How do you want to live? It's a question that—when posed to the seriously ill—will change the face of modern medicine, and do so compassionately.

In The Conversation, Harvard Medical School physician Angelo Volandes offers a solution that is medicine’s oldest and least technological tool in the proverbial black bag: talking. If doctors explain options—including the choice to forgo countless medical interventions that are often of little benefit in patients with advanced illness—then patients can tell doctors how they wish to spend the remainder of their lives.

Through the stories of seven patients and seven very different end-of-life experiences, Volandes explores the trajectory of events and treatments that occur with and without this essential conversation.

"Written with passion and clarity, this book moves beyond others on the topic...."

Library Journal

"A physician's fervent quest for better information about medical options for patients...and steps necessary to make those choices clear."

Shelf Awareness

"A thoughtful and thought provoking book that confronts the fear of death with the grace of wisdom and understanding."

Spirituality and Health

“A timely book, written with sensitivity, on a subject which pertains to every single human being and family in the world today.”

— Richard Selzer, MD, author of Mortal Lessons

“For too long, a conspiracy of silence has stood between Americans and the quality care they need, want, and deserve. The Conversation could change all that. Good quality care requires that the treatments are consistent with the values, preferences, and priorities of the people we serve. Now, through the stories in The Conversation, Dr. Volandes shows how skillful communication can make the best of even the hardest situations.”

— Ira Byock, MD, professor, Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, The Institute for Human Caring; author of The Best Care Possible and Dying Well

“My encounter with Dr. Angelo Volandes changed the way I think about life's most precious weeks and hours, and gave me hope for a better future. Your encounter with this passionate humanitarian and the heartbreaking, inspiring stories he tells will affect you the same way.”

— Jonathan Rauch, Senior Fellow, The Brooklings Institution

“Through seven stories of seven patients, Angelo Volandes movingly and evocatively tells the tale of how American healthcare does death wrong, often with tragic consequences, and how we can do it right. This is a book about how to live life as well as possible right up until the end, and it should be required reading for anyone who is mortal.”

— Shannon Brownlee, author of Overtreated

“Part memoir, part tales from the trenches, part guide, The Conversation shows how medicine fails patients with serious illness, then offers a different, better approach to improve not only how we die but—more importantly—how we live.”

— Louise Aronson, MD, Director, Northern California Geriatrics Education Center and UCSF Medical Humanities

“Volandes has done more than anyone to translate the incomprehensible and the unimaginable into clear visual terms for real human beings trying to decide how they want to be cared for in the future.”

— Diane Meier, MD, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care; Professor of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine

“Worth the price of the book alone is Volandes’ easy-to-follow guide for determining and making known one’s end-of-life wishes.”


“A compassionate and informative treatment of a painful subject.”

Kirkus Review