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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

4.36  ·  Rating Details  ·  40,940 Ratings  ·  5,947 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, 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)

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
Jan 18, 2016 Lilo 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:
Apr 18, 2015 Trish rated it it was amazing
”The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society. If you don’t, mortality is only a horror.”

My great aunt lived to be 102 years old. She would often say, looking at the younger generations, “It’s wonderful to get old.” Gawande touches on this in his memoir chronicling the death of his father and in his discussion of dying well. Older folks have more moments they classify as happy than do younger folks. Oldsters generally exp
* 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
Debbie "DJ"
Dec 24, 2014 Debbie "DJ" 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
Petra X
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
Nov 03, 2015 David 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
Jun 10, 2015 Diane 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
Jul 27, 2015 Jen 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
Diane S ☔
May 14, 2015 Diane S ☔ 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
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% (!
Dec 14, 2015 ☯Cathrine 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
Lynne King
Jun 29, 2015 Lynne King 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
Rebecca Foster
Apr 12, 2016 Rebecca Foster 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
Jun 04, 2015 Jean rated it it was amazing
Recommended to 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
Feb 27, 2015 Jim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2non-fiction, 1audio
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
Oct 22, 2014 Susan 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
Jan 16, 2015 Elyse 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
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
Jun 08, 2015 Josh rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
As I sit here at work, basically doing nothing but typing this review and speaking to my fiancé on Microsoft Lync, I am drinking a cup of coffee and wondering about my mortality. Yes, I admit, I usually think of it more than once a day, sometimes twice a day, but never 4.5 times a day because that’s actually impossible.

When reading Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’, I found myself not questioning my own life, but many others; he exposed a sense of compassion in this misanthropic heart and how the geriatr
Lisa Vegan
This book is excellent. It’s accessible and always interesting. It’s one of those books that probably everybody should read. I’m thinking every physician should read it upon graduating from medical school or during their residency. I think that it’s an important book.

I do disagree with him at times, though overall think what he says is spot on.

The parts where I disagree are in two major areas: The main one is his reluctance about supporting widespread assisted suicide because he says in those pl
Before reading:
I am reading this not because I want to but because I feel I ought to. Is it going to make me feel all horrible? I can accept this if it constructively explains what you can do to "improve" the end of life.

In conclusion:
I am glad I read the book, but it wasn’t particularly fun. There are many examples given of particular people, their illnesses and the difficulties they had, one being the author’s father. I didn’t understand all the medical terms used. Examples are given to ill
There is a long phase in the first parts of our lives where, if we are lucky enough to have avoided critical disease or injury, we are blithely unaware of the effects of aging and of the inevitability of death. It seems so far ahead in the future as to be imaginary. Like imagining what a trillion dollars is like. You know that is a real thing, but still…it seems impossible to know what it really is.
The other day I said to my teenage daughter, “Just imagine, in only forty years from now you will
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 22, 2016 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, read2016
"It is a modern tragedy, replayed millions of times over. When there is no way of knowing exactly how long our skeins will run - and when we imagine ourselves to have much more time than we do - our every impulse is to fight, to die with chemo in our veins or a tube in our throats or fresh sutures in our flesh. The fact that we may be shortening or worsening the time we have left hardly seems to register. We imagine that we can wait until the doctors tell us that there is nothing more they can d
Jan 01, 2015 Ken rated it really liked it
Anyone who is planning on dying some day should read this book.

It can be jumpy at times, but overall, Gawande's a straight shooting, no-nonsense writer who gives the straight dope on nursing homes, assisted living, hospice, and the heart-rending decisions we are all forced into at our end-of-days.

As many of his accounts deal with cancer cases, it's a bit of a downer, but it's medicine to be taken and there's no better way to illustrate his point than through real-life examples, including his o
Dana Stabenow
Dec 19, 2015 Dana Stabenow rated it it was amazing
I give this book five stars not because I loved it but because it is what I would call a necessary read, and I mean necessary for everyone, young, old, medical professional and laity alike. It's about That Conversation, what Gawande calls in one chapter "Hard Conversations." The subject is how we want to live out the end of our life.

Gawande is a surgeon and one of the best parts of this book is that he is learning how to have this conversation himself. He's learning how to do it as a medical pro
Nov 21, 2014 Caren rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I watched my beloved uncle spend his last eight years in a nursing home. He was not unhappy, but he created his own happiness by taking an interest in those around him. He knew all about the employees' families and the situation of other patients. For me, it was sometimes very difficult to see the halls lined with the frail elderly, many incoherent. Let's face it, aging is something we find hard to watch, knowing in some uncomfortable corner of our minds that this will someday be our lot too. My ...more
Elizabeth Theiss
Oct 24, 2014 Elizabeth Theiss rated it it was amazing
When is it time to stop fighting disease and death, and work instead on the best quality of life possible? Gawande has given us a wise and thoughtful discussion of how to approach the question, one I found helpful and convincing.

As always Gawande uses stories to demonstrate the problems attendant to the medicalization of death. Doctors are trained to treat death as the enemy, not death as the inevitable. In an effort to forestall the inevitable, doctors' use every available tool from invasive su
#1 on the list of books to read before you die?
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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
More about Atul Gawande...

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“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.” 57 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.” 44 likes
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