We have updated our Privacy Policy Please take a moment to review it. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the terms of our updated Privacy Policy.

‘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

Reviews

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
Madeleine Bunting, 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
Vanessa Berridge, 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
Clarke is a superb storyteller as well as a clear-eyed polemicist . . . she writes with such compassion and humanity that you feel you are in the room . . . Clarke is certainly on the side of the angels and she has produced much more than a snapshot. Breathtaking is a beautiful, blistering account of a key moment in our history. If I were Boris Johnson, I wouldn't want to read it
Christina Patterson, Sunday Times
Her mood on these final pages is sad but proud and grateful at the way in which the NHS has triumphantly come through the greatest challenge in seventy years
Mail on Sunday
Breathtaking is a scorching corrective to any suggestion that the pandemic is a hoax and that empty hospital corridors imply deserted intensive care units . . . Written at pace as "a kind of nocturnal therapy" on sleepless nights, Clarke's book has all the rawness of someone still working in the eye of the storm
Mirror
It is a terrific read. I approached it with caution, having grown to dread the daily diet of misery which is life in Covidland. Instead, I became immersed in an extremely well written book that at times read like a thriller. If you only read one book about Covid, make it this one
The Tablet
Breathtaking is a visceral account of the pandemic on the front line. It is about love, fear, honour and above all humanity. It is also a howl of anger at the lies, deceit and disregard for ordinary people by those at the top of society
Irish Times
Breathtaking weaves interviews with patients, relatives, and colleagues about the experience of Covid-19, but the book's voltage is Clarke's eyewitness testimony from the throes of the pandemic. Rarely is her devastation more affecting than in her belief that patients in her hospice - society's most vulnerable - are being betrayed by the government's mishandling of coronavirus and that in the hierarchy of dying, hospice patients are at the bottom
Sunday Business Post
There are a host of first-hand accounts of the pandemic by medics promised for 2021, but this one, written by a palliative care doctor who wrote the bestselling Dear Life, sets a high bar
Sunday Times
A profound and tear-inducing book . . . a wonderfully written inside view of the NHS at a time of crisis, with candour and compassion, humanising a dehumanising situation . . . It is a remarkable achievement, which other chroniclers of the pandemic will struggle to match
The i
Clarke focuses on the glimmers of hope and innate goodness she was witness to, even in the most arduous circumstance
Radio Times