Book Review: Being Mortal – Atul Gawande

being mortal coverTitle: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End
Author: Atul Gawande
ISBN: 9780805095159
Pages: 304
Release Date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
Genre: Nonfiction, Social/Psychological
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 out of 5

Summary:

In his latest book, surgeon Atul Gawande discusses the most difficult thing of all—dying—and provides graceful insight into how we can better manage our collective and individual decline in health as we age.

Snapshot Review:

Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is a gorgeously written, thoughtful, and heartbreaking book that should be required reading. Gawande manages to discuss some very difficult and provocative subjects while still maintaining a clear-eyed and gripping narrative.

Full Review:

My summary above may make Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End seem like a dry how-to manual, but don’t allow yourself to be fooled. This is a beautiful, moving, and provocative look at aging and death, at how we treat our elderly, and what we can and should be doing better. Gawande is frank about his difficult subject matter: we don’t want to entertain thoughts of our own demises or that of our parents’ and other loved ones. But by not thinking about it and discussing it, we do ourselves a real disservice.

Gawande approaches the subject in Being Mortal from multiple points of view. The first is that of a doctor; Gawande is well-respected surgeon, but he’s never really pondered the plight of the elderly in our society. He begins doing rounds with geriatric doctors and talking to hospice care nurses. He realizes that most doctors will try to save their patient, at any cost; it’s up to the patient to draw the line in the sand, to be firm about what they want out of a treatment and what they won’t give up, even if it might buy them an extra month or two of life. Our healthcare system in the United States discourages frank discussion between doctor and patient; Gawande provides insight into a doctor’s thinking, but also recognizes that doctors often do their patients a disservice by softening the truth.

The other approach to this issue that Gawande offers in Being Mortal is much more personal: that of his own father, himself a surgeon. Gawande discusses his father’s decline, and how even with being a doctor and understanding the issues, he found his judgment clouded because of the emotions involved. He wanted more time with his father, as we all do with our loved ones, but how could he balance that selfish desire with what his father wanted and needed out of treatment? It’s eye opening to be sure. Gawande allows the reader into the most personal areas of his life here, and readers become emotionally involved in his journey and decisions, turn by heartbreaking turn.

What Being Mortal excels at is really getting under the reader’s skin and making them think. We hate thinking about death; that’s natural. But Gawande persuasively argues that we should. And not just about wills and powers of attorney, but about quality of life and knowing when to let go. It’s hard to think about, and it can be very hard to read about. Luckily, Gawande’s clear prose makes this book a fascinating narrative. His goal in this book is to discover how to make dying as dignified as possible for the elderly, and it’s incredibly poignant and moving. Honestly, I can’t do this book justice with a review except to say that this is not just one of my favorite books of the year. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read, and you can bet it’ll have a permanent spot on my shelf for years to come, a fascinating exploration for now, and at some point, a companion to my devastation when I’m forced to make some of the decisions that Gawande writes about so eloquently.

Other books by Atul Gawande:

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

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Audiobook Review: The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande

checklistmanifestoTitle: The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Author: Charles Montgomery
ISBN: 9781427208989
Pages: 240 / 6 hours (listening time)
Release Date: January 5, 2010
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Genre: Nonfiction
Source: Library
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

Surgeon Atul Gawande expounds on the age-old tool of the checklist in this book, detailing how checklists can help in complex everyday tasks and make them more efficient.

Snapshot Review:

Told through the prism of creating hospital checklists for the WHO, Gawande explores the usefulness of the checklist in various settings. The stories he relates are interesting and the audio production, with narrator John Bedford Lloyd at the helm, is well done. Overall, this is a fascinating book that nonfiction fans (and especially checklist fans) should absolutely pick up.

Review:

Because of my ridiculous, detail-oriented personality, I’m a huge fan of to do lists. I’m a person who will add something I’ve already done to a list, only to have the satisfaction of checking it off immediately. It’s crazy, but I know there are a lot of other people out there who are just like me. That’s why I was intrigued by Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. I was a little worried this book would be a little too self-help for my tastes, but I thought to myself: A manifesto about the usefulness of checklists? Count me in!

I was thrilled to learn that not only was The Checklist Manifesto most decidedly not a self-help book, but that it was absolutely fascinating. Gawande takes the reader through the ins and outs of checklists—where they’ve been used every day for years (airplane cockpits) to the difficulties of introducing checklists into a surgeon’s operating theater. He posits that some daily tasks—such as surgery—have gotten so complicated and have so many steps that checklists can streamline things and make it much easier to accomplish what you need to correctly the first time. He offers statistics to back up his claims and they’re pretty staggering. But in case you think this is a boring book full of dry facts, think again. Gawande offers accounts, stories, and anecdotes to flesh out his narrative. It’s incredibly well done and very interesting.

The Checklist Manifesto was the first audiobook I’ve listened to in a long time—years, really. While I enjoy audiobooks, I often have trouble following the story because I tune out too often. The Checklist Manifesto was great for that. It’s got enough details that it kept me interested the whole time, and if my attention wandered, it was easy to pick up the story when I started paying attention again. Not only that, but it was a happily short read for my correspondingly short attention span—the unabridged edition was just 6 hours long, and the narrator, John Bedford Lloyd, had a confident voice that was easy to listen to.

If you’re a checklist nerd, then The Checklist Manifesto should absolutely be on your list (ha!). While I didn’t really need to be inspired to make more lists, it’s good to know that they’re measurably useful. Not only that, but this narrative was jam packed with interesting stories that I won’t soon forget. I’m looking forward to going back and reading Gawande’s backlist (probably on audio, as I enjoyed this one in that format so much!) while I wait for his next book.

Affiliate Links:

Buy this book from Powell’s Books
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Buy this book from your local Indiebound bookstore

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