Book Review: Being Mortal


Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon and son of physicians whose previous bestseller, “The Checklist Manifesto,” detailed how mundane process improvements could make huge outcome improvements. “Being Mortal” is a surprisingly different book. 

Chapters describe in detail the harrowing final weeks of several of his patients. Concrete recommendations are noticeably absent until the end. 

As Gawande goes through his heart-breaking experience with his own father, he begins to see ways to improve our often misguided way of death. Most recommendations center on managing medical care for the dying, but he also offers better tools to caregivers and the dying. 

Our current fascination with “selling lottery tickets”—offering long-shot cures—badly serves patients and families. His analysis suggests modernity is making dying worse and oddly not even later. Many think this is caused by the economics of the medical industry, but he offers evidence it is more a failure of culture and personal misunderstanding. We ignore the end-of-life experience. As he puts it, “Hope is not a plan, but hope is our plan.”

“Being Mortal” is painfully difficult to read, mirroring countless life endings. Reading it, however, could improve many outcomes.

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