Great Books on Consciousness, Death, and the Afterlife
As philosopher David Chalmers coined it, “the hard problem of consciousness” is one of those concepts that is so central to our existence, it’s easy to overlook or avoid it—until you can’t. Once you’re hooked on trying to understand both what comes next, the implications of what it means if consciousness continues after death, and how the brain and the mind are connected, you will inherently want to know more. Below, an overview of good, easy-to-understand books from a wealth of experts, including doctors, academics, research scientists, and mediums. As we read more, we will continue to add more (and for a very complete bibliography, look to Dr. Eben Alexander’s books, as he includes extended reading sections, as well as scientific studies, in all of them). Stay tuned for an upcoming guide to books on dying and grief, which is only tangentially addressed in the reading below.
First published in Europe in 2007, Dutch cardiologist Pim van Lommel, M.D.’s landmark book, which was published in the US in 2011, presents an entire theory of consciousness based on near-death experiences. Scientifically, it makes one of the most resounding cases, as he constructed a research study across a series of hospitals that was ultimately published in The Lancet in 2001.
In this entirely improbable memoir, Anita Moorjani tells the story of complete and miraculous recovery from end-stage lymphoma—in short, while in a coma suffering from organ shut-down, after four years of being ravaged by the disease, she had a near-death experience. While on the other side, it was made clear to her that she had the power to heal herself, if she began to acknowledge and honor her own worth. It might sound too crazy to be true, but her journey is medically documented and has been verified by other doctors. (Her NDE, first appeared on Dr. Jeffrey Long’s site, NDERF.org.)
Erasing Death: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia, M.D.
For those who are interested in pondering that line between death and irreversible death, this book by Sam Parnia, M.D., who focuses on resuscitation medicine, is a compelling read, particularly in its exploration of ways that we have been able to prolong the period when cell death becomes too damaging. Parnia and his team also constructed the AWARE (AWAreness during REsuscitation) study, where they tasked multiple hospitals with placing objects that could only be seen from vantage points accessible to out-of-body-experiences, so he is interested, too, in the question of whether our soul does in fact survive death. For more from Parnia, click here.
Radiation oncologist Jeffrey Long, M.D. became interested in near-death experiences decades ago, and set up a website, NDERF.org to collect accounts of them from across the globe and across cultures. He also created a survey for NDE’rs to fill out, in order to collate findings and determine which characteristics are shared across accounts. For more from Long, click here.
Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century by by Edward Kelly, Ph.D., Emily Williams Kelly, Ph.D., et al.
Written by a cross-functional team of psychologists and psychical researchers—the lead author is Edward F. Kelly Ph.D., who is a professor in the Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) at the University of Virginia School of Medicine—this book puts forward evidence to support filter theory of the mind/brain connection. In other words, they offer evidence that refutes the idea that the brain could create consciousness.
Life After Life: The Bestselling Original Investigation That Revealed "Near-Death Experiences" by Raymond Moody, M.D.
Raymond Moody, M.D. was the first to explore the phenomenon of near-death experiences, and to give it a name. His book, from 1975, delves into the common themes that emerged, the medical impossibility of these experiences being powered by (flat-lined) brains, and what he believes they point to about the afterlife and consciousness.
Living in a Mindful Universe: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Heart of Consciousness by Eben Alexander, M.D. & Karen Newell
Eben Alexander, M.D.’s latest book, which he wrote with Karen Newell, the co-founder of Sacred Acoustics, takes a more academic look at all the science surrounding consciousness, and all the ways to access the other side. He touches on what we do know and do not know about the functions of the brain, and then goes on to explore everything from mediumship, to quantum theory, to Ayahuasca, to binaural beats. For more from Alexander about the book, click here.
Many Lives, Many Masters: The True Story of a Prominent Psychiatrist, His Young Patient, and the Past-Life Therapy That Changed Both Their Lives by Brian L. Weiss, M.D.
This mega New York Times bestseller, which was first published in 1988, tells the unlikely story of a very prominent psychiatrist (Columbia University, Yale Medical School, Chairman Emeritus of Psychiatry at Miami’s Mount Sinai Medical Center), who had an emotionally paralyzed patient who suffered from anxiety attacks and phobias. After extended talk therapy, Dr. Weiss turned to hypnosis, where she began to reveal “past-life” memories that revealed the causes of her symptoms, and began to channel from spirits. As Dr. Weiss writes in the preface, “I do not have a scientific explanation for what happened. There is far too much about the human mind that is beyond our comprehension…Scientists are beginning to seek these answers. We, as a society, have much to gain from research into the mysteries of the mind, the soul, the continuation of life after death, and the influence of our past-life experiences on our present behavior.” It is a fascinating read, one on which Dr. Weiss was willing to stake his professional reputation, and it has much to offer.
In 2008, academic neurosurgeon, Dr. Eben Alexander, suffered from a severe case of bacterial meningitis, which rendered his brain effectively dead and put him into a coma for a week. In Proof of Heaven, he describes an incredibly vivid and deep near-death experience—an episode he would have dismissed as a mere hallucination if it had been relayed to him by a patient. This is a fascinating read, both for what it reveals about consciousness and our purpose here in life, but also for its in-depth analysis of what was happening medically during the NDE, from the point of view of a neurosurgeon who is otherwise intimately familiar with the workings of the brain.
If you’re unfamiliar with intuitive healer Caroline Myss’ body of work, this is a good introductory text (she’s probably most famous for Anatomy of the Spirit), particularly if you want to explore the concept of soul contract, or soul agreements. In short, the idea is that we all agree to certain things as souls or spirits to help each other evolve, whether it’s children choosing their parents, a pre-determined marriage, or the friendships that have meaning. As Myss explains, soul contracts aren’t necessarily easy or pain-free.
Investigative journalist Leslie Kean (who also wrote an incredible book on UFOs, which we covered, here), takes on the afterlife in this sweeping survey of psi phenomena and consciousness. It is impeccably reported and riveting, as she covers everything from children with past-life experiences, to trance mediums, to other unexplained psi phenomena. If you’re remotely curious in the afterlife, it is a must-read. For more from Kean on Surviving Death, see here.
This 1996 book by philosopher David Chalmers addresses the “hard problem of consciousness,” a problem so difficult, that many doctors and scientists prefer to simply sidestep it. In short, Chalmers’ book is a search for a scientific theory to explain the mind/brain connection: Does the brain in fact conjure consciousness, and why do we have it in the first place? In his view, consciousness is an anomaly, that can not be integrated into a scientific worldview—unless we start to examine radical, new ideas. For Chalmers, he thinks it will be one of the main scientific discoveries, like electromagnetic frequencies. He also gave a corresponding Ted talk.
The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences: Thirty Years of Investigation edited by Janice Miner Holden, EdD, Bruce Greyson, M.D., & Debbie James, RN/MSN
Shepherded in part by Bruce Greyson, M.D., the director of the Department of Paranormal Studies at the University of Virginia, this academic text is focused on presentations from the first two days of the IANDS conference in 2006, which took place at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. (IANDS, aka, the International Association of Near-Death Studies, is a non-profit focused on scientific studies of NDEs.) At their yearly conference, they bring together researchers, scientists, and doctors from all over the globe to discuss findings.
Long Island-based medium Kim Russo, who is certified by the Forever Family Foundation and the Windridge Institute (see our story with Windridge director Julie Beischel, Ph.D., here) calls herself the Happy Medium. Not only is she inherently positive, but she feels like those on the other side bring forth unconditional love. In this fun and breezy read, she recounts case studies from past readings (and episodes from her TV show, The Haunting of…), and offers plenty of tools for opening the intuition and becoming more available to those who have passed. Like the other books by mediums on this list, this is a great overview of what it means to live with these abilities, and how they manifest. She also discusses spirit visitations (and when they can be bad), as well as how to work with a child who might be empathic.
Inarguably one of the most incredible working mediums today, Laura Lynne Jackson (see our video and interview with her here) is the kind of person who embodies light, a fact that’s exemplified by her wonderful book. It is essentially a memoir, as she explains how she came to understand and ultimately embrace her gifts, but it also offers a really beautiful framework for understanding death—and where we go when we die. She also explains how to read and understand signs from loved ones who have passed. Like Kim Russo, she is certified by the Windbridge Institute as well as the Forever Family Foundation.
Based in Denver, Colorado, medium Rebecca Rosen still does group readings (she’s part of our guide, here), despite the fact that she has multiple books and a TV show under her belt. Beyond connecting sitters with those who have passed and providing highly evidential information that suggests consciousness survives death, her book is full of tools and tips for maintaining a connection and looking for, and reading signs.