Book Review: Being Mortal

I have no idea why I picked up this book, and what I was expecting to glean from it. But the fact remains that it is a seminal piece of work, and everyone should read it.

Ok, now that the first flames of ardency have waned a bit, I can be slightly more balanced. But I still think it is an important work, for those who fear ageing and those who have ageing/terminally ill family to look after.

Author: Atul Gawande

Premise: The book is divided into progressive chapters, tackling every step of the terminally ill cycle of a patient. Each chapter takes a few perspectives into consideration: the clinician’s, the immediate family member, and last but not least, the person in question. The chapters progress upon the insights from the previous chapter, and at the end of the book, there is a clear journey from one standpoint to another.

The book relies heavily on case studies to illustrate its point, but without taking away their humanity from the people concerned. There is sensitivity and deep honesty about failings and strengths in equal measure, even on the author’s side.

One factor I loved about this book is that the narrative is not punctured with references. It is smooth and definitely structured, and those looking for facts and figures to back up assertions can find them after the epilogue, neatly codified for easy extraction.

Writing: Beautiful, uncomplicated prose. In fact, and I don’t know know that it is fair to Atul Gawande to make this comparison, the writing for me is reminiscent of another physician: Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee is one of my favourite authors, and his Emperor of Maladies deserves full credit for hooking my interest to medical non-fiction.

The editing is stellar, and each chapter is a definite and complete in of itself, while still flowing seamlessly from and to the preceding and succeeding chapters.

Pace: This was not an easy book for me to read, as it contained a lot of information. Secondly, it described medical conditions explicitly, and I winced with the imagined pain of it all. It is not a long book, and yet it took me ages to get through, therefore it that sense it is my pace I am judging.

Conclusion: I cannot say I enjoyed this book, because it wasn’t meant to be entertainment. It provokes deep scrutiny of oneself and that it is its goal. To that end, the book is an unmitigated success.

It is my opinion, and based solely on the book, that Gawande wrote this book to make something of his own loss. Although his learnings preceded those events, he saw firsthand how it materially worked on a deeply personal level. Because I picked up this book, expecting a treatise on coming to terms with death, I was taken unawares at first. But ultimately, I identified with his emotions, even though he merely implied them.

Rating: ✩✩✩✩✩



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