Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Complications" by Atul Gawande

Summary: A collection of essays on the tricky and uncertain science of surgery and medicine.

Musings: I found Complications on a list of engaging nonfiction, and Gawande's work did not fail me in that regard.  In fact, I found his book more engrossing than much of the fiction I read. I think this is because medicine is an area that pervades our lives despite the fact that many of us know so little about it. Gawande's book is then both reassuring and frightening, for it details the way in which there is so much doctors and scientists don't know as well.

The first section of the book is on surgeons specifically, where Gawande discusses the training of doctors and the "complications of medicine"--how things go wrong and how difficult it is to prevent and predict those occurrences. The second and third sections address disease, with individual chapters on things such as gastric bypass surgery, SIDS, pain, and nausea.

The medical terminology is all explained in layman's terms but without making the reader feel like an idiot.  And although the book is not for the overly squeamish, disease and surgery are described straightforwardly, not grotesquely.

Probably what brings the book most to life, however, is Gawande's personal presence.  A surgeon himself, Gawande's stories of his experiences with patients fill every chapter, and he uses his own challenges as a spring board to examine larger issues at play.  In the afterward Gawande credits writer Malcolm Gladwell as a supportive friend, and I could see something of Gladwell's style in the book (whether that's because of the friendship or because both write for The New Yorker, I don't know). Like Gladwell, Gawande's essays all follow a similar structure: begin with a narrative, introduce the personal, analyze with scientific evidence, and return to narrative.  Nonetheless, the repetitive structure doesn't lessen the reader's fascination with the myriad topics Gawande explores.

I highly recommend Complications to anyone looking for fast-paced nonfiction or insight into modern medicine.

***This book qualifies for the POC Reading Challenge.

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