From surgeon and bestselling author Atul Gawande, a book that has the potential to change medicine—and lives.
Being Mortal looks at the way modern medicine has changed the experience of dying, what the implications of this change are for each of us, and what we would need to do to change a system that knows a lot about prolonging life but little about tending to death.
At the heart of this book is something larger and more lasting than even its agenda for how to effect change: it is a deeply humane portrayal of how our society copes with who we really are. We are not economic beings. We are not political beings. We are not digital beings or analog beings, social beings or solitary beings. We are mortal beings. And in that is every important thing to know about how we must live.
A New York Times Bestseller
A Globe and Mail Best Book of 2014
Named one of The Guardian (UK)’s Five Best Psychology Books of 2014
Named one of The Telegraph (UK)’s Five Best Books of 2014
Named one of New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2014
Named one of Maclean's Best Books of 2014
"A deeply affecting, urgently important book-one not just about dying and the limits of medicine but about living to the last with autonomy, dignity, and joy."
"We have come to medicalize aging, frailty, and death, treating them as if they were just one more clinical problem to overcome. However, it is not only medicine that is needed in one's declining years but life-a life with meaning, a life as rich and full as possible under the circumstances. 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."
"North 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."
“If you are familiar with Gawande’s articles in The New Yorker, you are aware of this physician-writer’s eloquence and compassion. In his fourth book, he takes on the medicalizing of death, examining the unnecessary torture that life-extending interventions often impose. But this book offers more than just prescriptions: his intimate knowledge of our bodies and the fascinating stories he’s picked up over his career makes this book required reading for anyone involved in end-of-life issues. And that inevitably includes each and every one of us.”
"One of a handful of truly exceptional physician-authors writing today. . . . Being Mortal is an important call-to-action for rethinking and improving virtually every aspect of end-of-life care. . . . If Gawande's book inspires even a handful of technology innovators to devote their skills and efforts to this area, then the world will be a better place." —Forbes
"In Being Mortal, Gawande has given us an empathetic, wise, and learned work on a necessary topic. This book deserves its wide readership, and that wide readership deserves this book."
—Los Angeles Review of Books
“Wise and moving. . . . This timely and important book sets limits on the usefulness of scientific medicine when it comes to dying. Instead, Gawande turns to Tolstoy, Montaigne, Plato, family and medical experience to probe ways of meeting the end with dignity and courage.”
—The Guardian (UK)
"Characteristic of Gawande's clear prose and recurring throughout . . . is a cast of memorable characters, empathetically rendered, anecdote lending life to his analysis. . . . Gawande's work is important. He offers no perfect solutions. There are no easy answers on how we safeguard the autonomy of the elderly, particularly in face of bad decisions, denial, or dementia. Instead, he is gently reminding us to try and do a little better for the elderly, to think a little harder, to give a little more, to be a little more creative, a little more sensitive. He makes a strong case that this will pay off for our loved ones. And, in time, for us."
"So important. . . .Widespread and lasting change in our attitudes to being mortal is possible. Maybe Gawande . . . can trigger it."
-The Globe and Mail
"[Gawande's] book, written with his customary warmth and panache, is a plea to the medical profession and the rest of us to shift away from simply fighting for longer life towards fighting for the things that make life meaningful. . . . Gawande's clinical reports, thick with the particularities of people's passions, the singularity of their existence, suggest that what matters is the individual."
-The Guardian (UK)
"Gawande presents a detailed, but highly readable history of how the meaning of death has changed over the past fifty or sixty years. He presents this history in the careful voice of a medical professional, but textured with the stories of older people he's met through his family and his practice. . . . These stories within the story help Gawande drive home the crucial point at the center of his book: that throughout the developed world, our approach to death has completely changed in just a few generations. And with that change come a host of new questions."
“Atul Gawande . . . is both philosophical and practical. . . . His book about our wrong-headed relationship to death is a must for readers of any age.”
—The Telegraph (UK)
“No book has all the answers, but Being Mortal should help to start some conversations.”
—Times Higher Education (UK)
"Being Mortal is a valuable contribution to the growing literature on aging, death and dying. It contains unsparing descriptions of bodily aging and the way it often takes us by surprise. Gawande is a gifted storyteller. . . . The stories give a dignified voice to older people in the process of losing their independence. We see the world from their perspective, not just those of their physicians and worried family members."
-The New York Times Book Review
"An impassioned, broad-ranging and deeply personal exploration. . . . Gawande remains clear-sighted through the muddle of anxieties, conflicting emotions and vested interests. . . . The message resounding through Being Mortal is that our lives have narrative-we all want to be the authors of our own stories, and in stories endings matter."
-The Guardian (UK)
“How do we create safe and meaningful final years? Ultimately, how do we want to die? . . . Atul Gawande addresses these questions with thoughtful originality. . . . Smart and compassionate, Being Mortal is a masterwork that will inspire new, and markedly better, views of the end of life.”
—The Artery (Boston)
“While directed primarily toward medical professionals, Being Mortal is written with a vocabulary and style that makes it accessible to the average reader. His case studies bring the theoretical down to earth. It is an excellent book for a discussion group. . . . Gawande is eminently qualified to write on this subject.”
—The Missourian (Washington)
“You should certainly read . . . Being Mortal. It is, like all [Gawande’s] books, written in a highly accessible style, laced with humane and luminous anecdotes. It addresses . . . an important and fascinating subject. . . . of pressing importance and relevance to everyone: ageing, illness, mortality and medicine.”
“Here is a man who is not only a surgeon-storyteller, but a philosopher speaking with a poignant, profound and contemporary voice about issues which concerns [sic] us all, no matter where we live or who we are. . . . In his trademark style, Gawande mixes solid research with taut storytelling. We are invited to sit at the bedsides of his former patients, his family and his friends and experience their final days. There are passages which bring a lump to your throat. . . . But as you turn the final page, you are not left with a feeling of despair. . . . This is a book which emits courage and hope.” —Deccan Chronicle (India)
“An intimate exploration of ageing, dying, and the importance of identifying what matters most in our lives, especially at the very end. . . . It is written in a conversational style that is meant to educate rather than intimidate, and the insightful observations he makes will have you reaching for a highlighter, in the knowledge that you will be returning to this book for guidance in the future.” —The Hindu (India)
“This book is strongly recommended reading for everyone because we all have to deal with issues of ageing and death, personally or in the family, now or in the future. Even as it speaks of mortality, it tells us how to make the best of life.” —The Indian Express (India)
“Not only an extraordinary account of loss but one whose ideas are truly important.” —The Himalayan Times (Nepal)
“A thoughtful, humane, unsparing examination of the ageing process, our treatment of the elderly, and our attitude towards death and end-of-life care. . . . Beautifully written.”
—The Herald (Scotland)
“Gawande’s wise and courageous book raises the questions that none of us wants to think about. . . . His book is a scathing indictment of the way modern medicine treats the old and the dying.”
—The Sunday Times (UK)
“Fascinating. . . . Dr Gawande writes very well, his book is deeply humane and I learned much from it.”
—The Times (UK)
“This humane and beautifully written book is a manifesto that could radically improve the lives of the aged and terminally ill.” —The Independent (UK)
“[Gawande’s] latest book, Being Mortal, is his most ambitious to date. . . . Prose is crisp and clean . . . . More lyrical than his earlier work.”
—The Guardian (UK)
“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. . . . Inspiring.”
—The Boston Globe
“Touching. . . . Dr. Gawande’s book is not of the kind that some doctors write, reminding us how grim the fact of death can be. Rather, Dr. Gawande shows how patients in the terminal phase of their illness can maintain important qualities of life. . . . Being Mortal doesn’t gloss over what awaits us all, but it fixes our attention on the ways in which a patient’s wishes might be fulfilled.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“Rarely do doctors write so eloquently. . . . These are arguments that can’t be made too often, and they are not often made this well. . . . A wise and potent conversion tale.”
—The New York Times
“Being Mortal uses a clear, illuminating style to describe the medical facts and cases that have brought him to that understanding. . . . Honest, serious and empathetic.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A determined, heartbreaking effort. . . . This book is an acknowledgment that serenity and well-being actually cannot be dished up cafeteria-style—and that sometimes the only sure way to gain control is first to relinquish it, whether to a bad disease, a dying patient or the constraints of a finite life span.”
—The New York Times
“Gawande has combined his years of experience as a surgeon with his gift for fluid, seemingly effortless storytelling to remind readers that despite stunning technical advances, doctors are human—and as fallible as any of us. . . . [His] writing is clear and concise and yet gentle and humane. And most important, honest. He finds a way to talk about death and dying safely. His work suggests ways that might repair our culture's warped view of death. . . . Being Mortal is not an easy read. But it is essential.”
“Distressed by how ‘the waning days of our lives are given over to treatments that addle our brains and sap our bodies for a sliver’s chance of benefit,’ surgeon Gawande confronts the contemporary experience of aging and dying. As a writer and a doctor, Gawande appreciates the value of a good ending.”
—Booklist, starred review
“A book I cannot recommend highly enough. . . . A clear-eyed, informative exploration of what growing old means in the 21st century; it provides a useful roadmap of what we can and should be doing to make the last years of life meaningful for everyone experiencing the aging process up close. . . . A book about aging and dying is, ultimately, a book about how to live.”
“Eloquent, moving. . . . Many passages in Being Mortal will bring a lump to the throat, but Dr. Gawande also visits places offering a better way to manage life’s end. . . . In life, as in all stories, he writes, ‘endings matter.’”
“A clear eyed look at aging and death in 21st-century America. . . . Gawande offers a timely account of how modern Americans cope with decline and mortality. . . . A sensitive, intelligent and heartfelt examination of the processes of aging and dying.”
“Gawande . . . has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures—in his own practices as well as others’—as life draws to a close.”
—The Guardian (UK)
About the Author:
Atul Gawande is a surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is also Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine since 1998. He has written three New York Times-bestselling books: Complications, which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2002; Better; and The Checklist Manifesto. He has won two National Magazine Awards, Academy Health’s Impact Award for highest research impact on health care, a MacArthur Award, and selection by Foreign Policy Magazine and Time magazine as one of the world’s top 100 influential thinkers.