Breathtaking : the UK's human story of Covid

4.32 (785 ratings by Goodreads)
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4.32 (785 ratings by Goodreads)

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'Rachel takes the worst life can throw at us and shows us the beauty in it' Adam Kay, author of This is Going to Hurt

Included in Best Books to read in 2021 pieces in the Sunday Times, Guardian, Financial Times, New Stateman, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Evening Standard, The Tablet, Sunday Business Post, Irish Times, iPaper and Stylist Online.

How does it feel to confront a pandemic from the inside, one patient at a time? To bridge the gulf between a perilously unwell patient in quarantine and their distraught family outside? To be uncertain whether the protective equipment you wear fits the science or the size of the government stockpile? To strive your utmost to maintain your humanity even while barricaded behind visors and masks?

Rachel is a palliative care doctor who looked after some of the most gravely unwell patients on the Covid-19 wards of her hospital. Amid the tensions, fatigue and rising death toll, she witnessed the courage of patients and NHS staff alike in conditions of unprecedented adversity. For all the bleakness and fear, she found that moments that could stop you in your tracks abounded. People who rose to their best, upon facing the worst, as a microbe laid waste to the population.

Her new book, Breathtaking, is an unflinching insider's account of medicine in the time of coronavirus. Drawing on testimony from nursing, acute and intensive care colleagues - as well as, crucially, her patients - Clarke argues that this age of contagion has inspired a profound attentiveness to - and gratitude for - what matters most in life.

'Her words are brimful of love, grace and kindness' Guardian

'She writes with a tender, lyrical beauty' Sunday Times
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Product details

  • Hardback | 240 pages
  • 148 x 234 x 18mm | 420g
  • Little, Brown
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1408713780
  • 9781408713785
  • 191,201

Review quote

If you're wondering whether to turn the page and read it, my message is simple: please do -- Michael Rosen A searing insider's account of being a doctor during the tsunami of coronavirus deaths . . . It says everything about her character that Clarke refuses to settle for despair, focusing on the human decency she has seen * Independent * Clarke has written the UK's human story of Covid. Weaving together stories of patients, families, nurses, doctors and paramedics as the virus spread from New Year's Day to the end of April 2020. She reveals the desperate times and the government's mistakes but also how people from all walks of life - inside the NHS and out - have tried to reach out and show goodness to one another * Stylist * Powerful, uplifting and even reassuring . . . Clarke's tone is more intimate, much of the book written at night when she couldn't sleep for fear, fury and frustration - the last two she attributes largely to the inadequacies and lies of politicians. Rage lurks beneath many paragraphs as she lambasts the delays in decisions, and the "number theatre" of statistics. You get the sense of someone trying to remain calm and reasoned, often on the verge of being overcome . . . superb -- Madeleine Bunting * Guardian * Clarke may well be up for another award for this disturbing insider account of the NHS during the pandemic . . . she recognises the power of individual stories -- Vanessa Berridge * Express * This memoir of the first wave of Covid will, I predict, be read a century from now as one of the best eyewitness accounts of what happened in the nation's wards in 2020. But it is no less important that it be read now, as a riveting, heart-wrenching testimony from the front line . . . Clarke writes with grace and empathy about her patients and colleagues . . . A must-read -- Matthew D'Ancona, Tortoise Media Clarke is a superb storyteller as well as a clear-eyed polemicist . . . she writes with such compassion and humanity that you feel you are in the room . . . Clarke is certainly on the side of the angels and she has produced much more than a snapshot. Breathtaking is a beautiful, blistering account of a key moment in our history. If I were Boris Johnson, I wouldn't want to read it -- Christina Patterson * Sunday Times * Her mood on these final pages is sad but proud and grateful at the way in which the NHS has triumphantly come through the greatest challenge in seventy years * Mail on Sunday * Breathtaking is a scorching corrective to any suggestion that the pandemic is a hoax and that empty hospital corridors imply deserted intensive care units . . . Written at pace as "a kind of nocturnal therapy" on sleepless nights, Clarke's book has all the rawness of someone still working in the eye of the storm * Mirror * It is a terrific read. I approached it with caution, having grown to dread the daily diet of misery which is life in Covidland. Instead, I became immersed in an extremely well written book that at times read like a thriller. If you only read one book about Covid, make it this one * The Tablet * Breathtaking is a visceral account of the pandemic on the front line. It is about love, fear, honour and above all humanity. It is also a howl of anger at the lies, deceit and disregard for ordinary people by those at the top of society * Irish Times * Breathtaking weaves interviews with patients, relatives, and colleagues about the experience of Covid-19, but the book's voltage is Clarke's eyewitness testimony from the throes of the pandemic. Rarely is her devastation more affecting than in her belief that patients in her hospice - society's most vulnerable - are being betrayed by the government's mishandling of coronavirus and that in the hierarchy of dying, hospice patients are at the bottom * Sunday Business Post * There are a host of first-hand accounts of the pandemic by medics promised for 2021, but this one, written by a palliative care doctor who wrote the bestselling Dear Life, sets a high bar * Sunday Times * A profound and tear-inducing book . . . a wonderfully written inside view of the NHS at a time of crisis, with candour and compassion, humanising a dehumanising situation . . . It is a remarkable achievement, which other chroniclers of the pandemic will struggle to match * The i * Clarke focuses on the glimmers of hope and innate goodness she was witness to, even in the most arduous circumstance * Radio Times * A book replete with courage and empathy. * Observer * 'With Breathtaking, the palliative care specialist turns her attention to Covid, in a raw and unflinching portrayal of life on the frontline of the pandemic...Deeply humane, Breathtaking is a book replete with courage, resilience and empathy.' * Guardian online *
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About Rachel Clarke

Before going to medical school, Dr Rachel Clarke was a television journalist and documentary maker. She now specialises in palliative medicine, caring deeply about helping patients live the end of their lives as fully and richly as possible - and in the power of human stories to build empathy and inspire change.

Rachel is the author of three Sunday Times bestselling books. Breathtaking reveals what life was really like inside the NHS during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Dear Life, shortlisted for the 2020 Costa Biography Award and long-listed for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize, is based on her work in a hospice. It explores love, loss, grief, dying and what really matters at the end of life. Your Life in My Hands documents life as a junior doctor on the NHS frontline.
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Rating details

785 ratings
4.32 out of 5 stars
5 52% (405)
4 34% (265)
3 11% (87)
2 2% (14)
1 2% (14)
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