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Customer Review

191 of 200 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frank yet compassionate book about death & dying., March 22, 2002
This review is from: How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter, New Edition (Paperback)
What actually happens during "clinical death"? Why do we age, and what happens to the body? This National Book Award winner Particularly recommended for anyone in a position to explain these difficult processes to others. This award-winning account describes in frank yet compassionate detail just what most of us are likely to face when the time comes, Sherwin B. Nuland's How We Die combines erudition and eloquence in a refreshingly unsentimental look at the processes of death. A distinguished surgeon and gifted writer, Nuland illuminates the mechanisms of cancer, heart attack, AIDS, and Alzheimer's disease with precision and compassionate awareness.
Why read such a book? Taking away the fear of the unknown can bring courage and peace in the face of a difficult time. This book presents unpleasant facts in simple language that anyone can understand.
Chapters cover different types of death, making clear the physiological changes and medical choices that go along with each one. It addresses both medical and emotional realities of common conditions such as cancer, heart disease, AIDS, Alzheimer's, severe trauma, and just plain wearing out. (Be prepared to cry, since reading this book may make you experience feelings associated with people you love.)
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.
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.
A "must read" for those of us in the baby-boomer generation who, unfortunately, are going to have to deal with a lot of what's covered in this book over the remainder of our lives.
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