bestseller from the author of The Song of Achilles, shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction

Woman. Witch. Myth. Mortal. Outcast. Lover. Destroyer. Survivor. CIRCE.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. Circe is a strange child - not powerful and terrible, like her father, nor gorgeous and mercenary like her mother. Scorned and rejected, Circe grows up in the shadows, at home in neither the world of gods or mortals. But Circe has a dark power of her own: witchcraft. When her gift threatens…

Code Talker

By Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila,

Book cover of Code Talker

Why did I love this book?

Can there be anything more poignant than a story about a hero who doesn’t think he’s a hero? About a man who endured a boarding school full of abuse, lived through the horrors and injuries of WWII, returned to hate and racism, lost family, and yet confronted it all with resilience and forgiveness?

This memoir is from Chester Nez—one of the original Navajo code talkers. It contains wonderful photos and the actual Navajo code. This is an important piece of history as well as a genuinely insightful read and peek into Navajo culture.

The last line of the book, written when Mr. Nez was 86, reads “It’s been a good life—so far.” As an outsider I couldn’t disagree more. His life was tragic and profoundly difficult, but he endured with grace and strength. This simple last line says much about the heroes we should all admire. It has been a privilege to be allowed a glimpse into Mr. Nez’s remarkable life.

By Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Code Talker as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII.

His name wasn’t Chester Nez. That was the English name he was assigned in kindergarten. And in boarding school at Fort Defiance, he was punished for speaking his native language, as the teachers sought to rid him of his culture and traditions. But discrimination didn’t stop Chester from answering the call to defend his country after Pearl Harbor, for the Navajo have always been warriors, and his upbringing on a New Mexico reservation gave him the strength—both physical and mental—to excel as a marine.


The Nightingale

By Kristin Hannah,

Book cover of The Nightingale

Why did I love this book?

This is a sweeping tale about love and loss, and about bravery and survival. It’s a book about women and the critical roles they play; about their suffering and their sacrifice.

The backdrop is WWII in occupied France. The main characters are two sisters, and the point-of-view shifts between them and a third unidentified character. The descriptions are rich, the characters of the sisters are complicated and nuanced, the horrors of the Nazi occupation are haunting, and the prose is powerful. This book is the very definition of a page-turner.

This is a novel, that like so many others about WWII, will keep you up at night pondering the ultimate question: what would I have done? In the end, we will be better people for questioning our own courage.

By Kristin Hannah,

Why should I read it?

21 authors picked The Nightingale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture, The Nightingale is a multi-million copy bestseller across the world. It is a heart-breakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the endurance of women.

This story is about what it was like to be a woman during World War II when women's stories were all too often forgotten or overlooked . . . Vianne and Isabelle Mauriac are two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals and passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path towards survival, love and freedom in war-torn France.

Kristin Hannah's…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Navajo, astronauts, and France?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Navajo, astronauts, and France.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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