25 Answers

  1. In my opinion, one of the most interesting and detailed books about death, and in particular about the relationship of people of different eras to this phenomenon, is the work of Philip Arjes “Man in the face of death”. The time range of the phenomena under consideration extends from the Middle Ages to the present. The only thing to consider is that the author describes only the experience of a European resident.

  2. I highly recommend Ernest Becker's Denial of Death, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about culture, religion, and war in the context of the fear of death.

    Then there's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes — a good and ironic book from a former crematorium employee.

  3. “Pestilence, the Disciple of Death” by Terry Pratchett. An interesting and unusual book, although at first it is difficult to read, especially if you were waiting for a serious and depressing reading material and were not ready for fairy-tale fiction.

  4. Another very good book is Irwin Yalom, Peering Into the Sun. Yalom is a therapist who has worked for many years with end-stage cancer patients, leading groups. This book is a summary of his experience. He writes well-deeply and easily at the same time.

    I can also recommend “The Writer and Suicide” by Grigory Chkhartishvili. It's not about death in general, as the title suggests, but you can find a lot of useful thoughts and references to other useful books.

  5. It seems that S. Ryazantsev's work “The Philosophy of Death” or in another name – “Thanatology (the doctrine of death)”has not yet been published. A professionally written, multi-faceted study (although it is already slightly outdated, for example, in terms of the statistics given). Thanatology is a thing that is practically not sanctified in our country, so this interesting book is definitely worth reading.

  6. I advise you to read the book “Immortality, Humanity, Russia-through the eyes of the dead”. The author, a simple man with no higher education, was subjected to a transcendental state after the death of his wife. Using the connection with the deceased spouse, this person writes books at the level of a professional theologian. The fact that in our time the author of the book describes the structure of the posthumous worlds on the level of Elena Blavatsky and Charles Lethbeater, already makes you think.

  7. “Interruptions in death” – Jose Saramago. It shows very clearly from a logical point of view what would have happened if death had ceased its activity. And, on the other hand, the relation of death itself to its vocation and, more romantically, its relativity as an infernal being, which is shown through the simple property of loving.

    Such contrasts of the two parts leave a big imprint on thoughts about how to perceive death.

  8. The death of Ivan Ilyich is about how it will be

    The apology of Socrates (Plato) is about how this is treated, and for the sake of the phrase about death, about which we do not know what it is in itself, good or evil: “therefore I will never fear and avoid what may be good, more than what is sure to be evil”

    A farewell letter from Gabriel Garcia Marquez that he didn't write…


  9. Chronicles of Charon (Encyclopedia of Death) — describes the main types of death, selected interesting facts and statistics. The book looks like a trial approach to the topic, but it is worth reading. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to study it well — my ex-wife took it for herself, you bitch.

  10. Akunin (or rather Anna Borisova, another literary representation of Grigory Shalvovich) “There”. In my opinion, it describes well both the abrupt transition from life to death, and how close they are to each other, and the afterlife for anyone, depending on their worldview and faith – There is enough space for everyone.

  11. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Collection of short stories. That's where death seeps through every line.. There are graves like cradles, and people with their eyes pecked out.. In general, you will like it.

  12. Maybe not exactly what the author asked. But when I was a kid, I read Astrid Lindgren's The Lionheart Brothers. Death, life after death, death after death-all as you love.

  13. I don't remember the author, but the book is called “The Elegance of a Hedgehog”.

    I HIGHLY recommend it. Gentle.�

    About suicide, a teenager, love, attitude to life and death.

  14. Ram Dass “Be Here and Now” is a book about death and old age, read very quickly and easily. This book has changed a lot in me. Like Jobs really liked it)

  15. I would recommend the novel “Oscar and the Pink Lady”by the French writer and playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. The book, of course, should be read by everyone in their lifetime. It is one of the few acts of arbitrariness that teaches people to treat death correctly.

  16. A remark. His works describe the post-war period. Deaths during the war + deaths of friends. Death from an incurable disease, death in the name of life (racer).

  17. You can read” As long as I live ” by J. R. R. Tolkien.Downham, I think there's a movie made of it. About how a teenage girl with cancer dies.
    Kate Atkinson's “Life After Life” is, in principle, an interesting idea, and the ending with the murder of Hitler is not bad.
    Uh-oh… I can also add “Martin Eden” of London. It's not really about death, but at the end it's interesting to see one picture related to suicide (oops, spoiler alert, oh well).

  18. I can recommend a wonderful book with an unpredictable ending. “Death is not happy with its life either.” “The Storyteller” is a very unusual and fascinating book about Death. In fact, Death is not the hero that we imagine him to be: slightly cynical, slightly gentle, slightly selfish. Very bright and unsurpassed humor inherent in Zotov fills the book with life and movement. After reading the book of Death, I'm not afraid anymore.

  19. The Book of Grains of Sand: The Fantastic Prose of Latin America. 1990 edition with illustrations by Pavel Tatarnikov (1953-2010).
    Quite a thorough artistic study of death in the works of good and well-known writers. I was particularly struck by the stories of Clemente Palma from Peru.

    Mark Twain. Captain Stormfield's journey to paradise.
    As a child, this book stunned me with its wit, humor and fantastic world.

  20. A very good list is obtained from the answers, I just need to add one – “Man in the face of death” by psychologist and psychiatrist Stanislav Grof. She talks about an experiment in which people dying of cancer were given psychedelics. The results are very interesting, I advise you to read them.

  21. Lyell Watson, “Romeo's Mistake”

    A very interesting work of biologist Lyell Watson, devoted to the study of the problem of life and death. Watson, from the point of view of biology, tries to determine where life begins and where it ends, and whether it ends at all.

    The work is good because it does not contain any mystical guesses and conjectures. Only pure scientific knowledge and the rational approach of a scientist.

  22. There are two classic literary works devoted to death and its experience (the experience of its unbearability and at the same time absolute, imposing reality): “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” by Leo Tolstoy, and” The Wall ” by Jean-Paul Sartre. I would also recommend Kazuo Ishiguro's novel (Never Let Me Go)”Don't let me go”, in which the inevitability of death is analyzed and experienced. It is surprising that in philosophy death is not a particularly popular topic, and it seems that in literary works it is considered more fully and even in the philosophical sense-more interesting.

  23. In this context, I cannot but mention the Bardo Thedol, which is erroneously translated as the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

    It shows in the first person the transition of the soul in the process of dying.

    It is largely mythological and it is desirable that the reader should be familiar with the contemplative traditions of the East, but the essence is captured without that.

    The soteriological aspect of the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, which is obsessed with local shamanic traditions, is revealed in the so-called last limit, that is, at the moment when a person can make a conscious decision for the last time. If he is ready for this moment, then he has a chance to know his original nature and not fall back into the world of illusions. But if he doesn't take that chance…

    Alternative outcomes and opportunities in the descent process are also described.

    In general, pay attention, especially enchanted by the east.

  24. Faulkner's “When I Was Dying” is the best representation of the subject in literature and just very, very much fun. Best of all in the original, of course, but you can also use it in Russian.

  25. Death is a paradoxical topic for the current culture, and books about it reflect this. On the one hand, almost no one talks about death, and in bookstores you will not find shelves about it. On the other hand, you can see how ultimately all human books, from romantic novels to texts by twentieth-century European philosophers (and certainly biographies that all end the same way), do not just tell, but directly scream about death. Some people believe that this is the only reason to write for a human being: your text will outlive you if it finds its own reader. This absence/presence of death in culture is overlaid with an extraordinary variety of ways to keep silent or speak out about death. Death can be considered as a social phenomenon, it can be considered as a medical or legal phenomenon (a discussion about the death penalty), it can be applied to it by philosophical arguments or considered as an adaptive advantage from the point of view of evolutionary biology, it can finally hit on religion. You can read about all this here.

    1. Epicurus “Letter to Menekeus”

    A letter from a famous ancient philosopher, in which he gives one of the key arguments about death in Western culture. Since life is a collection of sensations, and death is the cessation of life, we will never face our own death: while we are still alive, it is not there, and when we are already dead, we no longer feel it.

    1. Sherwin Nuland «How We Die. Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter»

    The bestseller of the recently deceased American surgeon, for some reason still not translated into Russian. A look at death from the perspective of medicine and social policy, and a burning discussion: whether a person can control his departure from life. In fact, this is an attempt at a modern discussion about what “a good death” means, a term that was actively used in antiquity. It is also worth mentioning another American reflection on the social conditions in which dying occurs in modern America – “The American Way of Death” by Jessica Mitford. In Russia, such reflection is not observed, and this is sad.

    1. Julian Barnes “Nothing to Fear”

    Outstanding nonfiction novel or essay by an English writer entirely devoted to aging and dying. At the same time, an endlessly sad epitaph for the family, an ironic and bitter reflection on one's own death, and a stunning tour of European intellectual culture that addresses the theme of death: from Christians and Montaigne to the positivist philosopher Alfred Ayer and Dmitry Shostakovich. If you really only need one book about death, choose this one. It's pretty damn well written, to say the least.

    1. Philippe Arjes “The Man Facing Death”

    A key text written about death from the perspective of everyday history and cultural anthropology. Arjes reconstructs how death from being an everyday phenomenon in pre-modern society gradually becomes an individual drama in the modern era, something obscene, and then romanticized.

    1. Mary Roach ” Cadaver. How the body after death serves science”

    A popular science book, the main character of which is a corpse, which – sometimes by the will of the deceased, sometimes accidentally serves science and human knowledge. Roach also has a book called “Life after Death”, where she analyzes all sorts of speculations about the afterlife. All these stories about how “the body becomes 10 grams lighter when the soul goes away.”

    1. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross “On Death and Dying”

    The most famous book written about death by a psychologist. Kubler-Ross is the same scientist who in the late 60s of the last century came up with the famous “five stages” of accepting death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. The Kubler-Ross model was then much criticized in the literature.

    1. Viktor Frankl ” Say yes to life. Psychologist in a concentration camp”

    This text refers to another aspect of death: genocide and mass murder. The famous psychologist Frankl goes to Auschwitz, his wife dies in another camp. He observes how people die every day, how human life is worthless, and asks the question, why cling to life, what is the reason that a person tries to see meaning in his life, if such a reason exists at all. This topic: life and death in the face of radical violence is joined by an extensive tradition of camp literature, the most terrible lines of which were written by Varlam Shalamov.

    1. Thomas Cathcart, Daniel Klein “Heidegger and the Hippopotamus enter the Gates of Paradise”

    For comparison, to soften the pathos somewhat, an entertaining book by popularizers of the philosophy of Cathcart and Klein, who turn death into an anecdote, simultaneously dealing with time and eternity. If you do not want to read jokes, but are going to storm death in the line of philosophy, take Thomas Nagel's “Mortal Questions”, Kierkegaard's litany or Martin Heidegger's” Being and Time ” mass – the latter, after all, is also about our topic.

    1. David Rieff «Swimming in a Sea of Death»

    A classic attempt to confront death with words, capturing it in great detail, and thereby limiting and rejecting it: the son of the famous philosopher Susan Sontag writes an epitaph for his mother. By the way, there are more exotic ways for intellectuals to relate to death. In 2007, 80-year-old philosopher Andre Gorz and his wife Doreen committed a double suicide. Before they died, they wrote a note in which they asked not to blame anyone for what happened and explained their action by saying that their reason began to leave them, while they wanted to leave life while being in their right mind. The Highlander's last book came out a year earlier: a collection of his letters confessing his love for Doreen (“Lettre à D. Histoire d'un amour”). Remember, above we were talking about the concept of a” good death ” among the ancients.

    1. Archpriest Alexander Schmeman “The Liturgy of Death and modern Culture”

    Most of all, of course, Christians were concerned about death – in fact, religion is needed in order to inherit eternal life from Christ. This is told by the main holiday of this tradition, Easter, and so on. The Orthodox priest Schmemann, an emigrant in the late 70s of the last century, grasped the problem: a secular society that has abandoned religion is beginning to pretend that death does not exist. While it certainly is. So from the reality of death, Schmemann suggests moving on to the reality of Christian mythology. Also worth mentioning here is the “Bible”, which culminates for Christians in the story of Christ's death and resurrection. Or, excuse me, “Harry Potter” with its quasi-Manichaean myth that there are two ways to avoid death: the way of good and the way of Voldemort

    What is sorely missing from this list is the analysis of death from the perspective of normal evolutionary biology – the closest Roach comes to this. Biologists don't seem to have written such a book for the general reader yet, or at least I don't know it. But it is necessary to assess the state of the discussion about death as an evolutionary strategy, at least for this note.


    In the US, there is also a huge discussion about the death penalty, and excellent books about this issue. We didn't put too much effort into it.

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