100 books like Western Attitudes toward Death

By Philippe Aries, Patricia Ranum (translator),

Here are 100 books that Western Attitudes toward Death fans have personally recommended if you like Western Attitudes toward Death. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of To Be a Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death

Timothy Recuber Author Of The Digital Departed: How We Face Death, Commemorate Life, and Chase Virtual Immortality

From my list on changing your thinking about death and dying.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist who has just written a book about the ways that we engage with death and dying online, and before that I wrote a book about media coverage of disasters. Macabre subjects have always fascinated me, I guess, not because they are macabre but because they reveal a great deal about the ways we live and our sense of the value of life itself.

Timothy's book list on changing your thinking about death and dying

Timothy Recuber Why did Timothy love this book?

This book is a really fun investigation by a brilliant journalist who leads readers through a thorough yet skeptical look at the Silicon Valley-based movement known as “radical life extension” or “transhumanism.”

From hobbyists, to hackers, to scientists, to venture capitalists, a broad contingent of people in and around the “tech” space are convinced today that techno-scientific advancement will eventually allow humanity—or at least a certain small cadre of the wealthiest and savviest humans—to live forever.

There are heavy ideas here, and the book will give you a lot to think about, but it manages to be a breezy read despite the often troubling subject matter.  

By Mark O'Connell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“This gonzo-journalistic exploration of the Silicon Valley techno-utopians’ pursuit of escaping mortality is a breezy romp full of colorful characters.” —New York Times Book Review

Transhumanism is a movement pushing the limits of our biology—of our senses, intelligence, and lifespans—with technology. Its supporters have reached a critical mass and now include some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley and beyond, among them Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Ray Kurzweil.

In this provocative and eye-opening account, journalist Mark O’Connell explores the staggering (and terrifying) possibilities that present themselves when you think of your body as an outmoded device. He visits…


Book cover of In the Wake: On Blackness and Being

Timothy Recuber Author Of The Digital Departed: How We Face Death, Commemorate Life, and Chase Virtual Immortality

From my list on changing your thinking about death and dying.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist who has just written a book about the ways that we engage with death and dying online, and before that I wrote a book about media coverage of disasters. Macabre subjects have always fascinated me, I guess, not because they are macabre but because they reveal a great deal about the ways we live and our sense of the value of life itself.

Timothy's book list on changing your thinking about death and dying

Timothy Recuber Why did Timothy love this book?

This is the most moving “academic” book I’ve ever read, and really that’s because it blends academic subjects like cultural studies with more personal, memoir-type writing about being a Black woman in the 21st century.

In the Wake is concerned with more than just death, of course, but death looms large throughout the book, as it has in all of Black life throughout American history. Indeed, the first sentence is “I wasn’t there when my sister died,” and over the course of the book we bear witness to many other deaths that have affected the author as well.

Over time, readers come to understand the various meanings of “wake” operating as overlapping metaphors through which the author understands her own experience. There is “wake” as coming into consciousness/waking up to a world full of injustice, there is “the wake” like the path behind a ship, in this case a slave…

By Christina Sharpe,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked In the Wake as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this original and trenchant work, Christina Sharpe interrogates literary, visual, cinematic, and quotidian representations of Black life that comprise what she calls the "orthography of the wake." Activating multiple registers of "wake"-the path behind a ship, keeping watch with the dead, coming to consciousness-Sharpe illustrates how Black lives are swept up and animated by the afterlives of slavery, and she delineates what survives despite such insistent violence and negation. Initiating and describing a theory and method of reading the metaphors and materiality of "the wake," "the ship," "the hold," and "the weather," Sharpe shows how the sign of the…


Book cover of Being with the Dead: Burial, Ancestral Politics, and the Roots of Historical Consciousness

Timothy Recuber Author Of The Digital Departed: How We Face Death, Commemorate Life, and Chase Virtual Immortality

From my list on changing your thinking about death and dying.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist who has just written a book about the ways that we engage with death and dying online, and before that I wrote a book about media coverage of disasters. Macabre subjects have always fascinated me, I guess, not because they are macabre but because they reveal a great deal about the ways we live and our sense of the value of life itself.

Timothy's book list on changing your thinking about death and dying

Timothy Recuber Why did Timothy love this book?

I was blown away by this thought-provoking philosophical examination of the relationship between the living and the dead.

Burial, Hans Ruin points out, is the most ancient cultural-symbolic practice in all of human development. In burying the dead, and through the attendant rituals accompanying burial, we are caring for them and communicating about or with them. Ruin looks at a variety of ways that such care has been accomplished and debated over time, from prehistoric graves to ancient Egyptian pyramids to Sophoclean dramas from ancient Greece.

All of these examples are put to use as part of a larger meditation on what it means to live ethically; as he puts it “there is no social space entirely outside the shared space with the dead. To learn to live is to learn to inhabit this space in a responsible way. Life is a life after, as inheritance, ancestry, legacy and fate.”     

By Hans Ruin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Being with the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philosophy, Socrates declared, is the art of dying. This book underscores that it is also the art of learning to live and share the earth with those who have come before us. Burial, with its surrounding rituals, is the most ancient documented cultural-symbolic practice: all humans have developed techniques of caring for and communicating with the dead. The premise of Being with the Dead is that we can explore our lives with the dead as a cross-cultural existential a priori out of which the basic forms of historical consciousness emerge. Care for the dead is not just about the symbolic…


Book cover of About to Die: How News Images Move the Public

Timothy Recuber Author Of The Digital Departed: How We Face Death, Commemorate Life, and Chase Virtual Immortality

From my list on changing your thinking about death and dying.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a sociologist who has just written a book about the ways that we engage with death and dying online, and before that I wrote a book about media coverage of disasters. Macabre subjects have always fascinated me, I guess, not because they are macabre but because they reveal a great deal about the ways we live and our sense of the value of life itself.

Timothy's book list on changing your thinking about death and dying

Timothy Recuber Why did Timothy love this book?

This book is not about death on its own but images of death, and the roles to which they are put by the press and politicians.

Focusing on iconic photographs of death from events such as the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the Vietnam War, and the September 11th attacks, among many others, Zelizer charts a growing discomfort over time with images of death in the news. As technology improved, such photos became more graphic and intimate, and norms around the increasingly professionalized field of journalism came to render them mostly off limits.

Despite the general squeamishness of Western journalists and readers towards such images today, however, we do still see them during major world events and important breaking stories. It’s also true, Zelizer points out, that images of death in far away places are often shown in American newspapers with less concern.

There are important lessons here for all of…

By Barbie Zelizer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Due to its ability to freeze a moment in time, the photo is a uniquely powerful device for ordering and understanding the world. But when an image depicts complex, ambiguous, or controversial events--terrorist attacks, wars, political assassinations--its ability to influence perception can prove deeply unsettling. Are we really seeing the world "as it is" or is the image a fabrication or projection? How do a photo's content and form shape a viewer's impressions? What do such images contribute to historical memory? About to Die focuses on one emotionally charged category of news photograph--depictions of individuals who are facing imminent death--as…


Book cover of The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture: Volume 1: The Birth of Expectation

Brian J. McVeigh Author Of The 'Other' Psychology of Julian Jaynes: Ancient Languages, Sacred Visions, and Forgotten Mentalities

From my list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always been fascinated by how the human mind adapts, both individually and through history. Julian Jaynes, who taught me while pursuing my PhD in anthropology from Princeton University, provided me with a theoretical framework to explore how the personal and cultural configure each other. Jaynes inspired me to publish on psychotherapeutics, the history of Japanese psychology, linguistics, education, nationalism, the origin of religion, the Bible, ancient Egypt, popular culture, and changing definitions of self, time, and space. My interests have taken me to China and Japan, where I lived for many years. I taught at the University of Arizona and currently work as a licensed mental health counselor. 

Brian's book list on the bicameral mind, mentality, and consciousness

Brian J. McVeigh Why did Brian love this book?

This book, in a fashion similar to Julian Jaynes’s theories about bicameral mentality and consciousness, challenges comfortable assumptions. It does this by demonstrating that though what we think (content) differs by place and period, mentalities (processes) themselves are neither invariant nor universal.

Specifically, it offers a detailed study of literature and shows how notions of causality and temporal thought processes that we take for granted were undeveloped in earlier centuries. 

By Don LePan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cognitive Revolution in Western Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

LePan challenges the assumption that everybody thinks in the same way by examining a particular mental faculty - expectation. He concludes that certain forms of expectation did not exist in the minds of most medieval people, any more than they do in children or adults in many primitive societies.


Book cover of Dancing in the Flames: The Dark Goddess in the Transformation of Consciousness

Jeanette Bent Author Of Dark Star Reclaiming Lilith

From my list on strong female protagonist in an ascending world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been rising for years. In fact, Dark Star: Reclaiming Lilith is the culmination of 18 years’ worth of my personal ascension, which is certainly still a work in progress. My book is written in an extremely magical realistic, sci-fi/fantastical manner. I do believe that there are a cohort of women here on Planet Earth right now who’ve incarnated to help carry Gaia into her 5th dimension. Especially now, it’s relevant to move our planet into a more sustainable, spiritual, and connected way. If our voices can span across genres, generations, and gender, then maybe, they can reach all corners of the Universe before it’s too late for us and our planet.

Jeanette's book list on strong female protagonist in an ascending world

Jeanette Bent Why did Jeanette love this book?

This book is like a reminder of the wisdom that already lies latent within us (by “us” I’m identifying as a cis-gender woman, but that does not exclude anyone else, just helps to clarify). Rather than a gentle nudge, Dancing in the Flames approach to uncovering the buried dark goddess in modern culture is more of a slap in the face. A wake-up call that, I personally, have been intuiting for years. Woodman and Dickson weave together true historical accounts and cultural representations of why the dark goddess is essential for human and societal growth. Eerily similar to my highly sci-fi/fantastical book, I stumbled upon Dancing in the Flames while conducting research for my dark-fem-rising story. I hang on every word they write as it 100% rings true for me.

By Marion Woodman, Elinor Dickson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dancing in the Flames as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dark, earthy, and immensely powerful, the Black Goddess has been a key force in world history, manifesting in images as diverse as the Indian goddess Kali and the Black Madonnas of medieval Europe. She embodies the energy of chaos and creativity, creation and destruction, death and rebirth. Images of Her, however, have been conspicuously missing in the Western world for centuries—until now, when awareness of the Goddess is re-arising in many spheres, from the women's movement to traditional religion, from the new discoveries of quantum physics to the dreams of ordinary men and women. Why now particularly? The answer provided…


Book cover of Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy: Women in York and Yorkshire C.1300-1520

Candace Robb Author Of The Riverwoman's Dragon

From my list on medieval York.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing the Owen Archer mysteries, set in and around the city of York in the late 14th century, for 30 years, ever since falling in love with the city of York on a visit. As I studied medieval literature and culture in graduate school, with a special interest in Chaucer, I’ve focused my research on the period in which he lived. I’ve spent months walking the streets of the city, hiking through the countryside, and meeting with local historians. Besides the 13 Owen Archer mysteries I’ve also published 3 Kate Clifford mysteries covering Richard II’s downfall, both series grounded in the politics and culture of medieval York and Yorkshire. 

Candace's book list on medieval York

Candace Robb Why did Candace love this book?

A classic cited in every title on my list, Goldberg’s book provides a glimpse into the lives of women in the area, both rural and urban. The book grew out of the question, How far was marriage a necessity for medieval women? His focus is on women in the north, with its unique labor issues. To answer the question he examines the economy and how women participated in it, with an emphasis on the changes brought on by the decline in population after the Black Death in the later 14th century.

He covers tradeswomen, servants, prostitutes, farm laborers, with glimpses into the lives they led and how the different groups made choices about marriage. Women in York and Yorkshire chose to enter the workforce, often delaying marriage until it offered a clear advantage, and their economic independence offered them an advantage in making decisions about their future. Gives a…

By P.J.P. Goldberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is an innovative analysis of the relationship between women's economic opportunity and marriage in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is based on an intensive study of York and Yorkshire, but also utilizes evidence from other parts of England and continental Europe.

P. J. P. Goldberg explores the role of women in the economy and the part that marriage played in their lives. Importantly, he challenges the Wrigley and Schofield thesis of nuptiality: his analysis of the demography of marriage demonstrates that in late medieval Yorkshire, women participated strongly in the labour force, deferring marriage or avoiding it entirely.…


Book cover of The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England

Richard Shaw Author Of How, When and Why did Bede Write his Ecclesiastical History?

From my list on Bede and his Ecclesiastical History.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Professor of History at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Canada. Previously a journalist and a diplomat serving in the Middle East, since returning to academia I have published several books and a wide variety of academic articles – winning the 2014 Eusebius Essay Prize. My work is focused on source analysis and the use of sources to reconstruct the truth of the past – especially in the early Middle Ages: as a result, I have been able to discover the date of Augustine of Canterbury’s death; the underlying reasons behind the need to appoint Theodore of Tarsus as bishop; and the essential story of how Bede produced his Ecclesiastical History.

Richard's book list on Bede and his Ecclesiastical History

Richard Shaw Why did Richard love this book?

This book is the best introduction there is to early Christian Anglo-Saxon England.

Mayr-Harting is an excellent scholar and a beautiful writer – in addition to being a superb lecturer and, indeed, an incredibly kind and generous human being. All of these qualities shine through in this wonderful book, which repays frequent reading – even by established academics.

Mayr-Harting’s treatment of sources is sensitive, and his commentary is always perceptive. This volume provides both narrative and some analysis, giving not only a general overview but also an introduction to the key people and issues that will take readers’ understanding of – and appreciation for – the period far beyond the preliminary.

By Henry Mayr-Harting,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Coming of Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England is more than a general account of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It is a probing study of the way in which Christianity was fashioned in England, giving full weight to the variety of wealth of the traditions that contributed to early Anglo-Saxon Christianity. It is also a study in the process of Christianization, as it was carried out by churchmen who, according to Mayr-Harting, prepared themselves by prayer and study and travel as well as by social awareness to Christianize their world.

For this edition, the author has added a new…


Book cover of Medieval Memories: Men, Women and the Past, 700-1300

Charity L. Urbanski Author Of Writing History for the King: Henry II and the Politics of Vernacular Historiography

From my list on medieval historians and history writing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian of medieval Europe who specializes in twelfth-century England and France. I’ve been fascinated with history since childhood and distinctly remember being obsessed with a book on English monarchs in my mom’s bookcase when I was young. In college, I took a class on Medieval England with a professor whose enthusiasm for the subject, along with the sheer strangeness of the medieval world, hooked me. I’ve been exploring medieval Europe ever since, and deepening my understanding of how our own world came into being in the process. 

Charity's book list on medieval historians and history writing

Charity L. Urbanski Why did Charity love this book?

This book isn’t just about historians or history writing, but I love it because it addresses some really important questions related to history writing: why was the preservation of memory gendered labor, with different types of memorialization expected of men and women, and how was the past preserved in forms other than chronicles?

It also grapples with the fact that some events and people were purposely forgotten or intentionally left uncommemorated. This practice of collective amnesia or whitewashing the past is something I find particularly compelling. It’s a fascinating look at the gendered practices of memory, and a great reminder that chronicles were not the only means by which the past was preserved for posterity.

By Elisabeth Van Houts (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Who, exactly, was responsible for the preservation of knowledge about the past? How did people preserve their recollections and pass them on to the next generation? Did they write them down or did they hand then on orally? The book is concerned with the memories of medieval people. In the Middle Ages, as now, men and women collected stories about the past and handed them down to posterity. Many memories centre in the aristocratic family or lineage while others are focussed on institutions such as monasteries or nunneries. The family and monastic contexts clearly illustrate that remembrance of the past…


Book cover of Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages

John Tolan Author Of Faces of Muhammad: Western Perceptions of the Prophet of Islam from the Middle Ages to Today

From my list on making you realize you don’t know what religion is.

Why am I passionate about this?

In the 1980s, I was living in Spain, teaching high school. On weekends and vacations, I traveled throughout the country, fascinated with the remnants of its flourishing medieval civilization, where Jews, Christians, and Muslims mingled. When I later became a historian, I focused on the rich history of Jewish-Christian-Muslim contact in Spain and throughout the Mediterranean. I also wanted to understand conflict and prejudice, particularly the historical roots of antisemitism and islamophobia in Europe. I have increasingly realized that classical religious texts need to be reread and contextualized and that we need to rethink our ideas about religion and religious conflict.

John's book list on making you realize you don’t know what religion is

John Tolan Why did John love this book?

In the US, when we think about Christianity, we tend not to think much about saints and when we do, they are at best a sort of role model for piety, an antiquated cast of characters in the history of religion. But to early Christians, saints were powerful patrons. The earliest saints were the martyrs put to death by the pagan Roman state: thrown to the lions, massacred by gladiators, executed at the orders of Roman officials. These saints’ bodies and tombs became objects of veneration, purported to produce miracles. In the middle ages, as Christianity became the dominant force in Europe, everyone wanted to benefit from the proximity to these holy men and women. But if you lived in Northern Europe, you didn’t have access to the hundreds of saintly bodies buried in Spain, Italy, or Provence. What to do? Buy them or steal them! In this fascinating book,…

By Patrick J. Geary,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To obtain sacred relics, medieval monks plundered tombs, avaricious merchants raided churches, and relic-mongers scoured the Roman catacombs. In a revised edition of Furta Sacra, Patrick Geary considers the social and cultural context for these acts, asking how the relics were perceived and why the thefts met with the approval of medieval Christians.


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