Being Mortal : Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande, 2014, Picador

What a depressing subject!  And yet, this is a book I found I couldn’t put down.  It is a book that everybody should read because, for many of us, our death or the deaths of our family members will not come quickly but will be a prolonged process.  This book provides a great deal of guidance and thought as to how to prepare and handle those situations.

The insight the author provides is extremely valuable  as he seems to have garnered it from a long career that involved a great deal of contact with persons suffering from debilitating and painful disease at the end of their lives.  The wisdom he passes along through his book is truly priceless.  What I really appreciated was that he does not talk down to the reader.  He basically says that he, as a physician, didn’t have a clue about any of this stuff either, but gradually came to his conclusions through a great deal of experience that he is eager to share.

Additionally, the book is extremely well written and structured.  That prose of this high quality could be written by a physician is a bit beyond belief, so I will surmise that he had an outstanding editor.  There are many authors out there whose primary livelihood is writing who don’t come even close to writing the way this book is written.

In reading the book one naturally refers to the deaths of close family members.  In my case, I constantly thought of my father who died of prostate cancer after dealing with the disease for many years.  I thought of all the decisions we made for him and the decisions we left for him and I found myself asking what we did right and what we could have done better.  I was pleased that the book reinforced some of the actions we took but it also gave me a lot of insight as to what my perceptions would have been had I been in the same situation.

I have found that, after reading this book, I am constantly recommending it to many of my friends and family members.  In fact, for my family, I am going to suggest that it be required reading for the guidance it might provide them as to how I would like to be treated if and when I am in that same situation.5 stars

The Lowland

by Jhumpa Lahari, Audiobook read by Sunil Maholtra, 2013, Audible.com

This is a story about two brothers who grew up in India and the very different paths that they took in their lives.  The book attempts to tie the directions that each took to the lives of their family members, but, unfortunately, in my opinion, fails in that endeavor.  The two brothers seem so different that it is hard to reconcile their two different fates.  Also, as a warning, the book just seems to end with no resolution and without imparting any real message.

I also didn’t quite get attached to any of the characters.  They seemed to be somewhat real, but the author didn’t really provide anything that I really could grab onto.

The plot was interesting at times and I learned a lot about the politics and recent history of India that I didn’t know.  The passages referring to Rhode Island were very relevant to me as I spend five months of each year precisely in the area where the novel takes place.  Most of those passages, however, were somewhat boring as the characters seemed to plod from day to day with nothing particularly interesting or noteworthy happening.  I sometimes dreaded continuing to listen.

The references to German philosophy in some of the passages seemed shallow and actually got to the point of name dropping.  They seemed to detract from the story.

The reader did a nice job.  The accents were appropriate as was the tone.

All-in-all, it was interesting about some individuals who came to America and settled in areas that I am very familiar with, but the book certainly didn’t light my fire.2 1/2 stars

Crazy Horse, A Lakota Life

by Kingsley M. Bray, 2006, Volume 254 of the Civilization of the American Indian Series, The University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK

I purchased this book at the Custer Battlefield at Little Bighorn just before leaving.  As I glanced through the book I suspected that it would be a bit of a chore to get through; I was right about that.

I didn’t really know much about the life of Crazy Horse, however, and I was interested in finding out more.  This book filled the bill in that respect and a lot more.  It was extremely well researched and fairly well written, but the level of detail sometimes got in the way of just plain enjoying it.  The plethora of the names of various Indian individuals and subgroups, as well as the geography, made it very difficult to keep track of what was actually happening.  I sometimes felt like crying out for Ken Burns to provide me some visual orientation.  At the very least, an appendix depicting the various tribes and subtribes along with their leaders would have been very helpful.

It appears that the author has a tremendous respect for the culture and practices of the Lakota Indians and I felt that respect come through strongly in this book.  I think he dealt with the character and actions of Crazy Horse and his contemporaries in a fair and even handed manner.  In the end, however, I’m still not sure whether Crazy Horse over all made things better or worse for his people. 3 1/2 stars

An Irish Country Girl

by Patrick Taylor, Audiobook read by Terry Donnelly, 2010, Midwest Tape, LLC, Holland, OH

This book started out pretty well with an Irish ghost story but the second part, which was consisted of the narrator’s life, was a bit dull.  The audiobook did, however, help pass some time on a long road trip vacation.2 stars

Washington Square

by Henry James, originally published in 1880 as a magazine serial, Audiobook read by Lorna Raver, 2008, Tantor Media, Inc.

This is a novel about a young girl living in New York City about 1830 and her affair with an unworthy suitor.  The novel itself is a bit dull but the reading by Lorna Raver is well done.  Her portrayal of Catherine’s aunt as a nosy busybody is superb!

I was hoping that the novel would give a little bit more insight into New York’s culture and society in those times, but the novel was so focused on Catherine and her relationships with her father, her aunt, and her suitor that it didn’t leave much opportunity to dwell on other aspects of life in New York at those times.

I think the novel would have been a bit dull to read, but I really enjoyed the audiobook.4 stars

The Private Patient

by P.D. James Unabridged CD Audiobook (An Adam Dalgliesh Mystery) Audio CD, 2008, read by Rosalyn Landor

This book is a murder mystery about some murders that take place at an estate that has been converted to a plastic surgery clinic.  It is beautifully written but that might be it’s major flaw.  P.D. James tends to be overly wordy in this novel and, while the prose is very well done and the characters are convincing, the plot is thin and the book suffers as it plods along.  There are absolutely no twists or turns as it goes from beginning to end.  Additionally, the reader has a very nice voice and does the characters well, but her voice is soft and soporific which also takes away from any excitement that a murder mystery should generate.  I have rated it a bit higher than it probably deserves because of James’ good writing, but, for a murder mystery, this is a not very suspenseful. 3 stars

Killing Patton

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, 2014, Henry Holt & Company, LLC, New York

This book was given to me as a gift at Christmas.  Otherwise, I probably would not have read it.  Once I had it, however, I was looking forward to learning something about Patton as I hadn’t read much about him.  I did see the movie many, many years ago and thought it was done very well.  I recall George C. Scott won the academy award for his portrayal of Patton.

Once I started reading, however, I had a very hard time staying with it.  As with the other book I had read by these guys, Killing Lincoln, the book seems to have been written for sixth-graders.  Many of the footnotes provided basic information that everyone should already know.  This book’s writing was much worse than Killing Lincoln, however, and I just couldn’t read more than a couple of pages at one sitting.

Since I am not that knowledgeable on the subject matter, I can’t make any astute comments on the accuracy of the information, but it seemed to me that the authors were very harsh on their assessment of Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower’s performance in this period, giving all credit and no criticism of Patton’s actions.

In regard to the main theme of the book, only one or two chapters were actually devoted to Patton’s accident and subsequent death.  It appeared that the author’s mentioning of  a few suspicious aspects of Patton’s death would be enough to raise the possibility that Patton was assassinated.  The innuendo that Wild Bill Donovan had something to do with it doesn’t seem to square with what I have read in other books about Donovan.

I think that O’Reilly and Dugard have found a means of generating huge amounts of revenue through some rather shoddy writing and research.  This book is a continuation of that process.2 stars

A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh

by Jeff Shaara, Audiobook, 2012, Narrated by Paul Michael, Random House Audio

We listened to this audiobook on our semi-annual trip from Florida to Rhode Island.  The audiobook was 18 CD’s so it consumed about 2 1/2 days of our three-day trip.  Even though it was long and, at times, seemed even longer than it was, the author made it interesting.  By writing this in novel format he made the individuals seem to come to life.  At the same time, however, the historical contents were well-researched and accurate.  The narration was also very good.

We had no prior knowledge of the battle or the circumstances that brought the two armies together and this was a much more enjoyable means to gain that knowledge compared to a dry, blow-by-blow history of the battle.  I would recommend this book. 4 stars

The Boys in the Boat

by Daniel James Brown, 2013, Viking Penguin Group

This book is meticulously researched, well-written, and the author obviously has a great love for his subject.  It’s about the crew from the University of Washington that won the nine-man rowing Olympic medal in Berlin in 1936.  The story is interlaced with background information on the various members of the crew and, in particular, the life of Joe Ratz prior to his attendance at the University of Washington.  Some of the details are pretty grim, but, nonetheless, they add to the story of how they went about winning the gold medal.

Daniel James Brown also provides an accurate portrayal of what was occurring in Nazi Germany at the time and how Goebbles wanted to show the new Germany to the world through the Olympic events.  Very scary stuff.

This is a really good book, even if the reader doesn’t have a great deal of appreciation for what’s involved in the sport of rowing.  The author even gets caught up in the excitement of a race that took place almost eighty years ago.4 1/2 stars

Supreme Commander: MacArthur’s Triumph in Japan

by Seymour Morris, Jr., 2014, Harper

This book was somewhat of a disappointment.  I was very interested in how a successful occupation of another company was managed, particularly after the disaster that occurred in Iraq.  The book seemed to start out pretty well as it depicted MacArthur’s arrival in Japan and some of his first acts and policies.  I think the book bogged down when it abandoned a chronological timeline and addressed various occurrences by topic.  This made it somewhat hard to follow.  Also, it appears that the book had been heavily edited and most of the cuts were probably in the last half of the book where topics were treated almost in summary form.  Perhaps the book would have been very tedious without those cuts, but it seemed that a lot of information was left out of the final product.

I suspect that there are much better volumes available regarding this important period following WWII.2 1/2 stars