You don’t have to be a doctor to love the best medical non-fiction books. I’m a firm fan of non-fiction centered around medicine, health, the NHS, end of life care and more. I often find these types of reads are full of humanity above all else but also give us a wonderful insight into an area of life most of us take completely for granted.

best medical non-fiction books

I can totally understand that even the best medical non-fiction books might not be to everyone’s taste. They can be and often are, filled with extremely sensitive topics that not everyone will feel comfortable reading. And whilst I believe that we should all push ourselves out of our comfort zones a bit – especially with reading – I have to respect that these recommendations won’t be for everyone.

So why do I enjoy the best medical non-fiction books so much?

I’ve always had a fascination with humans and human nature. I think there’s not much else that really brings out the true nature of human beings like death and illness.

And based on these (in my opinion) best medical non-fiction books I’m going to recommend in this post, you’ll find that despite being under the same umbrella, they do cover a fair few different elements and aspects of health and medicine.

I find the human body in itself fascinating. How each individual organ works perfectly in sync (for the most part) with others to ensure it keeps you alive and functioning as you should, day after day.

After the death of my Granddad in 2019 and hearing about the pitiful end of life care he received from the district nurses who were supposed to ensure his comfort in those final weeks, I also gained a rather intense interest in palliative care and how this looks to different people.

The NHS and working conditions for those on the front line, particularly during the COVID pandemic is another aspect of medical non-fiction that I like to read about. It can be truly angering and give you a whole new respect for those who choose that career.

Although it might sound very doom and gloom and often can be, depending on what you’re reading about, I think some of these best medical non-fiction books are some of the biggest must-reads, due to what you can learn and take from them into your own lives.

So with all that being said, let’s take a look at some of the best medical non-fiction books that I think you should read!

best medical non-fiction books

The Seven Ages of Death by Dr. Richard Shepherd

This is the book I’ve just finished reading that sparked the idea for this post and you’ll notice that I have both of Dr. Richard Shepherd’s books on this list because they are both utterly FANTASTIC reads. The Seven Ages of Death takes a closer look at some of forensic pathologist Dr. Richard Shepherds cases, through the ages from babies to old age.

He provides some incredibly information and teachings about the human body, the brain and how things work, dumbed down to a degree in which us – the layman – can understand. From murder to illness to accidents and more, we get a very graphic and in-depth insight into 24 of his most challenging and shocking cases.

Unnatural Causes by Dr. Richard Shepherd

Unnatural Causes, also by Dr. Richard Shepherd is a wider overview of the work he does as a forensic pathologist but in this book, we get to find out more about some of the most high profile cases that Dr. Shepherd has had the chance to work on. From the Hungerford disaster, to 9/11. He has seen some stuff.

It’s very obvious how much he loves his job, reading about in within the pages of these books. He compassionately describes each case with the utmost respect and dignity for those involved and these books are a wonderful insight into a world very few of us will ever see.

Glittering a Turd by Kris Hallenga

Although this book would likely come under the umbrella of medical non-fiction, I feel like it’s worth mentioning that there’s much more than just the medicalization of cancer in Kris’ wonderful book. Kris – founder of breast cancer charity CoppaFeel! – is a very prominent figure online and I’d been following her story for many years before picking up her book.

Glittering A Turd is definitely a contender is the best medical non-fiction books because first of all, Kris is just a wonderful human being who is so knowledgeable and in tune with her body and her ability to share advice for others. It also delves into the importance of self advocation when it comes to your health.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I feel like this is one of the best medical non-fiction books that most people reading this will have heard of. When Breath Becomes Air was a SUPER popular read a few years ago and whilst the hype might have died down, the impact that this book has definitely hasn’t. And likely never will.

This book, written by Paul Kalanithi, neurosurgeon and lung cancer patient in full of life’s biggest and often unanswerable questions. What makes life worth living in the face of death? And “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life”?

best medical non-fiction books

Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss by Rachel Clarke

I read this book at the beginning of the year and it absolutely blew me away and completely fed my hunger for more knowledge and understand of what end of life care looks like and how palliative care is portrayed and seen by your average person. Spoiler alert, there’s actually a ton of misconceptions around it.

Dear Life is a raw and honest account of life as a palliative care doctor, the problems facing the NHS and the importance of human connection and tenderness in a person’s last months or days. Rachel also shares some very poignant stories and experiences of her own.

Your Life In My Hands: A Junior Doctor’s Story by Rachel Clarke

Another repeat author on this list of best medical non-fiction books and that’s Rachel Clarke again. In Your Life In My Hands, Rachel Clarke captures the extraordinary realities of life on the NHS frontline as well as her experience of grappling out of medical school and straight into the NHS as a junior doctor.

This book is less about the intricacies of each patient but more about junior doctors, politics and a severely broken system that a lot of us owe our lives to. The highs and lows and the fight that junior doctors have every day to stay afloat in a drowning NHS. If you care about our NHS at ALL, this book is for you.

We All Know How This Ends by Anna Lyons and Louise Winter

I bang on about this book SO much because I just feel like it’s one that everyone should have. In fact, they should give this book to you in school to study. We All Know How This Ends, written by an end-of-life doula and funeral direction, covers death. Death and how it can change and shape our lives in all ways possible.

This book isn’t just a bunch of words – it’s an informative guidebook with practical and tangible advice to help you if you’re experiencing end of life with a loved one or are planning a funeral. It’s the sort of information you’re NOT told. It explores how we can live better lives, by acknowledging the simplicity of death.

The Courage To Care: A Call For Compassion by Christie Watson

The Courage To Care: A Call For Compassion is an ode to nurses everywhere. We benefit from their expertise in our hospitals and beyond: in our schools, on our streets, in prisons, hospices and care homes. When we feel most alone, nurses remind us that we are not alone at all.

This is a really quick read but a good one about nurses and the importance of nurses in our healthcare system and the absolute vital trait that we should all strive to have more of – compassion.

This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay

This is one that most people are going to be familiar with, especially now after the series adaptation starring Ben Whishaw (who was FANTASTIC was he not?) This Is Going To Hurt is one of the funnier books on this list but don’t be fooled that it’s not without it’s heartache.

This Is Going To Hurt is a series of diary entries from Adam’s time as a doctor. He shares everything from the hilarious to the horrifying and gives an excellent insight into what it’s like working for the NHS in his no-frills diary entries that definitely don’t hold back.

Medical non-fiction can be hard to read at times, so I’d always recommend taking it slowly and stopping if you feel like you need to. There’s no rush with reading (at least there shouldn’t be) and these books are there to help you learn.

I genuinely think my eyes have been opened and my mind changed for the better thanks to some of these books featured in this post. They’ve given me new insights into health, death, dying and ultimately what it means to live and be human.

What do you think of this selection of best medical non-fiction books? Do you have any to add? Let me know!

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57 Comments

  1. I haven’t read any medical non-fiction books, but Dr. Shepherd’s books do sound insightful and I’m intrigued by This Is Going To Hurt especially since it was made into a show.

  2. I’ve never thought about reading a medical non-fiction even though I do love to read books about how our brains work and books more on the self help/improvement side. I’m very intrigued by the medical world in general, but I may look away because it has something scary too. Thank you for your recommendations, I think The Seven Ages Of Death would be something I could appreciatas it’s giving me true crime vibes, and I love true crime docus, while also teaching you things about the human body.

  3. I always find this type of read difficult. I hate thinking about death and illness! I loved this is going to hurt (both the book and TV show!)

    Corinne x

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever read any medical non-fiction books before. But I love to read, so I will have to check some of these out. Thanks so much for your recommendations!

  5. I love non-fiction medical books but I’ve only read one on this list!! I read When Breath Becomes Air – definitely a great read! I’ll have to check out these others. I’d also add Atul Gawande’s Complications. He has other books too that are on my to read list that were well-received.

    And this one deviates from being exactly medical but I’d highly suggest checking out Mary Roach. She does a fantastic job covering medicine/science as well as a bunch of other topics. Her book, Gulp which focuses on our GI tract was a super interesting read as was Stiff which focuses on death, and Bonk which is all about sex. Her storytelling is like no other and she makes what might be dry subjects like the science of dog food to be an exquisite tale of how it can be connected to sommeliers.

  6. “When Breathe Becomes Air” has been on my TBR for awhile now. I will get around to it one of these days, lol. I would also recommend “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande. I just finished it for book club and it is definitely a reality check on how our perspective of aging and dying has shifted over the years.

  7. These are some really great suggestions! Medical non fiction books aren’t what I’d usually pick up but I’m definitely interested in Unnatural Causes, it sounds fascinating. I’d heard about Kris’ story and Coppafeel but didn’t know she didn’t written a book – I’ll have to check it out! Thank you so much for sharing x

  8. Great post! You always have such incredible topic ideas for your posts – I am so intrigued by this list as someone who’s never ventured into this genre. I think I should give it a try! Thank you very much for sharing.

  9. This has me excited! When I fell ill back in 2013, I really became fascinated with the human body. As I spent more time in hospital, I really found myself interested in everything about the medical world. So these books are right up my street. I’m pretty sure I started unnatural causes but never finished so that’s first on my list. Thank you SO much for sharing this with us lovely. I’m looking forward to reading them Xo

    Elle – ellegracedeveson.com

  10. These titles sound amazing and I love reading this genre. The last one I read was Catching Babies – a story written by a midwife, based on real experiences.

  11. These all sound really interesting. Someone was telling me about a book they just read about a woman whose DNA they harvested a long time ago to I think do cancer research, and you can like buy some of it today? It sounded super wild but interesting

  12. These books sound great and I definitely need to check some of them out! I really like how these books are not only interesting but also informative! Thank you for sharing this list!

  13. I never read medical non-fiction books because I feel it will be difficult to understand and I try to avoid reading related to pain or death because it affects me emotionally. But, The Seven Ages of Death and Unnatural Cause catch my attention since I kind of interested in forensic pathologists. They sound like something that I need to read. Thanks for sharing Jen x

  14. I haven’t read any books on these topics before. I think the only medical style book I have read is a book on fibromyalgia nutrition and cbt. Dying is something that creates real anxiety for me, however the other books sound interesting. Did you find a book on dying anxiety triggering?

    Lauren x

    1. I didn’t really. Before I really started reading books on the topic I would get really triggered but the more I’ve read the more my perception has changed. It can be a difficult topic to get started with, but starting small with a chapter or so at a time is a great place to start and build up!

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