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A TIMES BEST BOOK OF 2019
An intimate and compelling exploration into the unique psyche of the heart surgeon, by one of the profession’s most eminent figures.
Although Professor Stephen Westaby was born with the necessary coordination and manual dexterity, it was a head trauma sustained during university that gifted him the qualities of an exceptional heart surgeon: qualities that are frequently associated with psychopathy. His thirty-five-year career has been characterised by fearlessness and ruthless ambition; leaving empathy at the hospital door as thousands of patients put their lives in his hands.
For heart surgeons, the inevitable cost of failure is death and in The Knife’s Edge, Westaby reflects on the unique mindset of those who are drawn to this exhilarating and often tragic profession. We discover the pioneers who grasped opportunities and took chances to drive innovation and save lives. Often difficult, uninhibited and fearless, theirs is a field constantly threatened by the risk of public failure.
Like those before him, Westaby refuses to draw the line in his search of a lifetime solution to problems of the heart. His determination is unerring – a steadfastness underpinned by his unusual mind. But as we glimpse into the future of cardiac surgery, for all its remarkable scientific advancement, one question remains: within the confines of socialised medical healthcare systems, how can heart surgeons – individuals often hardwired with avoidance of self-doubt, a penchant for glory and a flagrant disregard for authority – truly flourish?
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‘Wholly believable... The book [has] an unmistakable feeling of authenticity.’ Daily Telegraph
‘What makes this memoir so readable is Westaby’s unexpected admissions of vulnerability.’ The Times, Book of the Week
Praise for Fragile Lives:
‘Raw and moving... the writing is thrilling. Fragile Lives is a frank and absorbing memoir by a man who has done about as much good to his fellow human beings as it is possible to do in one lifetime.’ – The Times, Book of the Week
‘With his battle cry of “bugger protocol” and his renaming of medical directors as “the Stasi”, Westaby comes across as the bloke you’d want on your side in the fight to stay alive.’ Guardian Books of the Year
‘The stakes could not be higher in this bloody, muscular and adrenaline-charged memoir from a pioneering heart surgeon... at points it made my own heart race dangerously. ‘Surgeons are meant to be objective,’ Westaby tells himself, ‘not human’. What makes this book so fascinating, and so moving, is the terrible tension between these necessary qualities.’ – Sunday Times
‘A full-frontal and thrilling portrayal. Each story in this fascinating book brings a new nail-biting surgical adventure... A gifted surgeon, Westaby is also a natural writer... Fragile Lives succeeds on many levels: political battle cry, chronicle of bloody feats, history of modern cardiology, tribute to patients and paean to surgery.’ – Daily Telegraph
‘The book is a cracking example of a thriving sub-genre of autobiography, the medical memoir. Anyone who enjoyed the 2014 bestseller Do No Harm by the brain surgeon Henry Marsh, a friend of Westaby’s, will relish Fragile Lives, too. Each story is gripping, written in a vivid, almost brutal way that matches the blood and gore of cardiac surgery.’ – Financial Times
Steve Westaby is a celebrated world-famous heart surgeon who is renowned for being the first surgeon in history to fit a patient with a new type of artificial heart. During his 35 year career as a surgeon he worked at several of the UK’s top hospitals and performed over 11,000 heart operations. He won The Midlander of the Year Award (2002) and a Ray C. Fish Award for Scientific Achievement (2004). In 2004 Steve Westaby was featured in the BBC documentary Your Life in Their Hands which is a long-running series on the subject of surgery.
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