a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


Who will publish How We Die?


Working on How We Die
Sherwin Nuland Surgeon
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

The more I thought about it, especially after I met him, the agent, who was a pretty young guy, he was in his late 30s, I think, I met him and his wife, who was a literary attorney, and I, you know, I took a liking to them. I decided to write it and I thought, I can't write a book like this and practice surgery, because this book is going to have some very significant emotional context. You can't write about death and dying and families and the problems of what happens in hospitals as people are approaching death. You can't write about that sort of thing with any sensitivity at all and try to take care of sick people at the same time. So, I'm going to take a year off to write this book.

And Sarah agreed that was a good thing. So, I did that. I took a year off. July 1 to July 1, it was going to be, and I sat and began writing, and right away, it came, very quickly. I just took the pencil… I write with a pencil to this day, and with pads of paper. And I started writing. And I discovered a few things. On the very first day, I discovered that when you're a writer, you don't get lots of calls from nurses and sick people. The phone doesn't ring. You're all by yourself. You're sitting there with your pencil and your paper, and it's a kind of peace I had never known. It was just a great feeling to do that. And I remember I'd started writing about 8:00 in the morning and about 110:00 or 10:30, I… Sarah was home at that time. I walked into the kitchen and I said, 'You know, I like this life. This is a nice life. We ought to think about what we're going to do here'. And so, we would talk about it as the months went by, and about month number nine, we decided… because the book by this time was about three-quarters written, and I was very excited about it and I loved doing it. And also, I was getting requests to write an article for this magazine and, you know, this kind of thing. And so, at month number nine, we decided I was not going to go back to surgery, I was going to just… it was taking a bit of a chance, but I didn't think it was, because things were going so well.

Sherwin Nuland (1930-2014) was an American surgeon and author who taught bioethics, the history of medicine, and medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. He wrote the book How We Die which made The New York Times bestseller list and won the National Book Award. He also wrote about his own painful coming of age as a son of immigrants in Lost in America: A Journey with My Father. He used to write for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, and the New York Review of Books.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Sarah Peterson

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2011

Date story went live: 04 November 2011