"Complications", by Dr. Atul Gawande is a very gutsy and honest discussion about medicine in general, and surgeons in particular. The book is also unique, for unlike others of its type it is written by a surgeon that is starting his career, and not looking back upon it. I would imagine that the book caused some consternation amongst his peers. The book does nothing to minimize the skills and accomplishments of the men and women who can reach in to the body and do some pretty spectacular work. The book does portray them as human beings that come with all the normal traits that any of us do. The pressure they must deal with is that when they make a mistake, it can irreparably harm or cause the death of the patient they are trying to help. The vast majority of careers that people practice does not involve decisions that can cause the outcomes I mention above. And few occupations require of their practitioners near perfection, that if not delivered has a major legal industry prepared...
This book is basically a collection of essays Gawande has published in the <i>New Yorker</i>, where he is a staff writer, along with a few from <i>Slate</i>. His writing style is similar to that of Malcolm Gladwell, Jerome Groopman, and other <i>New Yorker</i> authors of the David Remnick era - intelligent and clear. Gawande is a surgical resident, so he is experienced enough to have insight into the medical profession and practices of surgeons, but still new enough in the field to bring a keen critical mind and the clarity of a relative outsider's perspective. Also, his compassion is one of his distinct qualities and shines through in the writing. If you are a regular New Yorker reader, you probably have already read all of these essays. The brilliant essay about why doctors make mistakes is included, as well as memorable essays about when good doctors go bad, and how the practice of autopsy goes in and out of fashion. The only one...
There are other writing doctors around, but there's nobody like Atul Gawande. I'd first got to know his voice, his distinctive approach -- immense vivid medical detail combined with an almost philosophical interest in the systemic or ethical dimensions of the problems he explores--in the pages of The New Yorker. But there's a lot here that never appeared in that magazine, and, besides, the whole really is greater than the sum of its part. His arguments -- about the fallibility of medicine, about judgment under conditions of uncertainty, etc. -- run through the chapters like sinews. "Complications" is a genuine page turner, but you come away not only entertained, but enlightened, too. I've recommended it to a lot of my friends, and nobody's been disappointed yet.
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