Alexander is the adopted descendant of a family of scholars, jurists, and physicians, including Eben Alexander Jr. He attended Phillips Exeter Academy (class of 1972), University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (A.B., 1975), and the Duke University School of Medicine (M.D., 1981).
Alexander was an Intern in General Surgery at Duke University Medical Center, a resident at Duke, Newcastle (U.K.) General Hospital. He was a resident and research fellow at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital and is certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and the American College of Surgeons (F.A.C.S.).
Alexander has taught at Duke University Medical Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Virginia Medical School.
He has had hospital appointments at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston Children's Hospital, Dana–Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, University of Massachusetts Medical Center, and Lynchburg (Virginia) General Hospital-CentraHealth.
Alexander is a member of the American Medical Association .
Alexander is the author of the 2012 autobiographical book Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, in which he asserts that his out of body and near-death experience (NDE) while in a meningitis-induced coma in 2008 proves that consciousness is independent of the brain, that death is a transition, and that an eternity of perfect splendor awaits us beyond the grave – complete with angels, clouds, butterflies, and deceased relatives, one of whom included a beautiful girl in peasant dress whom Alexander later identifies as his deceased sister. He further asserts that the current understanding of the mind
"now lies broken at our feet "— for "What happened to me destroyed it, and I intend to spend the rest of my life investigating the true nature of consciousness and making the fact that we are more, much more, than our physical brains as clear as I can, both to my fellow scientists and to people at large."
Alexander's book was excerpted in a Newsweek magazine cover story in October 2012. (In May 2012, Alexander had provided a slightly more technical account of the events described in his book in an article, "My Experience in Coma", in AANS Neurosurgeon, the trade publication of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.) Since the release of the book, he has lectured around the world in churches, hospitals, medical schools, and academic symposia, besides appearing on TV shows including Super Soul Sunday with Oprah Winfrey.
As of September 21, 2014, Proof of Heaven has been on The New York Times Best Seller list for 97 weeks.
Alexander has further expanded on his NDE, and his scientific interpretation of it, in journals including the quarterly publication of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the Journal of the Missouri State Medical Association.
In a 2013 investigation of Alexander's story and medical background, Esquire magazine reported that before the publication of Proof of Heaven, Alexander had been terminated or suspended from multiple hospital positions, and had been the subject of several malpractice lawsuits, including at least two involving the alteration of medical records to cover up a medical error. The magazine also found what it claimed were discrepancies with regard to Alexander's version of events in the book. Among the discrepancies, according to an account of the Esquire article in Forbes, was that "Alexander writes that he slipped into the coma as a result of severe bacterial meningitis and had no higher brain activity, while a doctor who cared for him says the coma was medically induced and the patient was conscious, though hallucinating".
Alexander responded: "I wrote a truthful account of my experiences in Proof of Heaven and have acknowledged in the book both my professional and personal accomplishments and my setbacks. I stand by every word in this book and have made its message the purpose of my life. Esquire's cynical article distorts the facts of my 25-year career as a neurosurgeon and is a textbook example of how unsupported assertions and cherry-picked information can be assembled at the expense of the truth."
Alexander's book has been criticized by scientists, including Sam Harris who described Alexander's NDE account as "alarmingly unscientific," and that "everything – absolutely everything – in Alexander's account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was 'shut down', 'inactivated', 'completely shut down', 'totally offline', and 'stunned to complete inactivity'. The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate – it suggests that he doesn't know anything about the relevant brain science." "Even in cases where the brain is alleged to have shut down, its activity must return if the subject is to survive and describe the experience. In such cases, there is generally no way to establish that the NDE occurred while the brain was offline." Neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks agreed with Harris, saying that "to deny the possibility of any natural explanation for an NDE, as Dr. Alexander does, is more than unscientific – it is antiscientific."..."The one most plausible hypothesis in Dr. Alexander's case...is that his NDE occurred not during his coma, but as he was surfacing from the coma and his cortex was returning to full function. It is curious that he does not allow this obvious and natural explanation, but instead insists on a supernatural one." In 2012 Alexander responded to critics in a second Newsweek article.
Alexander's second book, The Map of Heaven: How Science, Religion, and Ordinary People Are Proving the Afterlife, was published in October 2014. Alexander once again asserts his belief that there is an afterlife, and that consciousness is independent of the brain. To support his views, he cites the writings of philosophers, scientists, and religious leaders throughout history, and also shares letters from readers who have told him about spiritual experiences that match his own as described in Proof of Heaven.
Excerpts from The Map of Heaven ran in UK newspaper The Daily Mail in October 2014. The Map of Heaven became a New York Times bestseller the week ending October 18, 2014.