Final Chapters: How Famous Authors Died by Jim Bernhard

Of course I was going to buy this book. Who isn’t fascinated by death and the often dreary ends authors had as the final chapter.  It was very interesting to read because the book is organized by time periods starting in Ancient Greece and Rome.

There were definitely similarities in what many died of that coincided with the period in which they lived and wrote. Men (and women) of wealth often succumbed to diseases associated with a life of excess.

Writers had mental health afflictions with depression occupying a prominent place in that list. The author was able to show in some cases that family genetic pre-dispositions played a role in those mental and physical health issues.

Of course there was drinking and drugs which is one of those artistic clichés but almost as many died from diseases and pandemics of their era. Influenza, TB and common ailments which are more easily treated now, such as diabetes, were all on the list.

Each author has a few pages (3-4, some less) devoted to their life and background. The biographical bits are great because they give you just enough to pique your interest if you want to pursue reading a more in depth biography about them or the time period in which they lived.

What I found most curious was the fact that several died from unknown stomach problems. I am going through something similar myself and it was disheartening to know that even autopsies failed to divulge an answer. There was a lot of dying from unknown causes. And a lot from colds gone to pneumonia.

It was also interesting to note that many died with little or no fame and achieved their greatest heights posthumously. Lesson for writers? Keep writing. Today’s trash is tomorrows “Great Gatsby”. Poverty as a writer is a-ok. Write for the love of the word and for the soul satisfaction. Write for friends, write for fun, write for yourself. Enjoy it but don’t seek fame. Most of the NYT Best Seller List is not going to stand the test of time as great literature.

Sometimes, the most surprising stories that we spend years deconstructing, were just great stories. There never was a hidden layer of secret complexity that any writer consciously saw in their writing. Sometimes, the sky was blue and clear, means just that – a nice day. Great book!

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