I originally proposed this book to my family as a “Family Book Club” option. Some were intrigued, others less enthused. One particular cousin stated, “I don’t need to listen to another surgeon tell me how great he is.” Which, I’m sure, is a fair assumption.

But I was struck with the humility and humbleness with which Mezrich writes. Taking time to oscillate between the history of transplantation and his own experiences in the field, there are very few times where Mezrich writes himself out to be “the best of the best.” That epithet is frequently reserved for other “greats” in transplantation, both historical figures and modern ones. Dr. Nancy Ascher of the University of California San Francisco is one such recipient of Mezrich’s praise.

image of Mezrich's book "How Death Becomes Life"

Of course, there are plenty of instances where he profuses about his great successes in surgery (often adding in parentheses the ease with which he followed each step.) Yet these instances do not take the center stage of his book, and he focuses more on the times in which he made a mistake or—at his worst—cost someone their life.

Nonfiction is not in my general rotation of “favorite genres.” I often find that nonfiction books are too dense, too packed with information and no real substance; Mezrich counters this quite elegantly. Spinning the “story” in “history,” he brings to life the pioneers of transplantation: Alexis Carrel, Thomas Starzl, and many, many more. Transplantation is not the only topic of discussion either. Mezrich emphasizes just how vital the fields of hematology, immunology, and physiology are to transplantation.

There are instances in which Mezrich becomes a bit jargon-heavy, including massively long medical conditions and drug names without too much explanation. Even when shortened to acronyms, VSD for “ventricular septal defect,” it’s easy to forget just exactly what the acronym stands for. Primary sclerosing cholangitis, cirrhosis, interstitial nephritis—one can quickly lose track of everything.

Separated into neat sections, Mezrich tackles the massive field of transplantation in a book less than 400 pages long. That isn’t to say that his book is comprehensive of the entire field (and Mezrich himself makes no such claim) but it’s a concise introduction to a largely unknown section of surgery.

Anyone harboring fears or concerns over surgical transplants, or the genuinely curious, will find plenty of interesting tidbits and factuals about transplantation tucked away in this book. Mezrich lays the ground for the future of transplantation as well, including the possibility of Xenotransplantation, the transplanting of organs between a non-human donor (chimpanzee, pig, or other animal) and a human recipient. Much as in the realm of science fiction it may seem, Mezrich has hopes that the field of transplantation will continue to grow and evolve with new surgeons and techniques.

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