Better, by Atul Gawande, sounded like a fascinating read. On the front cover of the edition I bought, Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink (a book everybody but me liked), calls Better “a masterpiece, a series of stories set inside the four walls of a hospital that end up telling us something unforgettable about the world outside.” Truth be told, though, the real reason I picked up this book was because of the subheading under its title: “A surgeon’s notes on performance”. As a professional constantly faced with differing philosophies as to how performance should be measured and rewarded, I thought the idea of reading a “masterpiece” on the subject from someone whose performance can literally mean life or death would be worthwhile.
Let me preface this post (unless it’s too late at this point for a preface) by saying that this book didn’t really meet with my expectations; however, once again, that was because my expectations might have been a bit skewed. And although the book didn’t really talk to me about performance metrics as much as I expected, it was still a nice read.
What Gawande does in the book is break down what he believes to be three core requirements for success in a field that involves risk and responsibility (such as medicine): diligence, doing right, and ingenuity. He then builds the case for each of these through the use of anecdotes. None of these anecdotes really stands on its own as the basis for any world-changing proposition, but each of them is effectively representative of an approach or philosophy that Gawande cites it for. And I will absolutely vouch for the fact that Gawande has a very easy-to-read writing style. I doubt that he took a whole lot of writing classes while in medical school, but you wouldn’t know it from reading this work. His approach is one to challenge your thinking, not to challenge your reading ability.
Will this book change your life? Probably not. Will you regret spending the time to read it? I strongly doubt it. Will you learn a lot about some things you probably didn’t know much detail about (eradicating polio, the treatment of wounded soldiers, the Apgar score)? Absolutely.