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Being Mortal

Medicine and What Matters in the End
Written by: Atul Gawande
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
Length: 9 hrs and 3 mins
5 out of 5 stars (128 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In Being Mortal, best-selling 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 to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

©2014 Atul Gawande (P)2014 Macmillan Audio

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  • Overall
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    5 out of 5 stars

Must read for life and death

Inspired. Touched. Life changing.

It changed my perceptions about ICU and made me think what I want for the last 10 years or the last year of my life. Is life about quality or quantity? Is it about length or width?

We all need to have these kind of conversations with our parents, our spouse, and our kids, when we are still healthy. Because it can be too late to have these kinds of conversations, and it can also be emotionally draining for your family when the decisions have to be made at a difficult time.

Be kind to yourself and your family. Read the book and talk about death now.

2 people found this helpful

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A different perspective on dying

This book was an eye opener for me. Honest, rich, informative, both sad and joyful. Quality of life is paramount for most who are dying when those who are nearing the end of their lives are asked what really matters most in their last years and last days. When doctors and caregivers can step outside of the technical and move towards the patients wishes and preferences until their last breath, there is peace not only for the dying but all who love them.

1 person found this helpful

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A must read for everyone, especially your doctor

The book is incredibly relevant to everyone in our modern society as we consider the balance of extending a miserable life indefinitely and phyisian assisted suicide. Please read this. The world will be a better place.

1 person found this helpful

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Preparation in Practice

Filled with valuable perspectives on preparing for and dealing with the end of life, "Being Mortal" is a worthwhile read for anyone planning for (or grieving) a loss. Perhaps Mr. Petkoff's performance seems a little 'distant'--he is an actor, after all--but the material makes a good companion to the grief process.

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Highly recommend

One of my favorite book. Lots of issues talked about in this book. It’s very applicable to everyone.

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  • B
  • 2019-09-22

most important and uncomfortable book to listen

Such meaningful and difficult information to know, about the history of nursing homes and hospice care, what it means to die, and how to support our loved ones through it. Thank you Dr Gawande for finding the courage to share your and your patients stories, and for guiding us to learn from them.

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Amazing book for those with aging parents or aging

Very engaging with a creative balance of facts, figures and real life stories to bring it all together.

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Brilliant and timely

Gawande’s Being Mortal has surely touched the lives of many, especially the clinicians among us. It incites within you a sense that a revolution is needed to transform the way we think about what it means to be mortal, and thus what it means to author our own destiny. We cannot always do so to the extent we wish, but at the very least we can feel inspired to know that there are many things we can do, societally or individually, that gives ourselves, our family members, and our patients, the chance to live and die on our own terms.

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Refreshing and Inspiring

As a medical resident, I really appreciated the perspective the author took regarding the weaknesses in modern medicine and the difficulties both physicians/health care professionals and patients face with Terminal illness. Great read!

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Overall good book for both doctors and non-medical people

I am an Emergency Physician and definitely added a few extra tools to help have these conversations with patients. I think in Emergency Medicine it is particularly difficult because in acute situations we rarely have the luxury of time or prognostic accuracy to give justice to this complex conversation. I hope that one day palliative care physicians can help educate all of us but particularly oncologists and primary care docs to have these conversations early. In an ideal world the conversation could happen with a palliative care doctor but this is unlikely.

As a book I think it is worth a listen though it does drag on quite a bit. There are some pearls but it could probably be 1/3 the length

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  • Jeffrey
  • 2014-10-13

Required Reading!

Yes, this book should be required reading for any medical professional of any kind who may ever have to help any patient make good decisions for themselves and their families against terminal or very debilitating illness. It should otherwise be read by well, anyone. We are all going to die. We either need to know what expectations to give those around us for those end times, either family or medical professionals or we need to know how best to guide our loved ones through the process of the end of their lives, because it will happen for all of us. Past that, this is a remarkably entertaining read. Oh, the parts about the history of nursing homes and assisted living made me yawn, but the rest had me spell bound. Dr. Gawnde's accounting of his own father's illness and death left me awash in emotion and even tears. The narration was perfect.

59 people found this helpful

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  • Jan
  • 2015-02-23

Definative book regarding end of life choices...

What an interesting and clear overview of aging and end of life issues. Gawande covers the process of aging and end of life, what fragile elderly means, history and trends of their care, how other cultures do it, case studies, his own choices with his father and... the best discussion of these issues I have ever read. My MD son enjoyed the information as well.

Rather than provide what he thinks is the "right" way to face EOL issues, Gawande gives us questions to ask the individual to help them determine their "right" way. He encourages us to have the hard conversations in advance so that an individual's wishes can be respected. Excellent book for healthcare personnel, families and aging adults.

I adored "One doctor" by Brendan Reilly and some of the content is similar... even if you have read Reilly, I still feel this book is well worth reading.

22 people found this helpful

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  • George
  • 2014-11-02

A Walk through the Valley of the Shadow

A masterpiece of medical journalism. It is not an easy listen. Parts are unbearably sad. Contemplation of one's mortality in preparation for the inevitable, is something that most of us would just as soon put off thinking about until close to the end. This book is most recommended for those confronting life threatening illness, and for those with loved ones or family members doing so. It is also for those interested in first rate writing regardless of topic. This is that rare work that addresses life's most painful subjects with utmost lucidity, objectivity and sensitivity. It is a book that you come away from feeling as though you are, for reading it, better prepared to cope with the approaching end of life. It makes you feel as though you are better equipped to support loved ones. It is a masterful critique of contemporary medical practice and its approach to aging and dying. It offers a new vision of what medicine can and should offer the aged and the terminally ill. The patient narratives are gripping and yet painful to read and to contemplate. What would you do in similar circumstances? The narration is also first class.

71 people found this helpful

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  • KP
  • 2015-09-02

An Important Topic!

What an incredible book! I really think everyone should read it. I wouldn’t have picked it up if it weren’t a book club choice, but I’m so grateful now that I read it. It’s about a “difficult” topic - end of life issues and quality of life at that time – but the book itself is not difficult to read at all and is, in fact, very interesting. Atul Gawande handles the topic beautifully.

He explains, basically, how medicine needs to focus more on a patient’s wishes at the end of his/her life and not the family’s fears or wishes for the patient. Sometimes families want to go to extraordinary lengths to protect and prolong life, while the patient is really not willing or even physically capable of withstanding the treatments that the family wants to subject them to in the name of love. Sometimes, time has run out, and quality of life is the most important thing at this point. These are certainly tough decisions.

Gawande says that doctors are not really trained to talk to patients about dying. They are trained to try and CURE at any costs. The easy part is talking about all the treatments and drugs that can be used. The hard part is talking about and dealing with a realistic timeline and quality of life. Accepting that life can be shorter than we want can be extremely difficult! Gawande holds out hope that doctors might eventually be better trained to talk to patients about these issues.
Other topics relating to end of life issues are covered as well. There is a fascinating section on assisted living and various newer models which, again, hold out hope for the future in this area.

I was trying to remember the basic questions Gawande asks a person who has a terminal diagnosis. The website NextAvenue had the list for me:

“ It’s really a series of questions that we need to be comfortable asking one another. It needs to be normal to ask these questions, especially when someone is faced with a serious illness, and especially when we know that we’re aging and becoming frail.

We need to know:

1. What is your understanding of where you are and of your illness?
2. What are your fears or worries for the future?
3. What are your goals and priorities?
4. What outcomes are unacceptable to you? What are you willing to sacrifice and what not?
And later,
5. What would a good day look like?

Asking these allows everybody to understand what the goal really is — what are you really fighting for? It’s for a life that contains certain things.”

I also learned that there is a PBS Frontline video of Dr. Gawande and his work. I’m watching it now. It is perhaps even more powerful than just reading about his work. In any case, this book has opened a dialog for doctors, patients, and readers about needed changes in an important area!



16 people found this helpful

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  • Daniela
  • 2015-01-07

You must read this book

Because you - like me - are going to die one day. Because maybe you - and maybe I too - will become one day old and frail.
Because maybe you too - like me - have an old parent to care for. Maybe you too - like me - have lost a parent to a terminal illness.
And we have a lot of doubts, and hopes, and fears. This author helps us a bit, with his compassionate interest for unpleasant and important questions that concern us all.
Don't miss this book, it's important.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Molly-o
  • 2015-01-28

A Basic

I started to write that anybody over 50 ought to read this book, but that isn't true - everybody ought to read this book and wrestle with the idea of the end of life either for ourselves or our parents. Gawande is a superb researcher, a clear writer and he never loses the reader as he educates us about the american way of the end of life. A must read.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Sharon
  • 2015-12-26

Honest look at aging in America

Any additional comments?

I have been an RN for 30 years and have watched the decline of our care for the elderly. This book is a must read for everyone. Families and the medical community needs to take a second look at how we care for the people who have made our lives possible. It is an honest and compassionate evaluation of long term care I gave a copy of this book to everyone for Christmas.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Adam Shields
  • 2015-01-22

Everyone should read this

I will update later but I think everyone should read this book. It should also be a standard textbook for pastors, chaplains, and social workers. Death is inevitable. We need to learn how to do it better.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Dusty S. Human
  • 2014-11-18

An Insider's Perspective of End-of-Life Issues

If you could sum up Being Mortal in three words, what would they be?

This book should be required reading (listening) for physicians, medical students, social workers, chaplains, and those who care about what really matters at the end of life.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The numerous stories clearly show how complex and challenging the art of care is.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

From personal experience, I have observed how often family members resist the loved one's expressed wishes. Consequently, I was fascinated when the author shared his own father's story. Even in this medical family, the prospect of wrenching loss played out at the end in the poignant way that demonstrates how the heart has its reasons.

Any additional comments?

This book is a priceless contribution at a time when the implications of the anticipated tsunami of boomer care issues looms large.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Laurie
  • 2014-11-02

Required Reading for Everyone Over 50

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this to anyone who is within 30 or 40 years of confronting their own death, or who has close family members who are about to do the same. Gawande hits the nail on the head: don't allow the cultural imperatives or the priorities of the medical establishment to determine how you end your life. That is for YOU to decide. And it's definitely OK to say no to more treatment. Gawande illustrates with vivid stories that are, at times, hard to handle. I choked up many times during the narration, but it was well worth it. Gawande is not only a good storyteller, but he seems to be an excellent and curious researcher. This book is packed with useful information and a perceptive analysis of our culture and the culture of the medical community. I repeat: this is a MUST READ for anyone over age 50 and also for anyone who is about to undergo any major medical treatment. There are things in this book that we all need to know.

Which character – as performed by Robert Petkoff – was your favorite?

Pekoff occasionally got some Indian pronounciations wrong, such as "chapat -is" instead of chapat-ees" but other than that, he was a wonderful choice for this audiobook.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I could not stop listening to this audiobook. I felt I had to keep listening to the end. It was compelling.

11 people found this helpful