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Publisher's Summary

A Columbia University physician inspires us to rethink death and offers insights on how we can learn to embrace the art of dying well in this wise, clear-eyed book that is as compelling and soulful as Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.

As a specialist in both medical ethics and the treatment of older patients, Dr. Lydia Dugdale knows a great deal about the end of life. Far too many of us die poorly, she argues. Our culture has overly medicalized death: Dying is often institutional and sterile, prolonged by unnecessary resuscitations and other intrusive interventions. We are not going gently into that good night - our reliance on modern medicine can actually prolong suffering and strip us of our dignity. Yet our lives do not have to end this way.

Centuries ago, in the wake of the Black Plague, a text was published offering advice to help the living prepare for a good death. Written during the late Middle Ages, Ars moriendi - The Art of Dying - made clear that to die well, one first had to live well. When Dugdale discovered this Medieval book, it was a revelation. Inspired by its holistic approach to the final stage we must all one day face, she draws from this forgotten work, combining its wisdom with the knowledge she has gleaned from her long medical career. The Lost Art of Dying is filled with much-needed insight and thoughtful guidance that will change our perceptions. Dr. Dugdale offers a hopeful perspective on death and dying as she shows us how to adapt the wisdom from the past to our lives today.

Part of living well means preparing for the end, Dr. Dugdale reminds us. By recovering our sense of finitude, confronting our fears, accepting how our bodies age, developing meaningful rituals, and involving our communities in end-of-life care, we can discover what it means to both live and die well. 

The Lost Art of Dying is a vital, affecting book that reconsiders death, death culture, and how we can transform how we live each day, including our last.  

Supplemental enhancement PDF accompanies the audiobook.  

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2020 Lydia Dugdale (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • SB Walter
  • 20-02-2021

Powerful. Helpful.

The opening chapter is a doctor's frank confession of the limitations, even abuses, of modern medicine at the end of life. But there is plenty of blame to go around, including for the survivors and even the dying themselves. The middle chapters are slightly less strong, though well-written and full of insight. For example, we can go wrong when facing death by fighting too much against the inevitable, or by trying to flee the inevitable by leaping to take our own life prematurely through so-called euthanasia.
The closing chapters are the most beautiful and profound, revealing how we can live and die with the most goodness and beauty for ourselves, our families, and our communities. She writes gracefully and brings up riches mined from deep within ancient wisdom.
As a Catholic myself, I appreciated that she, an Episcopalian, ends up practically where the Church does: Death should not be purposefully hastened, but extraordinary medical measures may be avoided. She also sees great value in the traditional teachings of medieval Catholics on the virtues and the way to die well. She mines much wisdom as well from pagan Aristotle and from Christians' elder brothers, the Jews.
In general, however, she doesn't make any religious theme prominent, doubtless because the secular can make great use of this powerful book -- and are perhaps most in need of it.
The only thing that surprised me and is a minor weakness was the relative lack of discussion of hospice, though it makes fleeting appearances, is how her grandmother died, and would seem quite congenial to her views.
We should all be grateful a doctor could write so frankly about her modern profession's limitations and so richly about older sources of knowledge, beauty, and consolation.

1 person found this helpful

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