Summary and book reviews of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal

Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
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  • Published:
    Oct 2014, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

In Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Introduction

I learned about a lot of things in medical school, but mortality wasn't one of them. Although I was given a dry, leathery corpse to dissect in my first term, that was solely a way to learn about human anatomy. Our textbooks had almost nothing on aging or frailty or dying. How the process unfolds, how people experience the end of their lives, and how it affects those around them seemed beside the point. The way we saw it, and the way our professors saw it, the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise. The one time I remember discussing mortality was during an hour we spent on The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Tolstoy's classic novella. It was in a weekly seminar called Patient-Doctor—part of the school's effort to make us more rounded and humane physicians. Some weeks we would practice our physical examination etiquette; other weeks we'd learn about the effects of socioeconomics and race on health. And one afternoon we ...

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  • award image

    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2015

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Many people are not comfortable contemplating their own aging and mortality. Nevertheless, I finished Being Mortal feeling like this is an important book and one that I would be eager to discuss with others. I highly recommend it; although it's nonfiction, it's extremely engaging and should hold the attention of fiction lovers as well as those who prefer books in the social sciences. Most will undoubtedly come away with a new perspective on these important issues.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (851 words).

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Media Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle

A needed call to action, a cautionary tale of what can go wrong, and often does, when a society fails to engage in a sustained discussion about aging and dying.

The Boston Globe

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande's masterful exploration of aging, death, and the medical profession's mishandling of both, is his best and most personal book yet.

Wall Street Journal (Best Books of 2014)

Dr. Gawande’s book is not of the kind that some doctors write, reminding us how grim the fact of death can be. Rather, he shows how patients in the terminal phase of their illness can maintain important qualities of life.

Kirkus Reviews

A sensitive, intelligent and heartfelt examination of the processes of aging and dying.

Time.com

Beautifully crafted ...Being Mortal is a clear-eyed, informative exploration of what growing old means in the 21st century . . . a book I cannot recommend highly enough. This should be mandatory reading for every American.

The Chicago Tribune

Masterful . . . Essential . . . For more than a decade, Atul Gawande has explored the fault lines of medicine ...combining his years of experience as a surgeon with his gift for fluid, seemingly effortless storytelling.

The New York Review of Books

Beautifully written ...In his newest and best book, Gawande . . . has provided us with a moving and clear-eyed look at aging and death in our society, and at the harms we do in turning it into a medical problem, rather than a human one.

Nature

A surgeon himself, Gawande is eloquent about the inadequacy of medical school in preparing doctors to confront the subject of death with their patients. . . . it is rare to read a book that sparks with so much hard thinking.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Atul Gawande's wise and courageous book raises the questions that none of us wants to think about ...Remarkable.

The Economist (uk) - Best Books of 2014

Eloquent, moving.

The Financial Times (UK)

Gawande’s book is so impressive that one can believe that it may well [change the medical profession] . . . May it be widely read and inwardly digested.

Author Blurb Malcolm Gladwell
American medicine, Being Mortal reminds us, has prepared itself for life but not for death. This is Atul Gawande's most powerful--and moving--book.

Author Blurb Oliver Sacks
Being Mortal is not only wise and deeply moving, it is an essential and insightful book for our times, as one would expect from Atul Gawande, one of our finest physician writers.

Reader Reviews

Cloggie Downunder

Recommended
Being Mortal is the fourth book by American surgeon and author, Atul Gawande. Early on in his book, he tells us :“…the purpose of medical schooling was to teach how to save lives, not how to tend to their demise” and that “I knew theoretically that ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Hospice Care

Hospice is a medical specialty that focuses on end-of-life care for individuals and support for their families. Its roots come from the Latin for hostis meaning stranger, and more specifically from hospitem meaning a guesthouse - from these roots we also get hospital, hotel and hospitality.

The idea of caring for those suffering from fatal diseases has been around for centuries. In the Middle Ages, religious orders established shelters along pilgrimage routes designed to aid those journeying to and from sacred sites, many of whom were terminally ill, and are considered the original form of hospice care. The idea was expanded in the 16th through 18th centuries, when monasteries began opening facilities for those who were impoverished and...

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