Being Mortal [Book Review]

Finally, I manage to read Atul Gawande’s book.

In this book, Atul Gawande provides us a contemplative reading about the human relationship with life purpose, aging, and medicine. While the modern science and medicine manage to ‘extend’ human lives, we often forget that healthcare is not only to ensure prolong life and survival; but to enable one’s well-being as well. A really good book to remind us of what our beloved ones (parents, spouse, children, friends; even ourselves) need in these mortal lives.


In the first part of this book, Gawande explores the reality of aging society. He discusses mainly the US aging society, but I think a lot of cases are relevant to our daily life in various parts of the world. We are growing up, our parents grow older.  What to do then, as children, once our parents don’t really have physical strength in the future? What to do when we ourselves grow old as well? Gawande provides some insights of what is really expected by elder people, and how we could help them to fulfill the rest of their life.

The latter part of the books depicts what is expected by dying people. When should people choose to maintain their hope or giving up? What to consider to choose between those two? How family could support them? And more importantly, how the healthcare system could courage and give the best for dying people, not to just extend their lives but to achieve their goals in the limited time?

I love the way Gawande writes this book. Humble and warm, yet tragic and paradoxical in several parts. Here are some notes I took from this book.

  • Why older people seem to be more wise, calm, and less ambitious (in regard to superficial achievements)? Is it because of their experiences, or because there is a change in their physical or mental system? Turns out, it is a matter of perspective. Older people (and dying people, even the young one), face the reality that we’re mortal. This perspective brings to them what are really matters in life, and brings the wisdom and calmness.
  • The only way death is not meaningless is to see ourselves as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society.
  • Patients with terminal illnesses (i.e. stage IV of cancer) who stop therapy and see palliative care earlier, turns out to live 25% longer and less suffering at the end of their lives!

This book is really a good read for anyone who has a family to care about, and to who realize that we do not live forever.


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