Before you think I’ve completely lost the plot and leave, hear me out. A heavy subject to be talking about on a Monday morning? For sure. An important topic that we all need to be more open to talking about in various different capacities, also true. So, let’s talk about death baby.

I’m a huge fan of non-fiction books. I find them absolutely vital for my personal growth and I find mentally, I feel much more enriched when I’m learning about something new, learning about someone’s life, their story and their trials and tribulations.

I think non-fiction provides us with an aspect of human connection in some small and worthwhile way.

Human beings are so complicated – why wouldn’t we want to learn more about them, the good, the bad, the extraordinary?

But in relation to the title of this post, one area of non-fiction I’ve always been really fascinated by is medical non-fiction. I guess my fascination for reading death-related books has stemmed from always being interested in medical related things.

I’ve never wanted to be a doctor but I’ve always found the human body fascinating. I’ve read a LOT of medical non-fiction books over the years and one thing that would crop up in all of them is, obviously, death.

But I’d never read anything solely on that subject. It was always intertwined with stories of medical emergencies. It was always the thing that happened before moving on to the next chapter and it wasn’t until the last year or so that I’d read anything substantial about it.

So, why do I like reading about death?

I think when you talk about death books, a lot of people assume it’s just a case of, “you’re going to die, the end”. But there is SO MUCH to learn and discover around the topic of death.

It’s so much more multi-faceted than you originally think and by reading these types of books, I have literally learned so much.

So here are all the reasons why I like reading about death and death-related books from all aspects of the conversation:

It’s interesting

First and foremost, it’s just an interesting subject. If it wasn’t, things like true crime wouldn’t be as popular as it is. It’s life’s biggest mysteries and with so many different outlooks, approaches and ideas to death and the afterlife, how can you not find it absolutely fascinating?

It makes me appreciate the human body more

Obviously death and the human body go hand in hand and when you read a lot of medical non-fiction books, you’ll begin to start seeing the human body in a new way. I guess people in medicine or any area of work where they tend to people, they see this every day. But for us that don’t, these sort of books give us a great insight.

The human body is effing fantastic. It’s a marvel. Not just the body but the mind as well, how it all connects, how it’s reacts to what’s going on throughout. This has made me not just appreciate the human body more but also be more inclined to take care of mine and improve my well-being.

It’s important to learn more about end-of-life care

Sadly, most of us will experience end-of-life care in some form or another. Whether it’s ourselves who have to receive the care or a loved one that we will have to care for (with the help of professionals, hopefully). It’s SUCH a normal part of life yet so many people get to it and don’t know what to do.

End-of-life care is so much more involved that you think it is on the surface. It’s not just about making someone physically comfortable and not in pain. It’s much more about emotional wellness, spiritual wellness, allowing them to live out their wishes and the impact on those around them as well.

It normalizes the conversation more

Death is the only thing that’s guaranteed to happen to all of us, yet we never talk about it. I think particularly British people are very tight lipped about the whole topic and just pretend it doesn’t happen, which literally helps no-one. We need to talk about it more.

Imagine if no-one ever talked about having periods and kept it hush-hush. Girls all over the world would be terrified and bamboozled about the whole thing because it’s not “normalized”. Which is kindaaaa what happens to us, with death.

By reading about the different aspects of it, it normalizes it more. And it doesn’t make it morbid. It’s just one of those things that happens. Granted, a very big and important thing that happens but it allows you more time to think about your wants and needs.

One thing I learned from all the books I’ve read that has really stuck with me is that people don’t think about what they really want until it’s too late and then they won’t receive their wishes.

It opens your eyes to the amazing work doctors, nurses, palliative care workers etc do

These people are absolute heroes. They really are. Learning about the ins and outs of palliative care is so eye-opening and gives you so much respect (as if you didn’t have enough already) for everyone that works with older people, terminally ill people or those on end-of-life care or in hospice. Or even just people in the NHS in general!

The funeral industry isn’t what you think

For the most part, the funeral industry fucking sucks. And I bet you didn’t know that. I certainly didn’t before I read We All Know How This Ends where funeral director Louise Winter goes into detail about how much of a money making scheme the funeral industry can be.

It’s made me less scared and more accepting

I used to be terrified of the prospect of dying. It would send me into panic attacks and I’ll be totally honest, it STILL does. On a very rare occasion. And that’s okay, it’s a normal thing to be scared of.

But the more I’ve read about it, the more accepting I’ve become and I’ve also become MUCH less scared. In fact, for the most part, I’m not scared at all. Apart from those odd occasions that I am.

But you’re not ALWAYS scared of spiders, until one crawls on you in the night.

8 death-related book recommendations:

I hope those pointers above have given you a bit of a more comprehensive understanding of all the reasons why I love reading books about death, end-of-life, forensic pathology, medical settings and all that good stuff.

If you’re interested in delving a bit further, here are some of my top recommendations:

  • After by Dr Bruce Greyson: A fantastic look at the concept of near death experiences, from a doctor with over 40 years of research in the field. Absolutely fascinating.
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: A stunning view of death through the ages and how we’ve medicalised the whole process of living from start to finish. Will really get you thinking about quality of life and what really matters.
  • How To Live When You Could Be Dead by Deborah James: A wonderful read from the powerhouse that is Deborah James about finding joy in your life, even if tomorrow could be your last.
  • We All Know How This Ends by Louise Winter and Anna Lyons: The ONE death book I’d recommend above all others. Practical, realistic, eye-opening and one that everyone should read.

  • The Seven Ages of Death and Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd: Dr Richard Shepherd is THE MAN for any in-depth medical related books. His books give the most fascinating look into post mortems and what we can learn about life (and death) from each one.
  • With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix: I was fortune enough to hear Kathryn chat on a Zoom call and she’s just endlessly warm and fascinating. For anything surrounding end-of-life care, she’s the one for you!
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: Probably the most well-known book from this list but one I truly believe we should all read. It’s humbling and heart-breaking but endlessly fascinating.
  • All That Remains by Sue Black: A guide to death, if you will by Sue Black, a Professor of Anatomy and Forensic Anthropology who sees it every day. If you like things about forensic science, this one is great.

I really hope this post was eye-opening, enlightening and perhaps made you think about death as something that isn’t as morbid as it seems.

Of course I’m not by any means diminishing anyone’s experience with death. Losing someone is ALWAYS incredibly hard beyond words, regardless of how much you know or understand about death.

But I do truly think that talking about such a difficult topic more will help us all in the long run. 

So perhaps this post might have encouraged you to pick up one of the books I’ve mentioned or ask a family member or friend about what they want at their funeral.

I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments! All experiences and opinions are welcome and valid.

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  1. I used to think that I could read about death as a way to make it less scary. Apparently, I’m not at that point in my life yet, because I just end up stressing myself out and feeling hopeless. Maybe one day?

  2. This is definitely a difficult topic to talk about, so thanks for bringing some light to this. And those lists of books sound great too.

  3. Interesting post. I’m also interested in reading books about death. I’ve read the Sue Black book and will check out the others.

  4. You’re absolutely right about death being a bit of a taboo subject – no-one really likes to talk about it, even though it comes to us all. It’s a bit like cancer really, we don’t like to think about it, until it happens to someone we know. I’ve not heard of any of the books you mention but I’m intrigued by We All Know How This Ends now – that looks like a must-read. Thank you, Jenny, an unusual post but a really good, thought-provoking one!

  5. Thank you for this post! I also find it a fascinating topic and will definitely take a look at some of these books you’ve recommended. Agree that its not heavily talked about and while I understand why, definitely feel like its something that does need to be discussed more because we all have to deal with it at some point in our lives.

    1. It definitely does. There’s SO much misleading information out there and once you really get down to it, you learn so much that makes you think “ah, okay! That’s not too scary”.

  6. This was such an interesting read! I have to admit that I’ve never read any non fiction books about death, although I do love a good mystery! I think part of me is scared that it’ll upset me but I’m starting to reconsider now. It’s so important to keep informed and talk about death more. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts

    1. You’re welcome. It’s weird because I don’t find books like this upsetting at all. Apart from those that talk about forensics or perhaps people that have died in horrific ways (for example a mass genocide, as in Still Life With Bones) but in general, it’s very uplifting and eye-opening and comforting!

  7. This was a really interesting post to read. Death is definitely a taboo subject some, and I tend to fall into the group of people who don’t want to talk about it unfortunately. However, like you said, it is a part of our existence, and I’ve been realizing this more and more as I’ve been getting older. My parents and grandparents won’t be around forever. That’s the truth even if it’s hard to accept, especially since I’m pretty dependent on my parents. I’m a person with a disability and the thought of not having my parents around to advocate for me scares me. I’m learning to be more and more independent so I can lessen that anxiety, and learn how to advocate for myself. I don’t ever want to lose my parents but they are getting older. Thankyou for this insightful post

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