Knocking on Heaven’s Door

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“Exquisitely present[s] her
personal story and
an examination of the
medical profession’s
handling of
end-of-life care.”

Publishers Weekly


  • Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
  • #1 Nonfiction Pick, “Buzz Books” Booksellers Expo America
  • #1 Nonfiction Pick, “Debut Authors,”  BEA

ISBN: 9781451641974. Cloth $26
Scribner, September 10, 2013
Selected as a Booksellers Expo America “Buzz Book” for Fall 2013.

Media contact: Kate Lloyd, Scribner, (212) 632-4951 Kate.lloyd@simonandschuster.com.

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“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” explores how medical technology’s brilliance at keeping us alive is helping us forget the spiritual technology of the Good Death. Based on an acclaimed New York Times magazine piece, this exquisite memoir and groundbreaking exposé of modern medicine will change the national conversation about the end of life.Like millions of Americans caring for aging parents, award-winning science writer Katy Butler assumed that her beloved mother and father would meet death on their own terms, free from medical overdoing.  She was wrong.After doctors refused to disable the pacemaker that helped her 84-year-old father’s heart to outlive his brain, she set out to understand why medicine, which saved his life as a young man, did little at the end but prolong his worst years.  Her quest had barely begun when her mother rebelled against her doctors, refused open-heart surgery, and insisted on meeting death the old fashioned way: head-on.  Knocking on Heaven’s Door is the fruit of the family’s journey, and a map through the labyrinth that modern dying has become.With a poet’s eye, a daughter’s love, and an investigative reporter’s skill, Butler lays bare the wrenching moral choices we face when the ancient reality of death collides with the technological imperatives of modern medicine. Starting with the mid-20th-century inventors of lifesaving devices like the pacemaker, she chronicles our astonishingly successful war on sudden death and its aftermath: a tangled marriage of technology, medicine and commerce that has created some of the most painful, expensive, and prolonged ways of dying known to human history.

Caring for declining parents is a reality facing millions who may someday tell a doctor an oddly loving thing:  “Let my parent go.”  This revolutionary blend of memoir and investigative reporting points the way to a new art of dying for our biotechnical age.  Like Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death and Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die,  it is sure to change the national conversation.

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