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A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death Hardcover – July 16, 2019

4.6 out of 5 stars 698 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


“The combined wisdom of a legendary hospice physician together with a journalist and experienced caregiver makes this book feel like a loving friend who is by our side with practical advice on the medical, legal, logistical, and emotional aspects of an event that awaits us all. This is a book that every family should have, the equivalent of Dr. Spock but for this other phase of life.”
— Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone 

A Beginner’s Guide to the End is honest, funny, luminous, and essential. Full of real-world advice and hard-won insight, it’s a practical guide to dying that is actually much more about living.”
— Lucy Kalanithi, author of the epilogue to When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“A gentle, knowledgeable guide to a fate we all share.”
— The Washington Post

“Miller and Berger, through their honesty and deep experience, help us to live the best life possible with a serious illness. This is a beautiful, poignant, expert, and human handbook for all of us.” 
— Susan Block, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Medicine, Harvard Medical School

“I wish I’d had this book when I needed it. Death and dying are not subjects that many people are comfortable talking about, but it’s hugely important to be as prepared as you can be—emotionally, physically, practically, financially, and spiritually. This book may be the most important guide you could have.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat Pray Love

“‘You know what would be fun today? Reading a book about death,’ said no one ever. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened these pages and found myself smiling on the first one. BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger have done something impressive: they’re written a book about dying that’s not only moving and practical, but also delightful to read.”
— Adam Grant, co-author of Option B and author of Give and Take and Originals

“When it comes to the final journey, we are all beginners. Navigating the complexities of serious illness requires grace and grit. With elegant simplicity and tender, earthy honesty, this beginner’s guide explains how to prepare, what possible routes you might take, mis-turns to avoid, and the beauty you might see along the way.”
— Ira Byock, MD, Founder & Chief Medical Director, Institute for Human Caring

“There are many times in my personal life and my medical education when I could have used this book. In their clear and compelling guide, Miller and Berger help us understand how to approach one of the most important but least understood phases of our life. Their honest reflections and sharp insights will change lives for the better.” 
— Vivek Murthy, MD, former Surgeon General of the United States

“If you are sure you would never read a book about how to face death, especially long before you need it,
A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death just might convince you it wouldn’t be bad to have on the shelf... The book blends practical information with compassionate advice for facing our own death or the death of a loved one.”
— Next Avenue

About the Author

BJ Miller, MD, is a hospice and palliative medicine physician who has worked in many settings—inpatient, outpatient, hospice facility, and home—and now sees patients and families at the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. Miller speaks all over the country and beyond on the theme of living well in the face of death. He has been profiled in The New York Times and interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Tim Ferriss, and Krista Tippett.

Shoshana Berger is the editorial director at IDEO, where she has worked on projects ranging from the end of life to modern Judaism to school lunch. She was a senior editor at 
WIRED, and has written for the New York Times, Fast Company, TimeWIRED, Popular Science, Marie Claire, and Quartz. She cofounded the DIY design magazine, ReadyMade, later turning it into a book, Ready Made: How to Make (Almost) Everything.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (July 16, 2019)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 544 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1501157167
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1501157165
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.94 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.6 out of 5 stars 698 ratings

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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5
698 global ratings

Top reviews from the United States

Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on November 26, 2022
2 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 16, 2022
8 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on October 15, 2022
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 23, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely, functional, evocative and inspiring - a kind of shroud for the living
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 23, 2019
How does this book resonate? I can’t even count the ways. For me, BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger have woven a kind of shroud for the living – a lovely, pieced “cover so as to protect” (from shroud's Middle English root). They have covered the range of practical, emotional, spiritual and physiological guidance in preparing for our own end, and that of those we love. From large questions to ask about our own care plan, to specific spices and herbs to deal with taste changes with illness, to the range of natural reactions within the geography of grief, I found myself nodding, weeping, smiling, nodding. From their quilt of stories, I found myself wrapped in remembering those I’ve lost, some with time to prepare, others too suddenly. How helpful this protective cover would have been for my sister-in-law as she reckoned with leaving three young girls and my brother? For my friend and classmate at VCFA, a caregiver to his mother who absorbed that toll and died first? For my young patient-students and their families in a children’s hospital? How grateful, years later, to be reminded how my stepfather willed himself to wait until a bed opened up at the hospice center, days past his active dying began? (He didn't want to die in the bed our mother would be sleeping in.) People and memories cascaded throughout as I read, and I’m so grateful for this book’s careful, generous spirit, to allow those resonant gifts.

I also found myself compelled to action. Why do I have all this crap in my house that I’ll “use someday”? Why haven’t I done more than prepare an advanced directive, like write a will by now, for Pete’s (and my siblings’) sake? (Finally called HR this morning about the ‘legal advice’ elective benefit I’ve been paying for so long.) How do I imagine my remains to be most useful, somehow, after I’m gone? (Biodegrading in a simple sack – where? - or mixed into concrete as a coral habitat in international waters, like a friend’s brother did, or spread over special soil, like the ‘cindres’ of my friend’s mother, that we cast over her childhood home in southern France? How long might I have to figure that one out?)

And there’s the rub, the “bumping up against what [we] can’t necessarily command or comprehend,” as the authors say. Regardless, now we have the breathable, strong fabric of this book, all the insight and comprehension its authors share. It’s one of those books I’ll reread over time as I try to make the most of living at all. And I’ve found a book to give everyone I love, to pass on its protective layer, toward, as Browning put it, “the ends of being and ideal grace.”
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94 people found this helpful
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on August 26, 2022
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on January 16, 2022
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 26, 2022
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 27, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars Practical and Playful Guide to Preparing for Your Final Years
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on July 27, 2019
This book.
First, of all, authors BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger thought of everything when they created this book, "A Beginners Guide To The End". The font is larger than average to accommodate our aging eyes. The tone for the book is casual with both authors talking directly to the reader. There are so many stories shared as examples, many taken directly from the author’s own personal experiences within their personal lives. Playfulness and humor is sprinkled through out the book which is not easy, but is so needed when working with such a taboo and difficult subject. This really and truly is a practical guide that walks you through the nitty gritty elements of aging and preparing for your final years.

“One mess that will keep on messing with your survivors has to do with billing accounts….It can take years to resolve it all. Really. Think of every frustrating call you’ve had with your cell provider, and then multiply it by ten, and you’ll get an idea.By calling these companies now and adding your partner to the account as a joint owner, you can make sure he or she will be feeling relieve instead of exasperation.”

I have been taking A Beginners Guide to the End to the beach and reading it in between playing in the waves with my family. It is not meant to be read in a dark room with a heavy heart. This is real advice given in a concise and playful manner.
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Top reviews from other countries

5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on March 19, 2022
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on November 20, 2019
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