Book Review: The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson

Quote of the book

“Nursing people means doing for them what they would normally do, when they have no will to do it, until they have will to do it”.

5 key points

  • Suffering and the feeling of pain can be reduced by kindness, and ultimately, nursing is a measure of humanity. One day we will all need to rely on the kindness of strangers.
  • Despite their stressful role with an immense amount of responsibility, psychiatric nurses need to remain calm at all times. Psychiatry means “the medical treatment of the soul” and emotions are incredibly powerful in determining one’s well-being: “You cannot separate mind and body. We are all souls, housed in flesh.”
  • Watson describes the insides of the psychiatric Intensive-Care Unit: Every patient there at the time that Watson was working there was BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) or from working-class backgrounds, whose behaviour was no different to the white, middle-class patients that were not transferred to ICU. Watson connects this with cultural and racial stereotypes in society.
  • Watson describes how often, the issues with the children admitted to the ward are not medical, but instead social: mental health services are cut, there are issues with poor diets, an inability to pay for heating because of fuel poverty.
  • In the UK, each day three people die whilst waiting for an organ and in Europe, domestic violence is the leading cause of death of women aged 18-45 years. 


This book left me torn. On content and message alone, this would easily receive five stars – I loved the message and how emotionally powerful it is. It immensely increased my already high regard and respect for nurses. However, I struggled to follow the writing style, which made it hard to fully enjoy. I will explain why later in this review as it is not badly written and I do think that many people would enjoy the writing style, but it meant I couldn’t give it the full five stars.

One thing that will happen after you read this book is that it will make you think and reflect. The book follows Watson’s journey from being a teenager deciding which occupation to follow through her twenty year career in nursing. She explains how she entered nursing, the steep learning curve she climbed to get to where she is now, and what she learned about what nursing someone really means. Nursing is a combination of philosophy, psychology, art, ethics, and politics, she discovered.

A real strength of the book is that it is accessible for anyone, regardless of whether they are in healthcare or not. Watson shares her experiences in different wards and departments, such as Accident & Emergency, the psychiatric ward, and pediatric nursing. Additionally, the reader is able to share Watson’s fears in A&E, which is a reminder to her that life is fragile, as well as the intricacies and niche characteristics of a psychiatric nurse. As a result of this journey, this book really touches upon the essence of nursing: the compassion required, the emotional energy needed to care for people, the search for meaning in life, and providing dignity. There is also a sheer amount of responsibility. For example, she describes in detail the ethics of having responsibility for a patient under the Mental Health Act, to make decisions for the patient, which essentially removes the patient’s freedoms. By sharing her patients’ stories, the book feels very human.

I also liked how Watson drops in social commentary and her opinions throughout the book. For example, whilst sharing her experiences of looking after a patient in A&E, she describes how hospitals have historically been a place for the poor, the societal issues of fuel poverty in the UK, and assaults against healthcare staff. She also references global nursing practices and the history of nursing. It is clear that Watson is well-read and has learnt a lot about nursing, which she generously shares with the reader. This makes the book very informative and rich, though sometimes it makes it hard to follow as it breaks the flow of the book.

At the start of this review, I referred to the writing style being a limitation of the book. The book is written in present tense and reads like a novel. I thought this is a shame, as the content of the book is profoundly moving and important, but the novel-like format made it harder for me to connect to it on an emotional level. This is because I thought this did not suit the genre of the book and it sometimes felt fictional rather than real-life, creating a distance between the realities of nursing and the reader. Having said that, I think many people would like this style of writing and it does indeed mean the book is full of beautiful, quotable lines.

In sum, despite my criticism of the writing style of the book, I still recommend this book for its content and to appreciate the hard work of those in healthcare over the past few months and in the coming months as a result of the pandemic. A lot of books in the medical memoir category are dominated by doctor writers and it is vital that we also get to hear the perspective of a nurse, who have been historically silenced. They are a vital part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team and this book really humbled me with how much they do. It would be of particular interest to someone who is keen on the medical profession or in healthcare, as well as to understand the roles of doctors and nurses more closely. Overall, a beautiful message is awaiting in this book about love, kindness, and hope.

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐½

Get the book | Official website | Goodreads

Published by sharemylibrary

Non-fiction book reviews, summaries, and recommendations

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson

  1. It’s such a difficult profession, working in healthcare. Compassion is important because they’re dealing with people who at their most vulnerable, physically and emotionally. There’s obviously also a huge demand on nurses and doctors to be incredibly technically skilled as well, which can often overshadow the emotional side. Do you get the impression from this book that nurses are expected to or better trained at handling the emotional sides of healthcare? I’m not sure if this is a crude stereotype I’ve built up from my own experiences.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for replying! That’s a really good impression and it’s so true that sometimes the technical side can overshadow the emotional, when it can be incredibly emotionally demanding in reality.

      From this book, I got the impression that nursing can take a lot emotionally to do, with unconditional compassion to every patient. I think the emotional is underestimated and given that nurses spend way more time with patients than doctors, I can’t imagine how tough that must be. This book also revealed how closely nurses get to know their patients, being the source of safety and comfort for many people too.


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