Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande

BetterGawande tackles the question of what people can do to be “better” through a medical lens – not necessarily from a surgical point of view, and there’s no scalpels-and-gore in here, but in relation to doctors and medical situations. He divides “performance” into three rough categories: diligence, morality, and ingenuity. It’s interesting how these aspects play into each other. Ingenuity isn’t merely about cleverness; it’s about not being willing to accept the status quo, about being certain that there could be a better way of doing it. And it’s clear from the chapter on washing hands that merely “trying hard” isn’t good enough. You need to set up systems that make it easy to do the right thing.

There’s a wide variety of topics covered in the book’s eleven chapters: washing hands, a polio outbreak in India, war casualties in Iraq, morality around seeing patients naked, malpractice lawsuits, cystic fibrosis, childbirth. Each is thoughtful and revealing of things I hadn’t thought about.

Unless something is seriously wrong with my own body my interest in medicine tends to be limited to watching House on TV, but I read Better on the strength of other people’s recommendations and I wasn’t disappointed.

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