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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
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (307 ratings)
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Being Mortal

Written by: Atul Gawande
Narrated by: Robert Petkoff
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Publisher's Summary

Number one New York Times best seller

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 shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life - all the way to the very end. 

©2014 Atul Gawande (P)2014 Macmillan Audio

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What listeners say about Being Mortal

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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.

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6 people 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.

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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.

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Solid storytelling by a surgeon with heart

Gawande intertwines heartwarming stories and lovable characters with heartbreaking moments in people's and family's lives around the inevitability of death. He poses great questions that we should all ask ourselves, our loved ones, and our medical team. The narrator is impeccable--I am so grateful to have audioread this version in particular.

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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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  • 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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  • D.
  • 2023-10-01

Good knowledge

Dealing with aging parents (one with MS) this book helped lay out a plan for how to speak to them when they need to be assisted with living. Particularly what will be the most important to them in their final months/days. I really liked this book, has given me a lot to think about.

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Loved it

Incredible book! I would recommend people of all ages read it. It can be easy to look the other way until you are brought to this inevitable time in life

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Great, educational read

Really enjoyed this read, great for individuals who have a fear of death and aging or have a loved one who is reaching this stage of their life.

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Brilliant content and narration- A must read.

I am almost 80 and in very good shape. I came across this book after I chose to volunteer at our local Hospice. We are all going to die! What we don’t know is when and the path we will take to get there. This book describes some of the paths our life may take and the kinds of options and decisions we may elect to choose. It is a subject we don’t want to talk about but being prepared will be of great benefit to you and your Alternate Decision Makers. Also points to having an Advanced Care Plan before is is actually needed.

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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.

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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.

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  • Reatta
  • 2019-11-19

scathing review of nursing homes

As a nursing home employee who read this book in the hopes of finding help in ways to transition the people I work for into palliative care and hospice and help they and their families cope with what it means when life cannot go on... this was crushing. It will be forever burned in my ears when he says... why haven't we burned these place to the ground... I believe there is some clear misunderstanding to think that there is no one who is in need of these facilities. I should have checked when this was written. Maybe its dated. I hope it is dated. Not everyone has the family support or financial support to live out their days in the way he expects. Nursing homes are not evil. They may be far from perfect but parts of this book were soul crushing to think that the caring I do for humans in these situations every day is viewed this way. Overall I liked and agreed with most of his beliefs. I did learn ways to have the hard conversations that I value. But the utter hatred of nursing homes was disheartening and wrong.

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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.

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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!



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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.

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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.

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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.

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15 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.

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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.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2021-04-20

Being Mortal

A fantastic book filled with touching stories and loads of insights worth contemplating. A book highly recommended for everyone who hopes to have a better grasp of his / her own meaning of life and maneuver it the way he/ she wants till the very end !

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