Breathtaking

  • Author Rachel Clarke
  • Narrator Rachel Clarke
  • Publisher Little, Brown Book Group
  • Run Time 7 hours and 58 minutes
  • Format Audio
  • Genre Autobiography: general.

Listen to a sample

What to expect

‘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

Critics Review

  • 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

    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

    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

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