Victor Brombert is the Henry Putnam University Professor Emeritus of Romance and Comparative Literatures at Princeton University. He is the author of many books including the wartime memoir Trains of Thought. In this elegantly written philosophical and literary work, Brombert explores the musings on mortality of eight authors who write from very different perspectives.

Leo Tolstoy was preoccupied with death and in his novella The Death of Ivan Ilych, he circles around the theme with a generalized spiritual perspective. In Death In Venice, Thomas Mann describes the self-destructive fate of an artist. Franz Kafka's stories reveal that death is all around us in the present moment, and we must remain vigilant. For Virginia Woolf, writing itself is a willed defiance of death.

Giorgio Bassani's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis revolves around the death-ridden lives of Ferrara Jews. J. M. Coetzee focuses his creative energies on depicting the moral rot of apartheid in South Africa. In The Plague, Albert Camus posits a hymn to life as a stay against death's manifold indignities. And, last but not least, Primo Levi takes us into the death camp at Auschwitz where courageous individuals struggle against despair.