Tag Archives: death

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the EndBeing Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is such an important book, for anyone with aging parents, or a terminally ill loved one, or anyone who expects to be fortunate enough to age and die some day themselves. I wish it offered more solutions to the many challenges of our nascent assisted living and hospice systems, but nonetheless this book is more about hope than hopelessness. Gawande is a compassionate soul who writes intelligently about the things no one wants to talk about, and why that’s a real problem. He delivers a critically important message for all of us, and most especially the medical community. Thank you Dr. Gawande, for your compassion and your honesty. ~ Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer (reviewed by William L.)

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest DisasterInto Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imagine standing on top of the world, with a view so vast and breathtaking that for a moment, you forget all of your pain and worries. Imagine the sense of satisfaction, all of your hard work paying off as you rejoice from the summit of Everest, the king of the Himalayas. Did you at once think about the the guides and the Sherpas who risked their lives to give you your five minutes of bliss? Into Thin Air is Jon Krakauer’s personal account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster that claimed the lives of eight people.

A journalist for Outside magazine, Jon Krakauer won a spot on a New Zealand-based Expedition led by the experienced mountaineer Rob Hall. Originally the plan was to write an article about the commercialization of Mount Everest, but his childhood dreams of standing on top of the world’s highest peak led him to join an attempt for the summit. But while acclimatizing at Everest Base Camp he discovers that many of the climbers both in his expedition and in other groups have little to no experience climbing and mountaineering, and especially no experience climbing above 8,000 meters, the death zone as referred to by climbing veterans. These inexperienced climbers have bought their way into Everest, paying up to $75,000 to join expeditions such as Rob Hall’s “Adventure Consultants,” which offers guide services and resources to assist climbers in reaching the summit.

On midnight, May tenth 1996, a group of climbers set out for the summit. By three PM the weather began deteriorating. Jon, Hall and the remainder of climbers who reached the summit began their descent, already past the safe time for departure. Along the way they encounter Doug Hansen, who fell behind but had his heart set on reaching the peak. Hall and the Sherpas warned him that it was too dangerous to continue, but he persisted on, forcing Hall to accompany him to ensure safety. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking straight from oxygen deficiency at the high altitudes. Perhaps he felt he had come to far to turn back. Regardless, Hall and Hansen were trapped in a blinding snowstorm of winds traveling sixty miles per hour, thousands of feet from shelter. John Krakauer and the rest finally arrived at a campsite high on the mountain, but many were still trapped by the storm, including Hall and Hansen. Guide Andy Harris departed on a desperate attempt to rescue the trapped Hall and Hansen. All three as well as five others fell victim to Everest.

Jon Krakauer left on his expedition to write about the commercialization of Everest, but little did he know that same commercialization would nearly end his life. People with little to no experience buy their way onto the mountain, a place they have no business on. Hall and Harris were killed because Hansen was stubborn and did not want to turn back. He lacked the experience to know the risks. One-in-four climbers who attempt Everest die in the process. Everest is a savage, deadly place, where mere seconds can determine life or death. Inadequate climbers have no place there. Commercial expeditions risk the lives of sherpas and guides alike. The guides vow to ensure the safety of their climbers, but when these inexperienced climbers make mistakes, the guides are forced to put their life on the line to save them. Not only are they staring in the face of death, but they pull their peers down with them when they climb with insufficient knowledge.

John Krakauer uses vivid imagery to describe the mountains and conditions along the trip, as well as insights on the history of Everest. He explains in great detail the risks involved with climbing the highest peak in the world, as well as the difficulties and extreme conditions the climbers endure. This book illustrates perfectly the dangers high altitude climbing, and the selflessness of the guides that lost their lives on that tragic day. ~ Student: William L.

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Student Review: Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom (reviewed by Quinn M.)

Tuesdays with MorrieTuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is a moving book about the relationship between a middle-aged sports writer, Mitch, the author, and his former college professor at Brandeis University, Morrie Schwartz, who was dying of ALS. The book begins with Mitch recalling his college graduation where he hugged Morrie, promising to keep in touch. This promise was forgotten as the struggle of life caught up with Mitch. Mitch then sees a Nightline interview with Morrie on television and remembers his promise. He then visits Morrie in his West Newton home every Tuesday for the next few months, at first just to have a reunion, but then to simply discuss life. The book ends with Morrie’s death. During these meetups Mitch and Morrie discuss many things ranging from money to love to cultural norms. The book was an easy read in the sense that it was quick and easy to understand the meaning. However there are many complex concepts discussed in the book through the discussions between Mitch and Morrie. Tuesdays with Morrie is the kind of book that you could analyze for hours and hours. I would recommend it for a younger reader who enjoys philosophy and exploring other general ideas of life. The book has many ideas that can be applied to one’s own life given through a touching story. I personally enjoyed it very much because it contained enough new plot development to hold my interest while still leaving enough space to analyze the meaning of each chapter before moving on to the next. ~ Student: Quinn M.

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Student Review: A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy SoldierA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (Reviewed by: Katelyn L.)

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy SoldierA Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Long Way Gone is former child soldier Ishmael Beah’s reflection upon the years during which he was forced, initially against his will, to fight the rebels in Sierra Leone. Merely twelve years old when his world was turned upside down by an attack on his home, the ensuing events reshaped the course of his entire future in such a way that has enabled him to tell them to us today.

Rarely do I read nonfiction, and rarer still do I enjoy it, but I found Beah’s story so engaging that I read the entire book in one sitting. Aside from an unsatisfactory ending that left me wanting to know more, his writing is clear and straightforward, which I appreciated because his choice to keep things simple made the facts — which in this case came primarily in the form of memories — more accessible to me as a reader than if he had used more convoluted language. It also helped that his viewpoint on the war is a firsthand one, which I feel magnifies the impact of the events that he describes; the knowledge that they come from personal experience makes them more powerful than if the memoir had been written from an outside perspective.

All in all, A Long Way Gone is almost brutal in its honesty, but the bluntness in Beah’s prose effectively conveys the injustice in his premature loss of innocent; at first unable to face the death all around him, he is able to kill without flinching by halfway through the book, a transformation both shocking and riveting, yet believable. What is most remarkable to me is how compelling the journey is; although I would ordinarily be quick to assert that there is no excuse for killing anyone, I found myself caught up in each of the incidents Beah went through to make him act the way he did to his situation, and his reactions were surprisingly relatable.

Reading A Long Way Gone, I was also struck by one of the greatest tragedies of war: the loss of humanity that occurs in people, especially children, who would otherwise have turned out very differently. While I have always been aware that the people affected by war are more than a statistic or casualty to read about in the news, the unforgettable story of just one made me realize that the true scope of any tragedy is greater than I could ever imagine; Beah’s particular set of circumstances is one of millions more, each of which has equal weight, and the sum of all those experiences is simply too great for the human mind to comprehend. Even if, years down the track, the reader don’t remember exactly what it was that happened to him, the understanding of this fact is, I think, the most important takeaway from the book.~ Student: Katelyn L.

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm HomeTell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a beautiful coming of age story set during the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City during the 1980s. Fourteen-year-old June loses her beloved Uncle Finn to the disease without fully understanding its, or his, history. The story follows this quirky young character as she navigates her grief, her relationship with her seemingly perfect older sister Greta, the trials of being a loner in high school, and most importantly, her secret and somewhat alarming relationship with Finn’s partner Toby. The characters are vibrant and sympathetic, the writing is achingly poignant, and the story is unforgettable. If you’re looking for something to suck you in and reconnect you to the beauty of humanity, then take this one off the shelf–but don’t forget the Kleenex. ~ Ms. Dimmick

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The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier

The Brief History of the DeadThe Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love the premise of this book: when we die, we go to a city in which we live peacefully with other souls as long as there is someone alive on earth who remembers us. Then, we move on. Better yet, the rememberers on earth don’t even have to be our loved ones. By following the stories of those residing in the city of the dead and how they are connected to those on earth, we see how even the most remote chance encounters or mundane daily ones lead to lasting memory for one party or the other. Some souls live on for decades in the city, while others seem to vanish only days after they arrive. The story of those in the city is told in alternating chapters with that of a young woman who has traveled with a small expedition party sent by the Coca Cola Corporation to Antarctica to study the arctic wildlife as an apparent publicity stint. The reader is alternately yanked from the somewhat hazy existence of those in the ethereal city to the stark reality of the remote Antarctic outpost in which Laura Byrd is struggling to survive. Suddenly, the city population begins to grow exponentially, followed by equally abrupt shrinking. This can only mean one thing, and it starts to tie the two jarringly separate stories together. The novel was apparently expanded from a short story, and seems to lose steam as it gains length. The writing is beautiful, which goes a long way toward the three stars I awarded, but the chapters in the Antarctic dragged for me. The idea of the city fascinates me, but the more I read, the more unanswered questions I compiled (Where does their food come from? What do they use for currency?), distracting me from the story. Nevertheless, the book is short and intriguing and makes a worthy distraction from everyday life. ~Ms Dimmick

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Student Review: White Fang, by Jack London (review by Cam Y.)

White FangWhite Fang by Jack London

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

White Fang is not a book about love and happiness. Many scenes in the book are very descriptive and show the terror that White Fang instills into other animals. This book is about morality, redemption, and brutality. When White Fang kills something the author describes it really well by telling what White Fang did and how he killed it. It then describes the dead animal and the blood. White Fang is half wolf half dog born in the wild of the Yukon. He later on gets caught by natives and is held in captivity by them. They take him in as their pet and all of the other dogs don’t get along with him because he is a wolf and the feud the two animals have. White Fang starts getting used to it but a couple months later he was sold away for alcohol by the chief of the natives. After that White Fang becomes a fighting dog trained to kill other dogs. He was treated badly and was not cared for by anybody making him hate. He later on fights a pitbull and wins but is badly hurt. After that he is taken by a loving family who cares for him. They want to change him into a good animal and not dangerous. This book tells the reader what things can happen and how attitudes change if in the right or wrong environment.–Student:  Cam Y.

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