The most recommended books about terminal illness

Who picked these books? Meet our 51 experts.

51 authors created a book list connected to terminal illnesses, and here are their favorite terminal illness books.
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What type of terminal illness book?


Book cover of At Peace: Choosing a Good Death After a Long Life

Star Bradbury Author Of Successfully Navigating Your Parents' Senior Years: Critical Information to Maximize Their Independence and Make Sure They Get the Care They Need

From my list on helping you or your loved ones age successfully.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have worked in senior living for over 25 years. I was the administrative director of both an assisted living facility as well as a memory care facility and then I worked for over 18 years in one of the top national Life Care Communities in the country. During this time, I helped thousands of families navigate the complex and confusing world of senior living. I wrote my book to help families make educated and informed decisions and know what they could do before a crisis! It is not if your parents will need help, it is when! I am passionate about passing on the knowledge of my years in this field. 

Star's book list on helping you or your loved ones age successfully

Star Bradbury Why did Star love this book?

I found this book to be totally unique as it is informed by the many many years Dr. Harrington spent in a hospital ER, taking care of patients.

He goes into a great deal of information on the major diagnoses for seniors and at what point should you consider no longer treating a major illness. So many people do not want to spend their last days in a hospital or medical environment but sadly, many do.

If you want to opt out of pointless care, read this book to make an informed, educated decision!

By Samuel Harrington,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The authoritative, informative, and practical follow up to BEING MORTAL, on end-of-life care for patients over the age of 65.

Most people say they would like to die quietly at home. But overly aggressive medical advice, coupled with an unrealistic sense of invincibility, results in the majority of elderly patients misguidedly dying in institutions while undergoing painful procedures, instead of having the better and more peaceful death they desired.
At Peace outlines specific active and passive steps that older patients and their health care proxies can take to insure loved ones pass their last days comfortably at home and/or in…

Book cover of Bang the Drum Slowly

Carl Deuker Author Of Golden Arm

From my list on sports books about more than sports.

Why am I passionate about this?

For 20 years, I tried to write politically relevant, “important” novels. I teach. One day I told my students that to succeed as a writer, they needed to write about things they knew and loved. Honesty was the key. That night, I resumed work on a novel set in Prague involving Cold War intrigue, capitalism, communism, and some other "isms" I’ve forgotten. I wrote a paragraph and then stopped. My advice was good. Write about things you know and love. So why not follow it myself? What section of the newspaper did I read first? The sports page. Did I live and die with my favorite sports teams? Yes. I put my hopeless Prague novel aside and started On the Devil’s Court. For better or worse, a sportswriter is who I am.

Carl's book list on sports books about more than sports

Carl Deuker Why did Carl love this book?

Okay, two books--but they’re really one. The Southpaw is about Henry Wiggen the baseball player finding his way in the major leagues.  A sports book by and large.  And then the fastball to the heart--Bang the Drum Slowly. The vagaries and tragedies of life intrude on the pristine baseball field, and Wiggen and the rest have to deal with reality:  boys grow into men; men sicken, men die. These books inspired me when I decided to become a writer of sports novels. They showed me that not only could I write a sports book about more than sports, but also that I needed to write a sports book about more than sports. Why bother otherwise? 

By Mark Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bang the Drum Slowly as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Henry Wiggen, hero of The Southpaw and the best-known fictional baseball player in America, is back again, throwing a baseball "with his arm and his brain and his memory and his bluff for the sake of his pocket and his family." More than a novel about baseball, Bang the Drum Slowly is about the friendship and the lives of a group of men as they each learn that a teammate is dying of cancer. Bang the Drum Slowly was chosen as one of the top one hundred sports books of all time by Sports Illustrated and appears on numerous other…

Book cover of We All Want Impossible Things

Bev Katz Rosenbaum Author Of I'm Good and Other Lies

From Bev's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Writer Reader Editrix French Exitrix

Bev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Bev Katz Rosenbaum Why did Bev love this book?

The book is set during Ash's best friend Edi's hospice stay. Far from being maudlin or cliched, the book is hilarious as well as tragic.

Ash is so incredibly real and flawed, as is the cast of rotating visitors and hospital staffers. Reading it makes you feel okay about your own questionable life decisions, if you've been reflecting on your choices, as I was when I read it, LOL! I didn't want this book to end as much as I didn't want Edi's life to end.

By Catherine Newman,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked We All Want Impossible Things as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Catherine Newman sees the heartbreak and comedy of life with wisdom and unflinching compassion. The way she finds the extraordinary in the everyday is nothing short of poetry. She’s a writer’s writer—and a human’s human.”—New York Times bestselling author Katherine Center

“A riotously funny and fiercely loyal love letter to female friendship. The story of Edi and Ash proves that a best friend is a gift from the gods. Newman turns her prodigious talents toward finding joy even in the friendship’s final days. I laughed while crying, and was left revived. Newman is a comic masterhand and a dazzling philosopher…

Book cover of The End of the Affair

David L. Robbins Author Of War of the Rats

From my list on love and war and describing both battlefields.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve penned (so far) seventeen novels, most set during some historical conflict or other, all of them revolving around intense personal relationships (loyalty, love, betrayal, those sorts of profound truths). I tend to read the sorts of books I wish to write. I also teach creative writing at a university (VCU); I tell my students that if they want to really know what a character is made of, shoot at them or have them fall in love. In my own work, I do both.

David's book list on love and war and describing both battlefields

David L. Robbins Why did David love this book?

Set during the London Blitz, I found this to be Greene’s most vivid novel.

His characters reel in the face of the power of Hitler’s onslaught on London, yet cling to the possibilities of love, even through the carnage and loss, until the wreckage of London overtakes them in a beautiful and tragic conclusion.

By Graham Greene,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The End of the Affair as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah, flourishing in the turbulent times of the London Blitz, ends when she suddenly and without explanation breaks it off. After a chance meeting rekindles his love and jealousy two years later, Bendrix hires a private detective to follow Sarah, and slowly his love for her turns into an obsession.

Book cover of Inside the O'Briens

Brendan Gerad O'Brien Author Of Gallows Field

From Brendan's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Family man Avid reader Passionate walker Swimmer

Brendan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Brendan Gerad O'Brien Why did Brendan love this book?

Despite the unfortunate subject, this book was a joy to read.

Lisa Genova brilliantly captures the creeping confusion and unease when the family of a decorated Boston City cop notices his increasingly odd behavior, the unusual angry outbursts, the complaints that he was drunk on duty, and the sudden loss of balance.

It worries them enough to insist he gets a medical check-up. Their reaction when he’s diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease is beautifully described with compassion and dignity and an amazing insight into the four sibling’s individual emotions. Wallowing in the knowledge that each of them has a 50% chance of being stricken with Huntington’s disease, the siblings have different views about being tested for it.

Some don’t want to know, wishing to live their lives hoping it won’t catch up on them. The others prefer to know so they can brace themselves, living the life as best they can…

By Lisa Genova,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Inside the O'Briens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times bestseller ▪ A Library Journal Best Books of 2015 Pick ▪ A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Books of 2015 Pick ▪A GoodReads Top Ten Fiction Book of 2015 ▪ A People Magazine Great Read

From New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a “heartbreaking…very human novel” (Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves) that does for Huntington’s disease what her debut novel Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-three-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their…

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 Beyond The Roses

Elle Nicoll Author Of Drawn to Mr. King

From my list on love with heavy topics to make your heart hurt.

Why am I passionate about this?

I worked for years as a long-haul flight attendant, and met a lot of people. Some travelling for love, honeymoons, anniversaries, some for medical care, to say goodbye to someone. And some for that bucket list item, because they knew it was their last chance. I’ve always been amazed by the human spirit and its ability to love deeply. And I love romance stories! I have read so many. My favourites are the ones about people and the emotional journeys they go on. So combine the two, and you’ve got heart-wrenching stories that make you realise what’s important, even if they do break your heart in the process.

Elle's book list on love with heavy topics to make your heart hurt

Elle Nicoll Why did Elle love this book?

A woman who is coming to terms with her own mortality. And the man who is determined to save her.

I did not see the twists and turns coming in this book. Not strictly a romance as the happy ever after is not one in the traditional sense. But yet the main theme running through this book is love and what happens when you experience a love so strong that it changes multiple lives.

It made me cry. But it also made me feel proud of just how much impact love can have. Not just on one person, but a whole community. Beautiful.

By Monica James,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

To the outside world, my life is perfect.

I'm young and rich, and some may even say I'm beautiful. But I would give anything to be somebody else because after being extraordinary all my life, all I wish for is...silence.

My name is Lola Van Allen, and there's no easy way to say it, but...I'm dying.

When my doctors reveal all hope is lost, I decide to spend the time I have left sharing my experience at Strawberry Fields, a summer camp for terminally ill children. No matter my fate, I yearn to make a difference.

Things are quiet and…

Book cover of A Matter of Death and Life

Helen Epstein Author Of Getting Through It: My Year of Cancer during Covid

From my list on getting through cancer treatment.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a long-time journalist, wife, mother, and grandmother, who was diagnosed with GYN cancer at the beginning of the Covid pandemic in the spring of 2020. My usual subjects are the arts and trauma, but since I’m now one of the more than 600,000 American women with GYN cancer, I decided to write this report about my year of treatment. 

Helen's book list on getting through cancer treatment

Helen Epstein Why did Helen love this book?

A Matter of Life and Death is a deeply personal double memoir, written in alternating chapters by a long-married couple in their late 80s. Irvin Yalom is a psychiatrist and well-respected novelist; Marilyn Yalom, diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2019, was a professor of literature and women's studies. Emotionally intelligent and unusually articulate, the couple was married for 65 years. Though plodding at times, they document in detail the last year of Marilyn's life, from diagnosis to experimental treatment to hospice to physician-assisted death. It is written as a testament as well as a guide.

By Irvin D. Yalom, Marilyn Yalom,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Matter of Death and Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret.

Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer. In A Matter of Death and Life, Marilyn and Irv share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irv to live on without her.

In alternating accounts of…

Book cover of Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

Eve Joseph Author Of In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying

From my list on grief to normalize mourning and confirm you're not going crazy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was eleven when my brother died in a car accident and, although I didn’t know it at the time, this experience shaped me in ways I couldn’t anticipate. Many years later, when I began working as a social worker at a local hospice, I realized that I was drawn to the work as a way to finally grieve that early loss. As I helped people navigate their own losses I found myself feeling my own grief for the first time. It wasn’t until I started writing about the hospice work that I found my brother again. I am powerfully drawn to the parallels between writing and the work of dying. 

Eve's book list on grief to normalize mourning and confirm you're not going crazy

Eve Joseph Why did Eve love this book?

Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley were both hospice nurses when they wrote this book in 1992 and their book, having sold over 500,000 copies, is still a guide for those who find themselves in the presence of the dying.

The authors act as interpreters for the living and help them understand the language the dying often use. As a hospice social worker, it was not uncommon for me to hear the dying speak of packed suitcases or imaginary taxis pulling up to their doors.

This book helped me to engage with that language and to enter the altered reality that the dying often experience. It encourages us to let go of the rational and invites us into the mystery of death and dying in ways that are life-changing. 

By Maggie Callanan, Patricia Kelley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this moving and compassionate classic—now updated with new material from the authors—hospice nurses Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley share their intimate experiences with patients at the end of life, drawn from more than twenty years’ experience tending the terminally ill.

Through their stories we come to appreciate the near-miraculous ways in which the dying communicate their needs, reveal their feelings, and even choreograph their own final moments; we also discover the gifts—of wisdom, faith, and love—that the dying leave for the living to share.

Filled with practical advice on responding to the requests of the dying and helping them…

Book cover of The Next Thing You Know

Carol Van Den Hende Author Of Always Orchid

From my list on star-crossed soul mates.

Why am I passionate about this?

As mom to a special needs child and an Asian American author, I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion. My mission is to inspire hope and empathy for people and planet. I believe that love can conquer all, whether it be familial, romantic, or love for humankind. Star-crossed love puts that power to the test. That’s why I’m drawn to these emotional, beautiful books. I’m proud that author Karin Tanabe recommended my work in Glamour Magazine as “a modern, important take on the power of love,” that my books have won Royal Dragonfly Awards for Disability Awareness and Cultural Diversity, and that Springboard Consulting named me Disability Hero of the Year. 

Carol's book list on star-crossed soul mates

Carol Van Den Hende Why did Carol love this book?

The Next Thing You Know resonated with me on several levels. First, main character Mason grapples with a disabling injury that hampers his career as a musician. Second, the death doula that works with him to heal emotionally is faced with the difficult decision whether she should cross professional client lines to share her true feelings. 

There are beautiful scenarios that reminded me of my series. In moving scenes, Nova shows Mason that there are other ways to create music other than performing. And he realizes that he has a lot to live for. 

This is an emotional story told with heart and insight!

By Jessica Strawser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Next Thing You Know as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Nova Husson, an end-of-life doula, meets Mayson Shaylor, everything she knows is cast into doubt. Committed to a world and profession that allows the elderly to bow out gracefully, taking on a younger man's case is unique, and tragic. Not to mention the fact that the once beloved singer-songwriter now must hang up his guitar for good, after a debilitating degenerative disease takes away the use of his hands. He's determined that there is no future for him, while she's determined to make him see there's life, even as death approaches. But Nova also holds powerful secrets of her…