19 books about aging, happiness, and the bonus years


Books to sustain, enlighten and entertain us as we dare to contemplate the prospect of growing older and dying.

For the record, I list some books below that have educated or entertained or enlightened me as I nervously anticipate the final stage of life. Happy reading! Links are to the Amazon page for each book.

Please share your own favourite books about these topics, and tell us what they gave you. (That’ll be your good deed for the day.)


  1. The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Norman Doidge, 2007 — Inspiring. Revolutionary at the time. Introducing neuroplasticity, the reason why a boot camp for old age is a goer.
  2. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable discoveries and recoveries from the frontiers of neuroplasticity. Norman Doidge, 2015 — Exciting sequel to The Brain That Changes Itself.
  3. Mindful Work: How Meditation is changing Business from the Inside Out. David Gelles, 2015 — Valuable. Entertaining. Why it’s never too late to start meditating.
  4. The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. Charles Duhigg, 2014 — Boot camp basic. The science behind forming good new habits and replacing bad ones.
  5. The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain: Discover the surprising talents of the middle-aged mind. Barbara Strauch, 2010 — Thrilling.
  6. Stumbling on Happiness. Daniel Gilbert, 2006 — Joyful science.
  7. Amortality: The pleasures and perils of living agelessly. Catherine Mayer, 2011 — Sobering. Documents the new wave of Peter Pans and their (our?) denial of old age.
  8. The Art of Aging: A doctor’s prescription for well-being. Sherwin B. Nuland, 2007 — Thoughtful.
  9. How we die. Sherwin B. Nuland, 1995 — Unforgettable description of exactly what happens to body and brain as we age and die. Lays bare the cost and conflict induced by medicalized death.
  10. Being mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end. Atul Gawande, 2014 — Brilliant and brave. Deservedly top of the pops.
  11. The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, time and aging. Doowe Draaisma, 2013 — Fascinating, perceptive and wise.
  12. Travels With Epicurus: A journey to a Greek island in search of a fulfilled life.  Daniel Klein, 2014 — Enriching. Studies contented old age as lived by Greek friends and described by philosophers.
  13. Somewhere Towards the End: A memoir. Diana Athill, 2009 — Irritating, but widely admired.
  14. From age-ing to sage-ing: A revolutionary new approach to growing older.  Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, 1997 — Advice on how to become wiser with age, and start a revolution. (Good luck with that.)
  15. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding modern truth in ancient wisdom. Jonathan Haidt, 2006 —Walk through 10 big ideas and find one that matches your style.
  16. How to Age. Anne Karpf — An important essay on gerontophobia in the west with all its cruelty, daftness and implicit self-sabotage — and the high price we pay for this.
  17. This Chair Rocks: a Manifesto Against Ageism. Ashton Applewhite. This book is  a tonic, suit of armour and box of chocs rolled into one. Go Ashton!

Fiction and poetry

This list is short, because I quickly realised that it could become e-n-o-r-m-o-u-s. Please share your favourite fiction and poems that sustain or enlighten or entertain you, because of some association with death and aging.

  1. The Summer before the Dark. Doris Lessing — Stunning. Must-read. The heroine is plunged into an artificial old age by circumstance. An exercise in empathy and experimentation.
  2. Memento Mori. Muriel Spark — Loved it. A mysterious caller announces to each character in turn, “Remember you must die.” Rrright! How do you respond? Call the police? Explode? Run away? Or agree… Beneath a feather-light, frivolous treatment of death lies a timeless message for us all.

13 thoughts on “19 books about aging, happiness, and the bonus years

  1. Robyn Haynes says:

    A formidable reading list Rachel. I have only read a handful of these. Just finished a classic: Rumor Godden’s, The River, and loved it.

    1. Aha! I see my own list will grow longer now. I love reading.

  2. lifecameos says:

    I have learned some of my information from discussions with my parents’ doctors, nurses and caregivers. One parent had Alzheimers’, one developed vascular dementia at 89.

    1. At a certain point we start to hoover up information. Yours is safely stowed, ready for use.

  3. Bernadette says:

    I have read several books on your list. Your list is a very good compilation of ideas. Why don’t you share it at the Senior Salon?

  4. Dan Antion says:

    Of course, the real key to happiness might be to pile the books up and lay on them. At least that’s what the photo (and our cats) would suggest.

    1. Yep, so you noticed my sanity maintenance device. Name of Ursula.

  5. Aunt Beulah says:

    I’ve read two books on your lists: “Being mortal: Medicine and what matters in the end…” and “Memento Mori” both of which had an impact on me. I don’t know if I’m afraid of diving into books that deal with death and dying or simply prefer other topics (or are both really the same thing?). There are a couple on your list that interest me, though.

    1. Those are two brilliant books and they sort of cover the field. Don’t copy me: I was on a daft DIY boot camp.

  6. joared says:

    I’ve read five of these books and others related to neurology and brain functioning as am especially interested in the latter, keeping up with the knowledge that’s being learned today. The more we learn about our mind, body, spirit the better, I believe — nothing to fear — just become increasingly aware of as much as we know, how much more there is to know — exciting!

    1. My sentiments entirely! What a fascinating time to be alive.

  7. gertloveday says:

    Tennyson’s Ulysses “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

    We’re great fans of Diana Athill.

    1. But of course! She’s a hero.

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