The most recommended palliative care books

Who picked these books? Meet our 10 experts.

10 authors created a book list connected to palliative care, and here are their favorite palliative care books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

Sylvester J. Schieber Author Of Healthcare USA: American Exceptionalism Run Amok

From my list on why healthcare is a cancer on the American Dream.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent nearly 30 years consulting with employers about the design and operation of the health insurance and retirement benefits they provided their workers. In my work, I was familiar with economic studies showing that workers’ wages and salaries have been increasingly skewed toward higher earners and was convinced the results were less pronounced for workers' total rewards.. In developing my analysis I came to understand that the cost of employees’ health insurance was consuming a large share of workers’ growing rewards. This led me to explore how the US health system was imposing much higher costs on workers than any other segment of society and how we might address the problem.

Sylvester's book list on why healthcare is a cancer on the American Dream

Sylvester J. Schieber Why did Sylvester love this book?

Dr. Puri is a specialist in palliative care for patients with terminal conditions.

She describes the challenges she has encountered during her medical training and practice in dealing with a medical establishment committed to intensive care even in the face of insurmountable odds that such care will improve patients’ health or quality of life.

She also describes encounters with patients’ families who demand intensive medical treatment and are unwilling to allow patients to transition peacefully through the end of life. Often the demand for intensive care is made without the desires of the patient being considered.

This is a poignant set of stories showing that intensive care in what is often the most expensive medical cases exact a price far higher than the dollars involved in the transaction.

By Sunita Puri,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked That Good Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A profound exploration of what it means for all of us to live-and to die-with dignity and purpose." -People

"Visceral and lyrical." -The Atlantic

As the American born daughter of immigrants, Dr. Sunita Puri knew from a young age that the gulf between her parents' experiences and her own was impossible to bridge, save for two elements: medicine and spirituality. Between days spent waiting for her mother, an anesthesiologist, to exit the OR, and evenings spent in conversation with her parents about their faith, Puri witnessed the tension between medicine's impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual…


Book cover of Death Is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End

Ashby Kinch Author Of A Cultural History of Death

From my list on re-imagining death, dying, and grief.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a literary and cultural historian who has been studying death for three decades. But I am, first and foremost, a human who has suffered the loss of loved ones and grief and found my immediate culture an inhospitable place to experience, transform, and share those emotions. We have an urgent need to “re-imagine” the way we prepare for our own deaths, as well as experience the deaths of others. I hope my work, both as a scholar and a public citizen, will inspire people to form communities of conversation and action that will reshape the way we think about death, dying, and grief.

Ashby's book list on re-imagining death, dying, and grief

Ashby Kinch Why did Ashby love this book?

Like a lot of people, I am fascinated by “inner vision”: what do people think, feel, and experience in extreme states that they struggle to describe to others?

This book is based on such an approach to the question: a palliative care doctor and team gather the stories of people experiencing visions while undergoing the massive transformation of dying. By re-thinking these deathbed visions not as feverish delusions but as insights into human experience, I was deeply moved on multiple levels. You can sense the dying person’s powerful drive to connect with the past and sometimes with the present, which makes the “hallucinations” quite real emotionally. You can also sense how important sharing the stories is to the loved ones in their grieving process. 

By Christopher Kerr, Carine Mardorossian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Death Is But a Dream as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Christopher Kerr is a hospice doctor. All of his patients die. Yet he has tended thousands of patients who, in the face of death, speak of love, meaning and grace. They reveal that there is hope beyond cure as they transition to focus on personal meaning. In this extraordinary and beautiful book, Dr. Kerr shares his patients' stories and his own research pointing to death as not purely the end of life, but as a final passage of humanity and transcendence.

Drawing on interviews with over 1,200 patients and more than a decade of quantified data , Dr. Kerr reveals…


Book cover of A History of Present Illness

Kay White Drew Author Of Stress Test: A Memoir

From my list on women physicians about their own healing.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a woman physician who struggled with depression, the words “Physician, heal thyself” have particular resonance for me. In my own quest for healing, I’ve explored alternative modalities like acupuncture and reiki, as well as conventional psychotherapy. I’m always interested in reading about other women who faced the ever-present sexism of medicine, as well as those who dealt with mental health challenges and traumatic events before and during their medical training. I want to know what the factors were that helped them and healed them. Therapy? Other healing modalities? Mentors, friends, lovers? Finding a loving life partner? We all have so much to learn from each other. 

Kay's book list on women physicians about their own healing

Kay White Drew Why did Kay love this book?

This novel by a neurologist/palliative care physician appealed to me because of its highly idiosyncratic yet spot-on accounts of many things I experienced in my own medical training.

I found her writing style challenging because of the novel’s highly fragmented structure, but I appreciated her trenchant observations and stunning language. Like other authors I’ve recommended, her protagonist comes from a devastatingly traumatic background. I could really relate to this fictional medical trainee’s struggles with despair and suicidality.

Reading this book was like a dash of ice water to the face, and I pondered it for weeks after I finished it.  

Book cover of The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life

Lisa J. Shultz Author Of A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

From my list on end-of-life planning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an advocate for end-of-life planning. When my dad entered his eighties, and while still raising my own children, I found myself unprepared for my father’s steady health decline. Suddenly, I was thrust into the role of overseeing his care and making hard decisions. Our difficulties were exacerbated by a western medical system that fell short to prepare us for the end of his life. After my dad’s death, I began researching end-of-life issues to educate myself and plan for my own senior years. I have a goal to support others who face losing a parent and to facilitate healing for those who have already lost one. I also strive to inform and inspire the next generation to learn and plan early to guide themselves and their families to minimize avoidable problems and enhance quality elder years.


Lisa's book list on end-of-life planning

Lisa J. Shultz Why did Lisa love this book?

This book was helpful for me to navigate the finale of my parent’s lives. But The Art of Dying Well isn't just about one's parents. Many baby boomers are unprepared for dealing with their own aging. I suggest reading it well before you need it. Knowledge is power, and Butler's book gave me the gift of learning more now, while things are relatively calm. A crisis visit to an ER isn't the time to cram in education and research. You may need to be an advocate for yourself or someone you love sooner than later. I have suggested the book to my siblings and friends, which will hopefully lead to meaningful conversation and planning to support each other through our elder years. I am grateful for Butler's practical guide, which is filled with wisdom and resources. I anticipate referring to it again and again as I age. 

By Katy Butler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Dying Well as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This "comforting...thoughtful" (The Washington Post) guide to maintaining a high quality of life-from resilient old age to the first inklings of a serious illness to the final breath-by the New York Times bestselling author of Knocking on Heaven's Door is a "roadmap to the end that combines medical, practical, and spiritual guidance" (The Boston Globe).

"A common sense path to define what a 'good' death looks like" (USA TODAY), The Art of Dying Well is about living as well as possible for as long as possible and adapting successfully to change. Packed with extraordinarily helpful insights and inspiring true stories,…


Book cover of Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying

Elizabeth Anne Wood Author Of Bound: A Daughter, a Domme, and an End-of-Life Story

From my list on coping with the fact that we’re all going to die.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a little bit morbid since childhood. My father died when I was not quite 10 years old, and my mother was a huge fan of horror novels and scary movies. But I became seriously interested in death and dying when my mother got cancer and was facing the end of her own life. I acted as her medical advocate and participated in many aspects of her care. I'm also a sociologist who studies taboo elements of culture and I'm invested in creating a consciousness shift so that the United States is less death-phobic, allowing us all to live our lives more fully by addressing our mortality head-on!

Elizabeth's book list on coping with the fact that we’re all going to die

Elizabeth Anne Wood Why did Elizabeth love this book?

I read this book for the first time about five years ago, and my first thought when I finished it was, “Everyone who is going to die needs this book.” This is the best thing I’ve read on the personal choices around dying and supporting someone who is dying.

I love the clear, level-headed, plain-spoken, simple, and elegant text and the way that Tisdale uses personal storytelling and philosophical reflection to help us address what we might otherwise avoid. I will return to this book over and over as I support sick or dying friends, and you can bet it will be on my bedside table if I am ever diagnosed with a terminal illness.

By Sallie Tisdale,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Award-winning writer and nurse Sallie Tisdale offers a lyrical, thought-provoking yet practical perspective on death and dying in this frank, direct and compassionate meditation on the inevitable.
_______________________________________

From the sublime to the ridiculous, Tisdale leads the reader through the peaks and troughs of death with a calm, wise and humorous hand. More than a how-to manual or a spiritual bible, this is a graceful compilation of honest and intimate anecdotes based on the deaths Tisdale has witnessed in her work and life, as well as stories from cultures, traditions and literature around the world.

As Tisdale explores all the…


Book cover of Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life

Lisa J. Shultz Author Of A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

From my list on end-of-life planning.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an advocate for end-of-life planning. When my dad entered his eighties, and while still raising my own children, I found myself unprepared for my father’s steady health decline. Suddenly, I was thrust into the role of overseeing his care and making hard decisions. Our difficulties were exacerbated by a western medical system that fell short to prepare us for the end of his life. After my dad’s death, I began researching end-of-life issues to educate myself and plan for my own senior years. I have a goal to support others who face losing a parent and to facilitate healing for those who have already lost one. I also strive to inform and inspire the next generation to learn and plan early to guide themselves and their families to minimize avoidable problems and enhance quality elder years.


Lisa's book list on end-of-life planning

Lisa J. Shultz Why did Lisa love this book?

The author, Dr. Zitter, is described as an expert on the medical experience of death and dying. Her specialties of pulmonary/critical care and palliative care brought to life the spectrum between a comfortable, natural death versus a "keep alive at all costs" mentality. This book was thoughtful and presented many sides of difficult dying experiences. I found it incredibly valuable to understand typical trajectories that might occur at the end of life from illness, organ failure, frailty, or dementia. It helped me gain clarity on my own wishes, and I encourage others to read the book and then discuss it with loved ones. Rather than it being a depressing subject matter, it has the potential to be a gift if the reader can move into a place of communicating and documenting wishes for end-of-life.

By Jessica Nutik Zitter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For readers of Being Mortal and Modern Death, an ICU and Palliative Care specialist offers a framework for a better way to exit life that will change our medical culture at the deepest level


In medical school, no one teaches you how to let a patient die.

Jessica Zitter became a doctor because she wanted to be a hero. She elected to specialize in critical care—to become an ICU physician—and imagined herself swooping in to rescue patients from the brink of death. But then during her first code she found herself cracking the ribs of a patient so old and…


Book cover of Dying Well

Kirsten DeLeo Author Of Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying

From my list on how to support a dying person.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Kirsten's book list on how to support a dying person

Kirsten DeLeo Why did Kirsten love this book?

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.

By Ira Byock,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Ira Byock, prominent palliative care physician and expert in end of life decisions, a lesson in Dying Well.

Nobody should have to die in pain. Nobody should have to die alone.

This is Ira Byock's dream, and he is dedicating his life to making it come true. Dying Well brings us to the homes and bedsides of families with whom Dr. Byock has worked, telling stories of love and reconciliation in the face of tragedy, pain, medical drama, and conflict. Through the true stories of patients, he shows us that a lot of important emotional work can be accomplished…


Book cover of With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial

Susan H. McFadden Author Of Dementia-Friendly Communities: Why We Need Them and How We Can Create Them

From Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Retired Psychology professor Dementia advocate Reader Friend

Susan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Susan H. McFadden Why did Susan love this book?

My husband was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was hospitalized with Covid in 2021. Since then, various treatment side effects have produced more miserable days than happy, carefree days. This book by a British palliative care doctor offers beautifully told tales of her patients, their families, friends, and medical staff, and it has given my husband and me a different perspective on his situation.

Dr. Mannix says we have forgotten how to talk about dying and death in our time, and she gently opens up the conversation with her sensitive descriptions of how people face their endings.

We have recommended this book to many people who also have appreciated its honest sensitivity about a difficult topic.

By Kathryn Mannix,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked With the End in Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Impossible to read with dry eyes or an unaltered mindset' Sunday Times

'Illuminating and beautiful' Cathy Rentzenbrink

What if everything you thought you knew about death was wrong?

How should we prepare for the facts of dying and saying our goodbyes?

And what if understanding death improved your life?

By turns touching and tragic, funny and wise, With the End in Mind brings together Kathryn Mannix ' s lifetime of medical experience to tell powerful stories of life and death.


Book cover of The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living

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

From my list on the experience of dying.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

Jennie's book list on the experience of dying

Jennie Dear Why did Jennie love this book?

I sometimes read aloud from this book to hospice patients because when you’re dying, it’s easy to believe that it’s too late—too late to make amends, too late to reconnect, too late to do anything more for the world you’re leaving behind. Byock, a doctor who has worked extensively with dying people, says that’s not the case. Instead, he urges his patients to communicate with their friends and family members, to say thanks, to forgive, to apologize, and to express their love. The book is filled with examples of times people on the edge of death were able to connect more deeply or heal old wounds, changing the lives of those close to them for the better.

By Ira Byock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Four Things That Matter Most as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four simple phrases-"Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you"-carry enormous power to mend and nurture our relationships and inner lives. These four phrases and the sentiments they convey provide a path to emotional wellbeing, guiding us through interpersonal difficulties to life with integrity and grace.

Dr. Ira Byock, an international leader in palliative care, explains how we can practice these life-affirming words in our day-to-day lives. Too often we assume that the people we love really know that we love them. Dr. Byock demonstrates the value of "stating the obvious" and provides practical insights into…