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Atul Gawande Reads from 'Better'

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Author Atul Gawande
Author Atul Gawande

Book Tour is a new Web feature and podcast. Each week we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Atul Gawande describes Better — in characteristic understatement — as "just a book of medical stories." What Gawande doesn't say is that his "medical stories" are those of an accomplished surgeon and supremely insightful guide to the arcane world of medical practice. The essays in this book are knit together by Gawande's view that "good enough" is far short of where we should be — in medicine and in life. One way to get to excellence, he says, is to measure performance along the way. In the end, though, the tales Gawande tells are not about the medical system but the individuals who make it up; not so much about science as small but essential acts of humanity.

A staff writer for The New Yorker and a contributor to The New England Journal of Medicine, Gawande often picks up his pen between operations. He published his first book, Complications, on how doctors learn an imperfect and ever-changing craft, while he was still a resident. It was a National Book Award finalist in 2002. But it took a MacArthur "genius" fellowship in 2006 for some of his surgical colleagues to see his writing as more than a hobby.

On the page and off, Gawande is obsessed with the fragile balance between doing harm and doing good. He exposes the challenges that keep doctors from being their best in an environment where a simple act like hand-washing is a life-and-death issue.

It turns out, surprisingly enough, that the secret to doing "better" isn't more research, or new technology. It's finding ways for doctors to make better use of the knowledge they already have.

This reading ofBettertook place in April 2007 at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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