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Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness

Kate Cole-Adams

  • awardLonglisted, The Stella Prize, 2018
  • awardWinner, Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award, 2017
  • awardShortlisted, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-fiction, 2017
  • awardWinner, Australian & New Zealand College of Anaesthetists Media Award, 2017
  • awardLonglisted, ABDA Best Designed General Non-Fiction Book: Sandy Cull, gogoGingko, 2018
  • awardLonglisted, CHASS Australia Book Prize, 2018
  • awardShortlisted, Melbourne Prize for Literature: Best Writing Award, 2018
  • You know how it is when you go under. The jab, the countdown, the—
    —and then you wake.
    This book is about what happens in between.

    Until a hundred and seventy years ago many people chose death over the ordeal of surgery. Now hundreds of thousands undergo operations every day. Anaesthesia has made it possible.

    But how much do we really know about what happens to us on the operating table? Can we hear what’s going on around us? Is pain still pain if we are not awake to feel it, or don’t remember it afterwards? How does the unconscious mind deal with the body’s experience of being cut open and ransacked? And how can we help ourselves through it?

    Haunting, lyrical, sometimes shattering, Anaesthesia leavens science with personal experience to bring an intensely human curiosity to the unknowable realm beyond consciousness.

    Read a sample chapter from Anaesthesia here.
    Read a piece by Kate Cole-Adams in the Atlantic 
    Listen to an extract on Guardian Audio Long Reads 


    ABC Listen: Conversations   
    ABC Radio National Life Matters
    ABC Radio National, Talkfest 
    The Conversation
    Channel 7, Morning Show 
    Radio NZ, Afternoons 


    LA Review of Books
    New Yorker
    Saturday Paper 
    (Mar 18)

    Kate Cole-Adams
    About the Author

    Kate Cole-Adams is a Melbourne writer and journalist. Her non-fiction work Anaesthesia won the Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award, 2017 and the 2017 Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists Media Award. It was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-fiction, 2017. Her novel Walking to the Moon is also...

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    28 April 2020
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    Praise for Kate Cole-Adams

    ‘A work of splendid richness and depth, driven by a curiosity so intense that it hazards at times the extreme boundaries of the sayable.’

    ‘Kate Cole-Adams has been fascinated with our funny non-being during surgery for a long time, and Anaesthesia feels like a book that’s taken over a decade to write, which it is. It also feels like you’re having a decade’s worth of conversations with a dogged, but generous and resourceful thinker, with someone (she is both a journalist and a novelist) who can crack open a complex idea, and then run with it.’

    ‘Comfortably numb. A close-up look at anaesthesia is equal parts social history, popular science and report on experience.’

    ‘Cole-Adams’s prose is sinuous, at times intoxicating, and witty.’

    ‘Anaesthesia is not just an account of medical research but a poetic exploration of the mysteries of the human mind.’ 

    ‘A troubling, anxious subject that most of us would rather avoid or deflect with dark humour. Cole-Adams has illuminated it in a memorable way. The book is a gift not of oblivion but of awareness.’

    ‘For the interested reader, it’s an outline of the science, with an emphasis on the unknown. For the practitioner, it’s a patient experience, eloquently expressed. There’s much more the anaesthesia than meets the eye, and this book provides a glimpse into the depths.’

    ‘Anaesthesia is mesmerising…This rich and thorough study looks more deeply into questions about the nature of consciousness than many of us who undergo an anaesthetic are likely, or willing, to ponder.’

    ‘A fascinating mix of historical background, moving—sometimes shocking—surgical stories, interviews with experts and case studies. Surprisingly, it seems relatively little is really known about exactly how effective and affective anaesthetic is. Despite that, I found this book an oddly reassuring study.’

    ‘A fascinating mix of historical background, moving—sometimes shocking—surgical stories, interviews with experts and case studies. Surprisingly, it seems relatively little is really known about exactly how effective and affective anaesthetic is. Despite that, I found this book an oddly reassuring study.’

    ‘Kate Cole-Adams has written a book that defies familiar categories. It is a personal memoir, a history, a scientific study, and a philosophical enquiry into the unconscious, and by drawing all these strands together the author has delivered a masterpiece.’

    ‘Extraordinarily well-researched and delicately structured, this is a book with few parallels. Exceptional writing illuminates a topic that affects most of us, but that few of us understand.’

    ‘This is a surprising delight of a book about the invention and use of anaesthetics, but it is also about the concept of consciousness. It is a book about the fear of death, the fear of a lack of control, the fear of an imminent operation, the way a life can be plagued by a general feeling of anxiety and how dreams play a part in this.’  

    ‘An obsessive, mystical, terrifying, and even phantasmagorical exploration of anesthesia’s shadowy terra incognita.’

    ‘Kate Cole-Adams’s Anaesthesia propelled me towards new ways of thinking about thinking itself: experience and consciousness and how we make in and make up this world.’ Australian, Books of the Year 2017

    ‘Remarkable in its attention to historical detail and quality of the primary sources…practising anaesthetists should read what has become the single best account of our profession’s most philosophically fragile constructs—consciousness and self… Cole-Adams has distilled and articulated the art of our profession.’

    Other editions ofAnaesthesia
    • Anaesthesia
      ISBN: 9781925410525
      29 May 2017
      Buy ebook
    • Anaesthesia
      ISBN: 9781925498202
      29 May 2017
    Other Titles byKate Cole-Adams