Views & Reviews Review of the Week

Mortal thoughts

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 01 May 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1021
  1. John Quin, consultant physician, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton
  1. Jdquin{at}

A new meditation on death by Julian Barnes is perfect for doctors in a similarly anxious state about the grim reaper, finds John Quin

Thanatophobe—well, who isn’t one? An old boss, then in his 60s when I was in my 20s, once expressed amazement that I should think daily of death. The top man blithely never thought of the Big One. Julian Barnes does—“at least once each waking day.” He’s an expert “pit-gazer” and suffers “intermittent nocturnal attacks” of bolt upright panic. He regards his fear of death, though, as “low-level, reasonable, practical.” He wonders whether worrying about it can be another form of male boasting: “Night sweats, screaming—Ha!—that’s primary school stuff . . . MY FEAR OF DEATH IS BIGGER THAN YOURS AND I CAN GET IT UP MORE OFTEN.” This is the funniest book about death since Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

Barnes tells us that “of all the professions, medicine is the one most likely to attract people with high personal anxieties about dying.” And that “this is good news in …

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