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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

4.43  ·  Rating details ·  90,845 ratings  ·  11,386 reviews
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
Hardcover, First Edition, 282 pages
Published October 7th 2014 by Metropolitan Books
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Holly Mcgregor I would say that it depends on where the person is on the spectrum of being terminally ill. This book would be fine for one whose disease is terminal…moreI would say that it depends on where the person is on the spectrum of being terminally ill. This book would be fine for one whose disease is terminal but where progression of disease is uncertain and likely to be delayed by palliative treatment. As an example, those living with metastatic breast cancer are terminally ill however these patients are living longer, richer, more meaningful lives even in the face of their disease. As the director of a nonprofit, and having just finished this book, I took a risk and made dying the topic of a weekly lunch discussion. Usually our topics are focused on survivorship but it was Halloween and I took advantage of the timing just to see what would happen. It was one of the best discussions we've ever had. Gawande's Being Mortal is inspiring such discussions. "What are your goals? Where is your "line in the sand" when it comes to deciding how you want to live in your last weeks and months?" Most people do not want to suffer but few have defined what "suffering" means for them. I truly loved this book. I wish I had read it as my father was declining. My sisters and I cared for him intuitively. His passing was gentle and according to his wishes but we never, ever addressed that he was dying.(less)
Mrs. Danvers It's about what matters as we reach the end of life and what we as individuals, as a community, and as recipients of medical care can do to be sure…moreIt's about what matters as we reach the end of life and what we as individuals, as a community, and as recipients of medical care can do to be sure that we honor what matters most to the aging and/or dying person. (less)

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Will Byrnes
(Added a link - 4/18/15 - at bottom)
In the past few decades, medical science has rendered obsolete centuries of experience, tradition, and language about our mortality and created a new difficulty for mankind: how to die.
Being Mortal is completely irrelevant for any readers who do not have elderly relations, do not know anyone who is old or in failing health, and do not themselves expect to become old. Otherwise, this is must-read stuff. Life may be a journey, but all our roads, however long
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who might be mortal or cares about someone who might be mortal
Recommended to Lilo by: Will Byrnes's review
This is going to be a very short review. I just simply say:

If you think you might get older as time goes by and/or think you might even die at some time (or have relatives or other loved ones to whom this might apply), I urge you to read this book. And if you happen to be over 50 (or care about someone over 50), read this book now.--You heard me. I said NOW!

For more detailed evaluations and descriptions of this book, I recommend to read the following reviews:

Will Byrnes's review:
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
10/27/17 The most remarkable discussion of this book takes place between Atul Gawande and Kristin Tippett in the 10/26/17 podcast posted on the OnBeing website. In the discussion we learn that Gawande went to medicine through politics which may not surprise some of you. I had a radical insight as I listened: that doctors, by oath, are meant to provide life-giving care to rich and poor alike, without discrimination. Does that lead almost directly to the discussion about whether healthcare is a ri ...more
Petra Eggs
This is brilliant. I'm having a good run of 5* books at the moment. Atul Gawande refers several times to The Death of Ivan Ilych so now I have to read that. I like it how one book leads to another sometimes.
A clear, uplifting, and eloquent education on the deficiencies of the medical establishment in end-of-life care and promising progress toward improvements. This Boston surgeon has already authored accessible books on the human art behind the science of medicine with his “Complications” and “Better”. He is a master at using stories of his cases to address disparities between our expectations and the reality of medical practice and drawing on diverse research to advocate for needed changes. Here h ...more
* Originally reviewed on the Night Owls Press blog here. *

I was first introduced to Atul Gawande's writing in his "Annals of Medicine" column for The New Yorker magazine. He wrote a thrilling piece about a woman with an itch—an itch so strong, so persistent, it was beyond belief. It stumped all of her doctors. Medications didn't work. MRIs and nerve tests revealed nothing conclusive. One night, the woman woke up to fluid dripping down her face. As if in some B-horror movie, Gawande eventually re
If you’re not afraid of dying, you’re either lucky or lying.

Meanwhile, this book gave me the heebee-jeebees! Did I really need to know that as I age my aorta will get crunchy and my shrinking brain will rattle around in my skull? Or did I need to know (and perhaps forever visualize) the disgusting details of the downhill spiral of my teeth and feet, and what I’ll have to show for them? Don't worry, the author does not dwell on these things, but I do! And, oh, how I hope I'm not one of the 40% (!
Debbie "DJ"
Nov 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is probably the most important book on mortality I've ever read. It is packed full of information and written in easily comprehendible language, in fact, very personal language. There is so much information here I had a hard time reviewing as I want to share it all! Promise, I won't, but will try to stay with just a few important highlights.

First, this book looks at nursing homes and the rise and fall of assisted living. You may think, what? We have assisted living. But, for a short time af
Bionic Jean
Mar 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Bionic Jean by: Julia
I read this book a fortnight ago, by my brother's bedside, at a time when both he and I knew he was dying. Any book one reads in such a situation has to be absorbing, perceptive and worth the read. This one was; it was both relevant and pertinent. I read it all.

"We know less and less about our patients but more and more about science."

The author of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is Atul Gawande. He is an eminent American surgeon and author, who conducts research into public h
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Simply put: This is a book about dying. But, on one's own terms. Gawande boldy argues that the medical world has got it wrong when it comes to the treatment of the dying. The objective of medicine should not be to ensure health and survival; rather it should be about the quality of life and what it means to die with dignity, a sense of purpose, and most importantly, control over one's life. It's about being able to write the final chapter the way you want to and to enable well-being in the sense ...more
Nov 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
This excellent book is about how medicine treats patients as their lives come to an end. Today, Western medicine is all about keeping the patient alive, no matter the cost. The problem is that all too often, treatments at the end of life have limited value; they have little potential to prolong substantially, and even if they do, the quality of life is degraded significantly. Gawande, a practicing surgeon argues that the waning days of our lives "... are spent in institutions--nursing homes and ...more
Elyse Walters
Sep 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've been a fan of Atul Gawande since reading "Complications" with my local book club many years back --where 35 people showed up to 'express'.
Our monthly Saturday's meetings are limited to 25 members of our 500+ Bay Area Book club --but members were didn't care --they were coming! After finding extra chairs --we sat down for one of the most emotionally-connected-book club discussion to date.

There must already be at least 1,000 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon --and it that does not speak for it
Jun 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
It took me months to find the courage to read this. I know it is silly to be scared of a book, but the topic of mortality is so depressing that I dreaded reading it.

I had even checked out the book from the library several times, read a page or two, and then promptly returned it, thinking I would try again at some undetermined date, when I was a more evolved human being and better able to cope with illness and death and dying. (Future-Diane is very assertive and poised, apparently.)

But this boo
Diane S ☔
May 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very eye opening book on aging, what happens as we age, and where do we go, when we can no longer take care of ourselves. This book asks some very interesting questions, makes one really think about the importance of making these decisions while one is still able. What is important to us, what are we willing to give up, are some of those questions.

The writing is clear, and concise, the information extensive but not at all confusing. The people whose life's are presented are treated as real peo
Highly recommended.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

The final words in this title What Matters in the End could as easily be a statement as a question and sets the theme for this exploration of living and dying. Mortal we are and yet its hard to embrace this concept especially when we are closer to our end than at its beginning. It may be true that we do not know when we’re going to die but frankly some of us know it will be sooner than later. We plan for so many things in our l

The average lifespan of human beings today is around age 80, which means Being Mortal is an essential read for everyone. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., and that also makes Being Mortal an essential read for everyone. Even if someone isn’t affected by the infirmities of old age or by cancer, at some point she’ll likely know at least one person who is. Whatever the case, everyone dies eventually, and everyone should be properly prepared to possibly make s
Sep 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone to whom the title condition applies
An essential guide to decision-making about end-of-life care, but also a more philosophical treatment of the question of what makes life worth living. When should we extend life, and when should we concentrate more on the quality of our remaining days than their quantity? Most of the book weighs the plight of the elderly (it’s not just grim nursing homes out there), but there are also plenty of illustrative cases about the terminally ill. The “Letting Go” chapter is among the best; it grew out o ...more
Cathrine ☯️
May 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Remember the scene in The Matrix when Laurence Fishburne asks Keanu Reeves whether he wants to swallow the red pill or the blue pill? In his very excellent book Dr. Gawande uses that analogy to discuss the manner in which a physician attempts to discuss treatment options with a patient facing a life threatening/ending illness. As he points out, neither choice is really what the patient needs to hear, especially an aged one. So what about a third option? This book is his attempt to open up the un ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Many people avoid the subject of what should be done when the elders in their family become too frail or sick or demented to live by themselves or if a family member, whether old or young, is told they have a fatal disease such as cancer. When such news happens, and it will happen, the fraught, sometimes guilty, sometimes extremely distressed, yelling and arguing which follows the diagnosis can produce wrong incompetent rushed decisions that can lead to lifelong regrets and self-recriminations w ...more
Lynne King
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I learned 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 ...more
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Caroline by: Will Byrnes
This is a superb book for which we should all be grateful....I have no doubt that the wisdom it holds has now been widely read by people working with the elderly, in all sorts of different fields. Gawande has done us all a great service.

There are some superb reviews of the book here on Goodreads. Rather than writing one myself I will just point you to David's marvellous review....

I will also point out an excellent and moving film on Atul Gawande, and his w
Apr 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a brilliant, fascinating, and extremely important book. I wish I had read it before my mother died because I would have asked her more probing questions about her priorities in the last couple of months of her life.

Yet while Being Mortal made me regret the conversations I didn't have with my mom, I also came away feeling optimistic about the possibility for much-needed change in the way we think about age and dying in our culture.

Gawande is an influential author, journalist, researcher
Feb 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is very well read, amazingly relevant, & accessible. It's filled with real world examples as well as a few statistics. It is a must-read for everyone young (teens up) or old because we don't think about our end days properly or even ask the right questions. Worse, we don't understand what others are thinking or what their goals are.

- Doctors fix. If they can't fix, they often still try to do something. That's why they became doctors & have encyclopedic amounts of knowledge. Medicine
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not long ago, I read a book entitled The Cost of Hope: A Memoir. This book was written by 'Wall Street Journal' reporter, Amanda Bennett about her family's very personal struggle with navigating the health care system during her husband, Terence Foley's battle with Kidney cancer. In the end, Mr. Foley succumbed to this disease and Ms. Bennett's book took an honest look at the lengths her family went to and the cost they incurred to battle this disease.. all of the treatments, surgeries, procedur ...more
Oct 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you have aging/elderly parents whose care you might someday be involved in, or expect to care for someone with a terminal condition, you cannot afford to miss this book. In his effortlessly lucid prose, Gawande comes to terms with the medical establishment's failure in providing end-of-life care. Too often, doctors work to fix what's broken in the service of extending life, without considering how quality of life is compromised, inflicting even more suffering as a result. He extols the value ...more
James Barker
It is commonly phrased that we battle illness. But this remarkable book by Atul Gawande points out that it is an ill-thought battle and, dare I say it, an ill-fought one.

For the last three years of my wonderful mother’s life I was her carer. Coping with the advanced stages of multiple sclerosis she was mostly restricted to her bed (which was in fact a hospital bed delivered to our family home along with all the other paraphernalia of sickness), permanently catheterised, unable to walk or do anyt
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is not pleasant to read. It is challenging, emotional, difficult ... and a spectacular journey along a path we will all follow. As we face the inevitable, Gawande gives us a framework within which to consider the options we may have, the choices we might want to make, and the medical and/or other assistance we may or may not desire. His thoughtful discussion of the people he has accompanied through their dying days, including his father, provides much to stimulate our own thoughts. The ...more
Sep 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book. It is also the most important book that I have read in the past year.

Dr. Gawande is that rare physician who can write well and write well for the layman. There is nothing glamorous about growing old. There is nothing glamorous in taking care of those who are growing old. As to the former, Gawande, makes it clear as he describes the way our bodies decline and breakdown over time. As to the later, it helps to explain both why very few doctors are attracted to gerontology
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
This is an important book, whether you are approaching old age or family or friends you care about are. It set my mind spinning thinking how I would deal with the situations Gawande describes. Coming face to face with one’s decline and death is at least depressing and can be terrifying. Gawande points out that the medical profession and most of our institutions are not designed to deal with the human problem. He identifies a number of changes that could be made at a policy level that would impro ...more
“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
This right her
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Atul Gawande is author of three bestselling books: Complications, a finalist for the National Book Award; Better, selected by as one of the ten best books of 2007; and The Checklist Manifesto. His latest book is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard
“In the end, people don't view their life as merely the average of all its moments—which, after all, is mostly nothing much plus some sleep. For human beings, life is meaningful because it is a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens. Measurements of people's minute-by-minute levels of pleasure and pain miss this fundamental aspect of human existence. A seemingly happy life maybe empty. A seemingly difficult life may be devoted to a great cause. We have purposes larger than ourselves.” 144 likes
“A few conclusions become clear when we understand this: that our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.” 95 likes
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