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Meet the WritersImage of Atul Gawande
Atul Gawande
Good to Know
In his interview with Barnes &, Gawande described a shining memory: "I believe that one version of the good in life can be defined by the moments I sometimes had playing tennis as a sixteen-year-old," He recalled. "You’d be out on the court and for an hour, two hours, sometimes an entire roasting hot day, and every single thing you hit would go in. Hit that ball as hard as you wanted, wherever you wanted, and it went in. It was effortless power, achieved out of practice. But my game’s gone to hell. And I have not had a moment like that since high school."

A serious surgeon and writer by day, Gawande has been known to rock out. He told Barnes &, "I have always believed that there is nothing greater than a life in rock n' roll -- it has to be good rock n' roll -- and I still think it is true."

Gawande claims not to have any one source of inspiration for his writing. I don’t write out of inspiration," he told us. "I write because it’s my way of finding cool ideas, thinking through hard problems and things I don’t understand, and getting better at something. I was never born to write. I was taught to write. And I am still being taught to write."

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In the fall of 2002, Atul Gawande answered some of our questions.

What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?
Lewis R. Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell, because it was beautiful and vivid and human and intensely curious about science and the world. And also because it put before me the notion that a person, even a physician, could find a place in public life writing and talking about science and human beings in their many dimensions.

What are your ten favorite books -- and why?

  • Lewis R. Thomas’s The Lives of a Cell -- See above.

  • Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms -- One of the great novels of all time; my model of succinct, clear, and also morally inspired writing. And also, unexpectedly, some of the best observed writing on medicine there has been.

  • Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea -- It is the model of dramatic tension drawn out, description, and parable.

  • George Orwell's Shooting an Elephant -- OK, it’s not a book in itself, but it is one of, if not the, best essays written in the English language.

  • Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Sherwin Nuland's How We Die -- Both, with Lewis Thomas, have been modern models to me of medical writing, humane concern, and inspired scientific curiosity.

  • Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff -- Beautiful, alive, unputdownable human reportage.

  • Tobias Wolff's This Boy’s Life -- A memoir like no other I’ve read; it explores the invention -- and self-invention -- of who we are. I don’t live by it. But I wish I could.

  • Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses -- Everything I dislike about writing -- pompousness, knowing wordiness, literary posturing, characters as merely symbols, symbols as blaring neon signposts, tendentious politics -- put together into a single book of genius. It works. I don’t know why.

  • Frank Netter's Atlas of Human Anatomy -- The definitive atlas; stunning artistry, the human body exposed.

Favorite films?

  • Apocalypse Now
  • This is Spinal Tap

Favorite music?
Five all-time greatest albums:
  • The Rolling Stones - Beggars Banquet
  • The Who - Quadrophenia
  • The Beatles - The White Album
  • The Clash - London Calling
  • Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

What's actually in my CD player right now: The Flaming Lips.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading -- and why?
Joseph Mitchell's Up From the Old Hotel. I've been wanting to read him for a long time; everyone I respect as writers and reporters tells me it’s fantastic.

Who are your favorite writers, and what makes their writing special?
Hemingway, Orwell, Lewis Thomas, Anton Chekhov. They are, together, the masters of tight, vivid, beautiful writing, human concern, honesty, and the difficult made clear.

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About the Writer
*Atul Gawande Home
* Good to Know
* Interview
*Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science, 2002
*Better, 2007
Additional information from About the Author, © Alfred and Emily Glossbrenner and Cader Company Inc. 2002