A wise and reassuring guide for confronting death.

THE LOST ART OF DYING

REVIVING FORGOTTEN WISDOM

A physician draws wisdom from a late medieval text to transform our thoughts and fears about dying.

When a terminal patient’s life is prolonged with desperate medical procedures, that individual’s final moments may be sadly compromised. Yet reliance on modern medical interventions has become increasingly common in our culture. As Dugdale, the director of Columbia University’s Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, writes, “in failing to die well, we fail to live well.” Beginning with a case study example, the author relates how woeful such a failure can be. The patient was an elderly man approaching the end of a lengthy battle with cancer, and no one in his family was prepared to acknowledge his approaching death, insisting that every effort be made to keep him alive. In his final hours, he suffered through several unnecessary resuscitations, resulting in a long, painful death. Such examples led Dugdale to seek out a more compassionate alternative. In her studies, she was inspired by the holistically grounded approach to dying examined in ars moriendi (“the art of dying”), a 15th-century text that contains intriguing reflections on death as an essential aspect of living requiring careful preparation. “Although more than six hundred years have passed, I have been repeatedly struck by the need for a similar handbook today,” writes Dugdale. “That’s why I wrote this book. Although some of the original ars moriendi content is less relevant to the diverse and global twenty-first century, it nevertheless offers rich wisdom on how we might die well.” Throughout the book, Dugdale balances her clinical experience with an openly holistic mindfulness, and she thoughtfully expands on the relevant lessons of ars moriendi: acknowledging our human finitude, or what it means to be mortal; embracing a meaningful community; facing a fear of death; and giving consideration to the decision of whether to die at home or in a hospital or other setting.

A wise and reassuring guide for confronting death.

Pub Date: July 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-293263-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: HarperOne

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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