Review: The Anatomy of Hope

The Anatomy of Hope by Dr Jerome Groopman is a well written and immensely thought provoking book. The theme of the book is the use of hope in medical treatment, how it can be used to improve patient outcomes and the ethical dilemmas of how much to say and how much to leave out.

An oncologist who started work in the 1980’s, at time when cancer was much less treatable than it is now, Coopman recounts his introduction to the world of hope in a series of vignettes. It’s a tale of trial and error, blending an examination of hope with a collection of stories that make the point.

I found this approach fascinating and informative, I felt I had a far better understanding of the issues not only in an abstract way but in how they affected the people involved. As a non-medic I don’t have to diagnose, treat, or give people very difficult news, and for this I am deeply grateful.

After describing his attempts at inspiring hope in his patients, he tells of his own experience on the other side of the story after ill-judged spinal surgery left him bed ridden for months, debilitated and in pain for years afterwards. His own experience overcoming this and receiving realistic hope gives him a broad perspective in his approach to hope in medical care.

In the last part of the book, Coopman investigates the psychological and neurological basis for hope visiting a variety of researchers (including Prof Richard Davidson who also appears in the Destructive Emotions book). In this section he draws the distinction between true hope: a realistic appraisal of the current situation whilst projecting your mind into a positive future which lifts your spirits, and false hope which looks to a happier future but will not face current realities. If you’re going to be hopeful, prepare to be courageous.

All in all the book is an engaging blend of autobiography and investigation. On the back cover one reviewer comments “A copy should be airlifted to every NHS oncologist immediately”. I couldn’t agree more.