13 outstanding books on illness, suffering, death…and immortality

Doctors regularly come up against illness and suffering. These are the ghosts that haunt the corridors of hospitals, the phantom visitors to countless wards. Are we, as a medical fraternity, really comfortable with these challenging maladies? Or do we flinch and recoil at the prospect of addressing these fearsome scourges head-on?


Death. Seyed Mostafa Zamani on Flikr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/seyyed_mostafa_zamani/5084063075


And then there is death, the five letter word that strikes terror in the hearts of all mortals. The ever-looming shadow over human existence. Death, the invincible menace that hovers over the living. Or is it? Is mortality really the monster our imaginations conjure up? Or does death have a useful meaning? Is there some purpose behind the acts of the grim reaper?


By Ferdinand Hodlerhttp://jco.ascopubs.org/content/20/7/1948.full, Public Domain, Link


Over the following weeks, The Doctors Bookshelf will try and unmask the truth behind death and its harbingers, illness and suffering. We will attempt to get under the skin of our most dreadful horrors and our inescapable terrorsWe will explore 13 books as our guides to understanding these agents of apprehension. We will learn from heroes who have faced these formidable phenomena with dignity. And we will learn from experts who have studied these disquieting predicaments at close quarters.


By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0011754.html, CC BY 2.0, Link


To kick off the series, we will first explore illness with reviews of two great books:



by philosopher and illness sufferer Havi Carell


The illness Narratives 

by anthropologist-psychiatrist Arthur Kleinmann


By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/08/94/72385f4ce252b5ca542b4c2dac36.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0026693.html, CC BY 4.0, Link


We will then look at the meaning and significance of suffering with reviews of a pair of excellent books:


The Nature of Suffering and the Goals of Medicine

by doctor Eric Cassell


Man’s Search for Meaning

by concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl


By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/48/f4/16baadbd8b96c9a3d9c07c67c55c.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0026689.html, CC BY 4.0, Link


Next we will look at the meaning of death with two great books, psychological and clinical: 


The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life 

by psychologists Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski


Being Mortal 

by Atul Gawande


By Jesse Krauß – Own work, Public Domain, Link


We will then explore two books by medical doctors which unmask and demystify the dying process:


How We Die

by Sherwin Nuland


The Way We Die Now

by Seamus O’Mahoney


Mental Illness. Alchua County on Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/alachuacounty/12178605035


We will then follow up with four excellent and touching personal accounts of dying:


When Breath Becomes Air 

by neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi


The Other Side 

by geriatrics registrar Kate Granger


The Bright Side

also by Kate Granger



by journalist and atheist Christopher Hitchens


By Ronald Searlehttp://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//283/media-283613/large.jpgThis is photograph Art.IWM ART 15747 102 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums., Public Domain, Link


Finally we will review immortality, of sorts, with the insprational tour de force:


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by award-winning journalist Rebecca Skloot


By User:Origoventus – I created this work entirely by myself., CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


So stay with The Doctors Bookshelf. Soon to set us off will be the thought-provoking and life-changing:


 Illness by Havi Carell


By http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/10/16/6423493e65c7167865dd61a2d5c8.jpgGallery: http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0010180.html, CC BY 4.0, Link

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