IAHPC Book Reviews

2016; Volume 17, No 4, April

IAHPC Book Reviews

By Dr. Roger Woodruff, IAHPC Reviews Editor

Palliative Care Book of the Month


Personhood, Rights, Ethics, the Arts and What They Mean for Care
Julian Hughes
Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2014
238 pp
ISBN 978-1-84905-477-5
RRP £19.99 $US39.95
Review copy supplied by Footprint Books

I chose this book as the Palliative Care Book of the Month because I have always had difficulty providing an evidence-based, logical and compassionate approach to patients with dementia.

This book is a refreshing review of the big questions regarding dementia and dementia care. The cover blurb provides as good a summary as I can produce: ‘Dementia is associated with ageing: what are the implications of this? People speak about person-cantered care, but what is personhood and how can it be maintained? What is capacity, and how is it linked with the way a person with dementia is cared for as a human being? How should we think about the role of the law in relation to the care of older people? Is palliative care the right approach to dementia, and if so what are the consequences of this view? What role can the arts play in ensuring quality of life for people living with dementia?’

Hughes addresses these questions with an energy that seems contagious. His writing style is clear and his arguments include viewpoints that were new to me. What I particularly liked was his first person, hands-on approach – it was all very practical and down to earth. I think that anyone who works with people with dementia, or who has a special interest in dementia and dementia care, will appreciate this book.

Julian Hughes is a consultant in Old Age Psychiatry for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Professor of Philosophy of Ageing at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences (PEALS) Research Centre at Newcastle University. He read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford prior to studying medicine in Bristol. He then completed his higher training in psychiatry in Oxford and, at the same time, undertook a PhD in Philosophy at Warwick University.

(R.W. March 2016)

Other Reviews


Colin Murray Parkes, Pittu Laungani and Bill Young (eds.)
Routledge, 2015
224 pp
ISBN 978-0-415-52236-6
RRP £22.49 $US40.45

I found this book both informative and interesting. The idea of providing a useful summary of the practices of mourning and bereavement across the globe is no mean feat. The introductory chapters deal with how cultural and religious changes over recent times have modified practices. The second part provides a description of how death and dying are dealt with by the major world systems of belief and ritual – Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and the secular. Having just watched the news from Brussels, I noted that the Qur’an is said to forbid not only euthanasia, but also honor killing, suicide terrorism and offensive (as distinct from defensive) action. The final part of the book is about practical implications for care, with an emphasis on what we might learn from others and how we might best care for persons of different cultural and religious backgrounds. This book should be of interest (and informative) to anyone who works in palliative care, and of particular interest to those with a special interest in dying and bereavement.

(R.W. March 2016)


Paul Kalanithi
The Bodley Head, 2016
228 pp
ISBN 978-1-847923677
RRP $US7.89 £9.09

Just before Paul Kalanithi made it through advanced training to be a neurosurgeon, he had the great misfortune to develop metastatic lung cancer. This book catalogues his ascent up the residency ladder, with insightful descriptions of the many life and death situations he had been involved with, viewed from the perspective of someone who themselves has a terminal illness. It is very well written, as one might expect from somebody with degrees in English Literature and the History of Medicine. But I grew tired of the character portrayed, a self-obsessed pathological workaholic absolutely driven by professional ambition. In short, he was a bit of a pain. His wife, Lucy, barely rates a one-line mention early on in the book, and then is not mentioned until the time he has advanced disease and has to rely on her.

But the last chapter, written by Lucy, is a redeeming breath of fresh air. Reflecting on Paul’s death and life, she describes a person, a nice person, even a funny, loving, caring person; not perfect, but a big improvement on the obsessed workaholic he describes. Given this book was written when he was dying, I shall attribute the imbalance to the pressure of time and uphold the adage that one should not speak ill of the dead. Anybody who works in palliative care should benefit from reading this well-written book, which provides insights into what living and dying are really about.

(R.W. March 2016)


Erica Jong
Canongate, 2015
273 pp
ISBN 978-1-78211-744
5RRP £5.95 $US9.86 $AU29.99

I shall not reveal what I felt, as a younger man, about Fear of Flying in 1973. I missed Fear of Fifty. Now we have Fear of Dying.

The heroine of this novel is Vanessa, a 60-year-old fabulously rich New Yorker. Through the course of the book, her aged parents die (so does her dog), and her much older husband requires emergency heart surgery. I had to admire her descriptions of the frailties and incapacities of her parents ­­– I almost felt I was there – and the reactions of various family members. The other half is her ruminations about growing older, some of which are right on the money; her descriptions of sexual experiences did nothing for me and seemingly did little for her. The chapter about the long-term effects of Jewish circumcision passed me by, but discussing it was obviously of benefit to the author.

People reading this book will get a reasonably true picture of dying elderlies, what it means to be getting older, and what can (or can’t) be done about it.

(R.W. January 2016)

Roger Woodruff, MD (Australia)
Dr. Woodruff is a Lifetime Member of the IAHPC Board and Past Chair. His bio may be found here.

Note for authors and publishers: If you wish to have your book reviewed, please send to:

Dr Roger Woodruff
IAHPC Bookshop Editor
210 Burgundy St, Suite 9
Heidelberg, Victoria 3084

Note: Review copies become property of IAHPC and are not returned to the author. Only palliative care related books, which are previously approved, and which have an ISBN, will be reviewed. Due to the large number of requests, we can’t provide exact dates of when books will be reviewed.

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