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The NYPL Podcast

Podcast #182: Atul Gawande & Elizabeth Alexander


The New York Public Library Podcast features your favorite writers, artists, and thinkers in smart talks and provocative conversations. Listen to some of our most engaging programs, discover new ideas, and celebrate the best of today’s culture.

Book CoversOn today’s episode: a conversation between Atul Gawande and Elizabeth Alexander. In the last couple years both have written beautiful books about death. Two very different books, which look at death from opposite ends of the experience, as Gawande put it, but as you’ll hear from their conversation, Gawande's Being Mortal and Alexander's The Light of the World are perfectly complementary.

Being Mortal diagnoses modern medicine as inadequate to the task of creating a graceful and human process of dying—for all of the miracles it has wrought prolonging life and preventing disease, it has a long way to go in managing our experience when the end finally approaches. Gawande, whose other books include The Checklist Manifesto and Complications, then explores various prescriptions that forward-thinking doctors and health facilities are employing to improve our final months, weeks, and days. The book spent nearly two years on the New York Times best-seller list. Transition from the experience of our own dying to how we lose someone else, The Light of the World details the sudden and unexpected loss of Alexander's husband, Ficre, to heart disease at the age of fifty. Alexander is a poet and the Director of Creativity and Free Expression at the Ford Foundation; she details the experience of the loss itself and the time that followed grieving, caring for her children, and reconstructing her life.  Both books are available in the Library's SimplyE app, which is available for your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

Gawande and Alexander spoke together as part of the LIVE from the NYPL series. They had both read each other's work closely and absorbed the experiences detailed therein deeply. They came to the conversation seemingly very much in admiration of each other, and that sentiment appeared only to grow as the discussion took shape. 

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