The author, an experienced surgeon, believes that we will be less frightened by the prospect of death if we understand it as a normal biologic process. He points out that 80 percent of deaths in this country now occur in hospitals and are therefore "sanitized," hidden from view, and from public comprehension. He describes the death process for six major killers: heart disease, stroke, AIDS, cancer, accidents/suicide, and Alzheimer's disease.But the power of the book is in its intensely personal depiction of these events and in the lessons which Nuland draws from his experiences. The message is twofold: very few will "die with dignity" so that (1) it behooves us to lead a productive LIFE of dignity, (2) physicians, patients, and families should behave appropriately to allow nature to take its course instead of treating death as the enemy to be staved off at any cost. Only then will it be possible for us to die in the "best" possible way--in relative comfort, in the company of those we love/who love us.


What makes this book such compelling reading is that Nuland brings to this subject all of the depth and breadth of his background AND his deep concern for the human condition. His long career at a high-powered academic medical center (Yale), his knowledge of the history of medicine, of literature and philosophy, and his own personal losses are all woven into his thesis. He is thus highly convincing when he criticizes physicians for becoming seduced by the intellectual challenge of solving "The Riddle" and making recommendations not in the best interests of the patient/family.He claims that those who choose to become doctors are more likely to have anxieties about death and may be particularly reluctant to "give up" on a patient (while he acknowledges that this may also be a strength). Particularly pertinent are the chapters about his brother's death from colon cancer, and the concluding "The Lessons Learned" and "Epilogue." The book won the National Book Award for non-fiction.



Place Published

New York



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