Book Review: Better by Atul Gawande

Author: Atul Gawande
Title: Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance
Publication Info: BBC Audiobooks America
ISBN: 9780792747260


This book is a collection of essays about the need for excellence in medicine because the cost of even a small error may be fatal.  In the conclusion, Gawande makes suggestion on how the standards for being better can be applied to any field of endeavor.

Topics covered in the essays in this book include:

  • The spread of infection in hospitals that should be preventable but habits of medical staff are difficult to change.
  • The people skills required to stop the spread of disease in India.
  • A review of the current state of malpractice law that offers a good balance between the surgeon’s fears and the rights of the patient.
  • Amazing stories of doctors in India who regularly perform procedures outside their specialty and with limited resources but are as effective in healing patients as doctors in the US.
  • The conundrum of whether doctors should participate in executions to help make them more humane or should completely eschew any practice that leads to a death.

This book was selected by my book club and I was pleasantly surprised that it was better (ha-ha!) than I expected.  Gawande writes in a direct – sometimes arrogant – manner but at the end one can’t help but agree that he is on to something.  As an added bonus, he practices in Boston, so I know where to go if I’m looking for a good surgeon.

Rating: ***

Book Review: 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense by Michael Brooks

Author: Michael Brooks
Title: 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time
Publication Info: New York : Doubleday, c2008.
ISBN: 9780385520683

Summary/Review: This book is a collection of essays about scientific anomalies which are currently puzzling the scientific community.  I think Brooks is deliberately provocative in choosing these 13 and frequently criticizing scientists for their insularity and claims of unassailability.  On other hand, someone needs to say these things.

Here are the 13 things with a short synopsis of each:

  1. The Missing Universe – the question of dark matter which makes up most of our universe but cannot be found.
  2. The Pioneer Anomaly – should satellites drifting off course make us reevaluate our understanding of gravity?
  3. Varying Constants – the only constant in physics is inconstancy.
  4. Cold Fusion – an experiment so thoroughly debunked its not even to be discussed, but is there some truth to it?
  5. Life – how did it begin?
  6. Viking – did the Mars probe find evidence of extraterrestrial life?
  7. The WOW! Signal – have intelligent extraterrestrial beings already tried to contact us?
  8. A Giant Virus – the Mimivirus challenges what we think we know about viruses and the definition of life.
  9. Death – what is the genetic and evolutionary purpose of aging and death?
  10. Sex – is there really any evolutionary advantage to sexual reproduction over asexual reproduction?
  11. Free will – does our brain decide things for us before we even have a chance to “think.”
  12. The Placebo Effect – studies are inconclusive of whether placebos really work and what role they should play in medicine.
  13. Homeopathy – it’s all a bunch of hooey yet no scientific study has thoroughly discredited it either.

An interesting book, highly recommended if you’re interested in contemporary ideas in science.

Recommended books: What’s Next: Dispatches on the Future of Science by Max Brockman, Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science–From the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, and The Day the Universe Changed by James Burke.
Rating: ***1/2