At Last! Your Death Acceptance Reading List

Bless their morbid souls, Order members Bess Lovejoy (author of Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses) and Megan Rosenbloom (co-founder of Death Salon) put together a list of deathy books for all manner of death interests.

By no means does it include all the glorious options, but I’ve read most of these and fully approve.  Accept no substitutes!

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The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years – Philippe Ariès

The Corpse: A History – Christine Quigley

Death in England: An Illustrated History – Edited by Peter C Jupp & Clare Gittings

Death, Religion and the Family in England, 1480—1750 – Ralph Houlbrooke

This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War  – Drew Gilpin Faust

The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799-1883 – Gary Laderman


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Science & Medicine

After We Die: The Life and Times of the Human Cadaver – Norman L. Cantor

Death to Dust: What Happens to Dead Bodies? –  Kenneth V. Iserson

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Mary Roach

The Rethinking Mortality series at the New York Academy of Sciences, 2013-2014.

Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save Your Life? (The New Yorker)


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Sociology & Anthropology

Death, Mourning, and Burial: A Cross-Cultural Reader – Edited by Antonius C. G. M. Robben

Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual – Peter Metcalf and Richard Huntington

Funeral Festivals in America – Jacqueline S. Thursby

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The Funeral Industry

The American Way of Death – Jessica Mitford

Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in Twentieth-Century America – Gary Laderman

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade – Thomas Lynch

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Facing Your Mortality

The Denial of Death – Ernest Becker

Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death – Irvin D. Yalom

Talking about Death – Virginia Morris

Thinking about Death Can Make You Value Life More – Nathan Heflick

Ask a Mortician / Order of the Good Death Youtube Channel

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Green Death

Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial – Mark Harris

The Natural Death Handbook – Natural Death Centre

Grave Danger: The Emergence of the Sustainable Death Movement (GOOD Magazine)

The Greenest Things to Do With Your Body After You Die (The Atlantic)

DIY Death: Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal (WBUR)


Death & Youth

Carry On & A Fashionable Death (Rookie Mag) – Esme B.

Thinking About Dying Will Change Your Life (Rookie Mag) – Danielle

Children’s Books about Death (A list from National Association for the Education of Young Children)

Books to Help You Explain Death to Children (A list from Aha! Parenting)

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Death in General

The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead – David Shields

Speaking of Death: America’s New Sense of Mortality – Michael K. Bartalos

Thinking Clearly About Death – Jay F. Rosenberg

Whole Death Catalog – Harold Schechter

Handbook of Death and Dying – Edited by Clifton D. Bryant

Encyclopedia of Death: Myth, History, Philosophy, Science—The Many Aspects of Death and Dying – Beatrice Kastenbaum and Robert Kastenbaum

The Death Class: A True Story About Life – Erika Hayasaki



Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, 1880-1930 – John Warner

Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America (and Sleeping Beauty II and III)     –  The Burns Archive

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Books and Articles by Order of the Good Death Members

Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius & Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith – Colin Dickey

The Morbid Anatomy Anthology – Edited by Colin Dickey and Joanna Ebenstein

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory – Caitlin Doughty

The Mummies of Mexico City (Atlas Obscura) – Elizabeth Harper

The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses & Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs  – Paul Koudounaris

Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses & Fond Farewells: A Reconsideration of the American Way of Death (Lapham’s Quarterly) – Bess Lovejoy

Stayin’ Alive (Lapham’s Quarterly) & Let’s Talk About Death, Says Medical Librarian Donating Her Corpse to Science (WHYY’s The Pulse) – Megan Rosenbloom

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  • Robin B

    Awesome list and a great resource for our library. Thanks so much for compiling.

  • Dancingpopes

    Hi! Can I suggest the book I wrote “The Deaths of the Popes: Comprehensive Accounts Including Funerals, Burial Places, and Epitaphs” (McFarland. 2004). Thanks!

    • Dancingpopes

      Oh and my name is Wendy J. Reardon

  • Tequilamedway

    It may be a little more science/forensics, biography; but I enjoyed “Deaths Acre – Inside the legendary Body Farm” by William Bass. Things those in death can teach the living. 🙂

    • Hilary

      Great suggestion! Has anyone else read “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” By Dr. William Maples? Another good one if you’re also interested in forensic anthropology.

  • zenithblue

    YES. Oh man, thank you so much.

    It would be a different list, but I’d love to see a list of novels that deal with death in an interesting way. I know grief and loss have been subjects of literature since forever, so that might be too unwieldy a category–but so many works of fiction deal with death in a pat, easy-to-consume way that candy-coats the complexities. I’d love to hear suggestions for the books that don’t.

  • Molly

    may i add “What Remains” by Sally Mann under the death and photography category? Gorgeous work she made on a “body farm” (a place where scientists study decomposition).

  • Austin Skinner

    Thank OOTGD, get that prep room ready because this Amazon bill will be the end of me.

  • zenithblue

    Hey, fellow Order Members: so, I’m almost finished with Celebrations of Death, and plan to continue reading from this list. I’m curious if anyone else is interested in starting some kind of low-commitment discussion group, either on Goodreads or elsewhere? I’d love to bounce ideas around and discuss.

  • Pallas

    Highly recommend the book about professional and personal experiences with the shift of western death culture written by Jennifer Worth called “In the Midst of Life”. (She also wrote the autobiographical trilogy of books that became the basis for the “Call the Midwife” series on BBC/PBS.) Personal, because it also documents her wrestling with her own terminal illness.

  • Rose

    On the spiritual side of death I enjoyed some of the wonderful ture accounts and humor of the spiritual masters as they consciously, and willfully, died. In “Graceful Exits”: How Great Beings Die.”

  • JennieB

    Two books focusing on cemeteries: “The Last Great Necessity,” by David Charles Sloane (or Charles David Sloane, I always forget which…”) and “Inventing the American Way of Death-1830-1920.” by James J. Farrell. While both are focused on the evolution of American cemeteries, they do a really great job at putting the experience of death into a larger societal context. Two of the best books I’ve come across on the subject(s).

  • Lisa

    Excellent list! I would also recommend “How We Die” by Sherwin Nuland.

  • Adrienne Lewis-Wagner

    I just stumbled upon literary heaven for thanatologists. Thank for compiling such an exhaustive reading list OOTGD.

  • Chris Nicholson Miller

    Another good one: “Does This Mean You Will See Me Naked?” by Robert D. Webster. My favorite, so far. I also like Mary Roach’s “Stiff” (shown above) and “Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt” by Kenneth McKenzie and Todd Harra.

  • Laurie Maitem

    ‘What Remains’ by Sally Mann….documentary and photography….absolutely powerful and stunning.

  • Ed

    Awesome book…”smoke gets in your eyes”…I am now planning my own departure….it helped to see what goes on behind the scene…i feel better about creamation…thank you

  • Allison Checkeye

    After this list and your recent Facebook recommendation, I’m ordering “Stiff” for Christmas. I can’t wait to take a look at it and a few others. Thanks for the list!

  • Carla Sofka

    Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is also a must-read…

    • Katie Whear-wetsel

      Being Mortal addresses the need for earlier hospice and palliative care for those suffering from advanced or serious illness that can’t be “fixed”. Often more harm than good are done to these fragile individuals and their families. Current legislation , The Advanced Care Planning Act, Senate bill 1549, in Washington now, will encourage a kinder-gentler type of medicine for those suffering with little hope of a cure. A combination of traditional curative care along with palliative symptom management and counseling. These are not Death Panels designed to hasten death for the sake of saving money. This conjunctive support will empower patients to guide their medical care according to their own personal values and priorities. Not just doing what the doctors tell them.

    • I also found this book extremely helpful in planning for death. It’s great to know what to do with your body when you’re done using it, but knowing what you want to do for yourself in your final years, months, or days is important, especially since it can ameliorate some of the fear that surrounds the idea of dying.

  • Haunting Notions

    I would like to recommend “Death and The Afterlife: A Chronological Journey, from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection” by Clifford A. Pickover and “Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive” by Jack Mord. Both are gorgeous hardcover books that would enhance any Deathling’s collection.

  • Marjorie Daw

    Another one for “Death and Youth” a title called “When My Baba Died” which explains the Eastern Orthodox funeral service to children and anyone with a fascination for death customs from around the world. It shows in a nonfiction way the exact process from wake to church to cemetery that a child will witness and uses appropriate terminology to describe each step.

    Written by a funeral director with positive language for our profession, there is also an activity workbook that includes many suggestions on personalizing the funeral service and even a page for children to research schooling for morticians, planting seeds for future directors. Look up Pascha Press on Facebook to learn more!

  • Thomas Baird

    I’ve been reading from this list since your first post of it. I’m about half way through. I still love it. Thanks!

  • amazing list! 🙂

  • Susan Durtschi Longo

    I’d like to recommend The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard. I loved this book! It’s a huge collection of stories about Victorian death and mourning. Some of the contents: Interviews with Victorian undertakers and post-mortem photographers, products for “correct” mourning, death omens, widow’s etiquette tips, extravagant funerals, morgue horrors, strange uses for crape, and heartbreaking deathbed scenes.

  • Trish

    I recommend, “Die Wise” by Stephen Jenkinson

  • Raven Lanelle Cross

    Dead People Suck by Katherine Kilmartin was very good.