The best books about death

42 authors have picked their favorite books about death and why they recommend each book.

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Everything I Never Told You

By Celeste Ng,

Book cover of Everything I Never Told You

In Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng follows the Lee family as they deal with the repercussions of their eldest daughter's mysterious death. It's the 1970s and the Lees are the only mixed-race family in their community. When high school junior Lydia is found dead, it's unclear how much the isolation of being the only "Oriental" played a part. What does become clear is that her family didn't know her as well as they thought. With an omniscient narrator, the author is able to know the thoughts and memories of each character so the reader understands everything they knew and everything they never told each other.


Who am I?

I was born and raised in New England, growing up along the seacoast of New Hampshire. I went to college in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in gender and sexuality. I live in Tucson, Arizona with my sweet yellow lab and even sweeter boyfriend. I’m a hybrid author. My debut novel, Monsoon Season, was traditionally published along with A Long Thaw, which I later rereleased on my own. Finding Charlie was chosen for publication by KindleScout in 2015. My fourth book, Blood & Water launched in 2017. I write the kind of fiction I like to read: character-driven, relationship-focused, and emotionally complex.


I wrote...

Finding Charlie

By Katie O'Rourke,

Book cover of Finding Charlie

What is my book about?

It isn't like Charlie to stay out all night without calling, but maybe Olivia doesn't know her little sister as well as she thought. When Charlie vanishes without warning, the people who love her are worried sick. Even if the law considers her an adult at nineteen, Charlie's still the baby of her already broken family. Older sister Olivia is determined to figure out what's happened. She finds a lost cell phone, an abandoned car, and a shady boyfriend she's never met before. And he's not the only secret Charlie's been keeping. This disappearance feels uncomfortably familiar, reminding Olivia and her father of another loss years before. But this will be different, Olivia swears. Charlie's coming back.

The Denial of Death

By Ernest Becker,

Book cover of The Denial of Death

This book is a landmark in the fields of existential and depth psychology. It’s a recasting of psychoanalysis based especially on the existential writings of Otto Rank and Soren Kierkegaard and gives us one of the most penetrating theories of both human creativity and human destructiveness extant. As contemporary social psychological research indicates, the denial of death (and death anxiety) tends to be at the root of individual and collective efforts to buffer such vulnerabilities, such as mass movements, dogmatism, and even many of the structures we call “culture.” By contrast, this research suggests that the encounter with and integration of death anxiety tends to promote greater humility, tolerance of uncertainty, and awe-inspiring forms of creativity.  My first book The Paradoxical Self (1990/1999) was based on Becker’s masterwork, and it has profoundly influenced all my subsequent writings.


Who am I?

Because of some early life-challenges, I have long been fascinated with human behavior and experience (my own and others). In this light questions about meaning and purpose in life, the big questions, have long been a passion of mine. I want to do everything I can to promote these inquiries, and the books I recommend are integral to that calling.


I wrote...

The Spirituality of Awe: Challenges to the Robotic Revolution

By Kirk J. Schneider,

Book cover of The Spirituality of Awe: Challenges to the Robotic Revolution

What is my book about?

A deeply personal, accessible look at how we preserve our humility and wonder or in short “awe” for living in the face of blinding biotechnical change. The book raises key questions about our motivation to explore, depth of engagement with life, and even our dignity when “devices” dominate our lives. The issue is not so much our enchantment with and attempts to emulate the machine; it is our risk of actually becoming machines. Unless we figure out how to preserve the awe, wonder, and core of what it means to be human, we risk losing the very best of who are.

In Country

By Bobbie Ann Mason,

Book cover of In Country

This classic 1985 novel is a favorite because it broadens the focus to the impact of the war on the families. Set in 1984, the protagonist Samantha Hughes never knew her father, who was killed in Vietnam before she was born. Her uncle, who survived the war, is living with PTSD from his experiences there, and teenage Sam is trying to make sense of it all. The expression “in country” refers to time served at the site of a military operation (in this case, metaphorically, in Vietnam). The Los Angeles Times called this novel "A moral tale that entwines public history with private anguish."


Who am I?

Alice K. Boatwright has lived in the US, England, France, and India – and her career as a writer about public health, education, and the arts has taken her around the world. She began writing short stories when she was young and holds an MFA in Writing Fiction from Columbia University. Her award-winning book about the Vietnam War era, Collateral Damage, was inspired by her own experiences during the war years in the US and the time she spent working on a project in Vietnam in 1993 and 1997. She is also the author of a short story chapbook, Sea, Sky, Islands; numerous stories published in journals, such as Calyx, Mississippi Review Online, America West, Penumbra, Stone Canoe, and Amarillo Bay; and the popular Ellie Kent mysteries, based on her experiences as an ex-pat living in an English village.


I wrote...

Collateral Damage

By Alice K. Boatwright,

Book cover of Collateral Damage

What is my book about?

How many years does it take for a war to end? Collateral Damage is three linked novellas about the Vietnam War era from the perspectives of those who fought, those who resisted, and the family and friends caught between them. Now in a new edition with an introduction about the 50th anniversary of the war and discussion questions for classes and book clubs.

Who am I?

Resilience - helping people recover their capacities to deal with any adversity, stress, loss or trauma – is the heart of my work as a licensed psychotherapist (25 years) and an international trainer of mental health professionals (more than a decade). Bouncing Back is the book I wanted to be able to hand my clients to help them learn to use the capacities of resilience innate in their brains to develop more effective patterns of response to life crises and catastrophes. No such book was available at the time, so I wrote my own. It has become a tremendous resource for people to learn to how to be more resilient, and to learn that they can learn.


I wrote...

Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being

By Linda Graham,

Book cover of Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being

What is my book about?

The award-winning Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being is a groundbreaking integration of practical tools and techniques. The book is informed by Eastern contemplative practices, Western relational psychology, and the emerging neuroscience of resilience, to help people learn how to rewire their patterns of coping with the disappointments, difficulties, and even disasters inevitable in a human life, and to learn that they can.

Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

By Stephen Levine, Ondrea Levine,

Book cover of Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying

I read this book again and again when I want to remember that death is not something to be terrified of. In fact, when I read this book, death feels more like a natural process that can be welcomed. I feel a kind of calmness towards the whole human race as we all seek to live, knowing that we will eventually die. To truly understand death, you also have to understand life.


Who am I?

I have been working with grieving individuals for over 30 years. Early in my career, I realized that my purpose in life was to help people who were grieving the loss of a loved one. I wrote my first book about grief over 25 years ago. It has been my mission to help people find light in the darkness. One way to do this is to have a broader perspective, to realize that there is more going on than we can see or understand. When you have a higher, broader perspective on your grief, you’re able to make meaning out of loss and find beauty in the brokenness.  


I wrote...

Transcending Loss: Understanding the Lifelong Impact of Grief and How to Make It Meaningful

By Ashley Davis Bush,

Book cover of Transcending Loss: Understanding the Lifelong Impact of Grief and How to Make It Meaningful

What is my book about?

Death doesn’t end a relationship, it simply forges a new type of relationship—one based not on physical presence but on memory, spirit, and love.

There are many wonderful books available that address acute grief and how to cope with it. But they often focus on crisis management and imply that there is an "end" to mourning, and fail to acknowledge grief’s ongoing impact and how it changes through the years. This book looks at grief over time and shows readers how to navigate the powerful grief journey, including ways to make meaning, to celebrate love, to stay connected to their loved ones, and to transcend to a level of healing.

How We Die

By Sherwin B. Nuland,

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

Until I began researching death and dying, I hadn’t realized my quest was so literal-minded. Despite the satisfyingly large number of relevant books, most circle around the subject, focusing on areas such as grief, the importance of creating a living will, or funeral planning—all important topics, but I wanted to learn about dying itself.

Then I discovered Nuland’s book. Chapter by chapter, he describes what we know about the physical experience of dying, depending on the type of death: Heart attacks, murders, falls, Alzheimer’s, cancer. Nuland’s background is in surgery, and his descriptions are neither graphic nor gory, but he doesn’t flinch from providing details. Although his book was first published in 1993, no one has yet matched its straightforward, informative approach.


Who am I?

When my mother enrolled in hospice after years of living with cancer, the nurse asked her: Do you want to know what will happen to your body as it starts shutting down? That was the first time anyone talked with us about the dying process. The question came as an immense relief, eventually inspiring this book. After witnessing the difficulties and surprising joys of my mother’s dying experience, I began hospice volunteering. Later, I spent three intensive stints volunteering at San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project. And as a former journalist and associate professor of English, I began researching and interviewing experts. Their deep caring and knowledge inform this book.

I wrote...

What Does It Feel Like to Die?: Inspiring New Insights Into the Experience of Dying

By Jennie Dear,

Book cover of What Does It Feel Like to Die?: Inspiring New Insights Into the Experience of Dying

What is my book about?

What Does it Feel Like to Die? describes what doctors and scientists know about the experience of dying. I wrote the book for people like my mother or me, for baby boomers facing our parents’ impending deaths—and starting to grapple with our own mortality. It’s based on research and interviews with doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other experts, and is informed by my years as a hospice volunteer. The book is honest about the facts of dying, but it’s also ultimately hopeful, because it examines death and dying in order to better understand life.

The Yellow Suitcase

By Meera Sriram, Meera Sethi (illustrator),

Book cover of The Yellow Suitcase

Asha visits India every summer, filling her yellow suitcase with gifts for Grandma. When Asha returns to California, Grandma fills the suitcase with gifts for Asha. This summer, though, Grandma is gone, and the house isn’t the same without her there. Grandma’s final gift for Asha’s yellow suitcase—a quilt made from her saris that she created before she died—brings comfort to both Asha and the reader. 

This story allows readers to explore how a place feels without a special loved one there, and colorful illustrations bring brightness to this difficult subject. An author’s note shares that Sriram and her family also lost a grandparent and she used her family’s experiences as inspiration for this story in the hopes that it will bring comfort to others.


Who am I?

As a teacher-librarian, I’m often asked for books on difficult topics, including death. When I was young, a close family member died and I struggled with grief. I didn’t know how to honor my loved one or how to begin healing from the loss. The books I’m sharing are books I wish I’d had as a child and books that I’m grateful to be able to hand to children and families when needed. If you’re an emotional person like I am, you may want tissues nearby when you read them. I hope they’re as helpful and therapeutic for you as they have been for me!


I wrote...

Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks

By Jolene Gutiérrez,

Book cover of Bionic Beasts: Saving Animal Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks

What is my book about?

What happens when a young elephant steps on a buried land mine? Or when a predator injures a sea turtle’s flipper? Thanks to recent advances in technology, we have new ways to design and build prosthetic body parts to help these animals thrive.
Meet an elephant named Mosha, a sea turtle named Lola, a dog named Cassidy, a goose named Vitória, and a pig named Pirate. Each of these animals was struggling, but through a variety of techniques and technologies, humans created devices that enabled the animals to live and move more comfortably. Discover the stories of how veterinarians, doctors, and even students from around the world used 3D printing and other techniques to build bionic body parts for these amazing animals!

Dying Well

By Ira Byock,

Book cover of Dying Well

Dr. Ira Byock is a well-known authority in palliative care and hospice and a wonderful storyteller. In his stories, he talks about the physical realities of the dying process, the emotional despair we may witness, or how to handle family dynamics. He doesn't shy away from reflecting on his personal growth doing this work, which makes this book deeply human and relatable. Dying Well was published several years ago. It is still an informative and insightful read, especially if you are a family caregiver and care for a loved one. Please also check out his other books, Four Things That Matter Most and The Best Care Possible.


Who am I?

I have accompanied dying people for more than twenty-five years—as a counsellor, volunteer chaplain, and companion. I feel passionate about changing the perception of dying and death, the way we care for people during their most vulnerable moments, and how we support families through this painful time. Since my twenties I have been immersed in Buddhist practise which inspires and informs my life and work. Together with other clinicians and mindfulness practitioners, we created one of the first contemplative-based training in end-of-life care for caregivers called “Authentic Presence”. Daring to be present might be the hardest thing you may have done in your life, and, you may come to discover, one of the most intimate, beautiful, and rewarding.


I wrote...

Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying

By Kirsten DeLeo,

Book cover of Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying

What is my book about?

This award-winning small guide offers support for everyone accompanying someone at the end of life. Kirsten DeLeo shares down-to-earth advice to help you be there fully - from the moment you first learn that someone is dying through the time of death and beyond. She offers insight and encouragement when you are unsure what to do or say and shows you how to be present even though you may feel utterly helpless, and love when loss is just around the corner. You will find simple practices to help you handle your emotions, deal with difficult relationships, talk about what matters, practice self-care, and work through challenging situations with presence and kindness.

“A must-read.” Christina M. Puchalski, MD, George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health

Dearest Josephine

By Caroline George,

Book cover of Dearest Josephine

Not only does this have a ton of timelines and things to keep track of, but it’s a beautiful love story that you can’t help but turn the pages quickly. It’s the perfect match for someone who likes all things Jane Austen and are wanting something with a little bit more of a modern feel to that.


Who am I?

When I write a book, I try to write it differently from what I’ve seen. I love high concept ideas and always want to give something different. Readers are shifting in their tastes and want to see something fresh, and so I hope I can always give them something new and exciting.


I wrote...

Dear Hero

By Hope Bolinger, Alyssa Roat,

Book cover of Dear Hero

What is my book about?

Up-and-coming teen superhero Cortex is on top of the world--at least until his villain dumps him. If he's going to save his reputation, he needs a new antagonist, and fast. Meanwhile, the villainous Vortex has once again gotten a little overeager and taken out a hero prematurely. Will any young hero be able to keep up with her? Maybe she should work on finding a steady relationship with an enemy she won't kill in the first round.
 
So the two turn to Meta-Match, a nemesis pairing site for heroes and villains, where they match right away. But not everything in the superhero world is as it seems. Who are the real heroes and villains? And just how fine of a line is there between love and hate? When darkness from the past threatens them both, Cortex and V may need to work together to make it out alive. 
Told entirely through texts, transcriptions, and direct messages, this darkly humorous chat fiction novel goes behind the scenes of the superworld.

In Her Shoes

By Jennifer Weiner,

Book cover of In Her Shoes

Taking the notion of the ugly stepsister to new lengths, Weiner gives a spunky voice to a character that is often overlooked by her prettier, if not dizzier sister. At turns, funny and heartbreaking, the fearless and flawed heroine creates a life with her own happily ever after.


Who am I?

I'm a publishing executive turned self-help expert who frequents national morning shows to talk about clutter. Full disclosure, I'm a recovering shopaholic with an obsessive need to tidy up people’s homes and offices. My philosophy is simple, I bring order to everything I do, because life shouldn’t be a mess. I've written non-fiction books based on my organizing expertise that has been featured on Oprah, The Today Show, and NPR. I learned that it's never really about the stuff but the journey of self-discovery, a journey that is made easier with a best friend at your side. This journey of the flawed and strong heroine in my latest book, a novel called Best Friend for Hire.


I wrote...

Best Friend for Hire

By Mary Carlomagno,

Book cover of Best Friend for Hire

What is my book about?

Jersey Girl Jessie DeSalvo has her dream job at one of New York’s top publishing companies. After ten years of hard work, the day of her big promotion has arrived. Unfortunately, her company has other ideas. Instead of a corner office, Jessie is handed her pink slip. 

Left with little more than her cell phone and an unusable contact list, Jessie retreats to less-than-fashionable Hoboken, New Jersey, to figure out her life—and deal with the attentions of her loving but inquisitive Italian-American family. Then she accidentally stumbles into a career as a professional best friend—by helping friends and strangers straighten out whatever is wrong with their lives. Her jobs include planning the New Jersey wedding of the year and saving a bankrupt rock club in town. Soon, things get complicated when she falls in love with the club manager—and promises an appearance by Bruce Springsteen. In the end, Jessie realizes that not even “The Boss” can make things right—and that she needs to become her own best friend to be truly happy.

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