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Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  164,040 ratings  ·  18,241 reviews
In Being Mortal, 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 frequently t
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 th…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 lon
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 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. ...more
Bionic Jean
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
Elyse  Walters
Update: $3.99 kindle download today. If you missed this book… And I can’t imagine that many people have missed reading it..... it’s an extraordinary book to read.

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 t
Dec 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
***UPDATE*** DR Gawande has been appointed to Biden's COVID team. An outstanding physician...and this book is brilliant*** Happy for you Americans. I can't emphasize enough to read this one. I'd give it a triple star if I could.

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
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% (!
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Being Mortal tackles the all too uncomfortable subject of mortality, and what it means to live and die well in life's last moments. In our modern world of medicine and technology, hospitals and doctors can always do more, but is more surgery or therapy always the right step at the end of life when positive outcomes are unlikely and severe side effects are guaranteed?

For me, the most eye-opening and useful parts of the book are those comparing the different types of care that someone can receive
Ahmad Sharabiani
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Atul Gawande

Being Mortal is a meditation on how people can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness, and approaching death.

Gawande calls for a change in the way that medical professionals treat patients approaching their ends. He recommends that instead of focusing on survival, practitioners should work to improve quality of life and enable well-being.

Gawande shares personal stories of his patients' and his own relatives' experie
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
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
* 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
David Rubenstein
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
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
This Review ✍️ Blog 📖 Twitter 🐦 Instagram 📷

“We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being.”

★ During one of my latest classes, the instructor divided us into groups and gave us controversial topics to discuss. My group discussed Euthanasia and although this book does not discuss that. It focuses on some of the subjects that we approached that day such as the end of
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Depressing, but necessary to consider and talk about. What's the one unfortunate thing everyone on this planet has in common right now? We will all eventually die one day. So knowing that eventuality, why do we not plan for and discuss how we want to spend our final years/months/weeks/days? If we are fortunate enough to go the way of a steady decline via old age, how can we maintain our enjoyment of life as we become less able to meet our own needs independently without burdening our loved ones? ...more
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
Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤
Jun 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: medical, non-fiction
Not many of us relish the idea of growing old, our bodies slowly breaking down, becoming weaker and weaker. Losing your teeth and your eye sight dimming. Having aches and pains and trouble getting out of bed. Your memory and thought processes declining, becoming less and less clear. There is not much fun in this and yet far fewer of us would prefer the alternative -- to not age, to die young.

Depressing but important and informative, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End is about th

Being Mortal is about something no one can escape: death. That makes it an essential read for everyone. A sizable portioned also is focused on cancer, which is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. That also makes this book an essential read. Even for those who aren’t affected by the infirmities of old age or by cancer, at some point they’ll likely know at least one person who is. Whatever the case, everyone should be properly prepared to possibly make some tough end-of
Alok Vaid-Menon
In our anesthetic world sometimes melodrama can be a way to access what we feel. When grandpa died, I wept in the shower, I took long walks engulfed by the wind. One night I lay on the kitchen floor for hours. On those tiles I learned that there is no other side of grief — loss, it just perforates us. You begin to recognize the primordial poetry of an open mouth: absence and presence in one.

Growing up every time we drove by the nursing home my grandma would say a prayer. I never understood “nev
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
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
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
Feb 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. Gawande has about three major points in this book, all of which were made in a news magazine article he wrote for the Atlantic: 1, We should have tough conversations with those in our lives about their vision for their end-of-life; 2, Doctors should also have these conversations with their patients; and 3, If we have these conversations, we can shift medicine and end-of-life care away from a stave-off-death model and towards a model that promotes humanity, autonomy, and dignity for th ...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
Mikey B.
This is a tender and sensitive book on our mortality.

As you reach a certain age you realize more and more that your life has a finite date somewhere on it. You see your loved ones – parents, close family members, relatives and friends approach that stage. It becomes much less abstract; it is not like reading the obituary column.

None of it is easy. This is what the book is about.

Even though the author is a medical doctor (a surgeon in fact) he delves into several different perspectives of our mo
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 has com
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
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
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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

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If you've got an overflowing Want to Read shelf of books that you keep meaning to get to (one day!), you're in good company. Our company, that...
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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.” 262 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.” 160 likes
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