Dec 05

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly:

A Memoir of Life in Death

by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Translated from the French by Jeremy Leggatt


Memoir / Non-Fiction / Inspirational
First Published in 1998
Publisher: Random House
International Bestseller

Click here to buy The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (with free delivery)

Book Synopsis:

At the age of 43,  Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief for French Elle, survived a massive stroke which resulted in locked-in syndrome.  Paralysed from head to toe, but with his mind still as alert as ever, Bauby wrote this book with the help of Claude Mendibil. Mendibil would recite the alphabet to him and when she arrived at the letter he wanted, Bauby would blink. Blinking his left eyelid was Bauby’s only means of communication with the outside world. This book was literally crafted letter by letter.

In a place of enforced stillness, Bauby manages to truly take a step back and observe his world. From the depth of his diving bell, he still manages to travel with the wings of a butterfly.

Jean-Dominique Bauby died just two days after the French publication of his book.

Book Review:

First off, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gave me a healthy dose of perspective. It reminded me of how easily we can give up when things don’t go our way. You could say that Bauby had lost everything. Unable to move, let alone speak, communicating via a slow and tiresome method of reciting the alphabet and blinking at the desired letter, it would be so easy to be overtaken by helplessness. But Bauby reached through the physical and mental barriers and with the help of a friend, created a unique and powerful piece of writing, that has the ability to speak to all of us.

Much of the memoir is about his day to day struggles – from boredom, to the inability to communicate a simple request to a nurse, frustration, to the sounds that agitate him. However, Bauby’s situation of being “paralyzed, mute, half-deaf and deprived of all pleasures” is juxtaposed with the power of his imagination which would transport him from his hospital bed, to anywhere he desired. “There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego, or for King Midas’s court….discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.”

My friend who recommended this book to me described it as ‘the essence of life’. Yes, Bauby’s situation was wretched, and I’m positive that given a choice, he would have done almost anything to avoid the stroke that paralysed him. But this is a fantsatic example of making the best of your situation. Bauby drew on his strength as a writer and created for himself a legacy. From a point of personal observation and personal stories, Bauby cleanly lays out his thoughts in this short and simple book. As a reader, we have the opportunity to see into the mind and experiences of a man with locked-in syndrome, but more importantly, we can take away with us Bauby’s perspective of the duality of life -  you can be trapped in a diving bell, but from within that, you also have the ability to take flight like a butterfly.

x Julie

Online Bookstore and Book Review Site

-Reading Like Rabbits-

P.S. I recommend watching this TED Talk by Dr. Brené Brown, a researcher professor who has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. It kind of relates to this book in a vague way, but even if it doesn’t relate at all, it’s a good talk to watch as it that makes some very interesting observations.

P.P.S. I love TED Talks. If you don’t know what they are, go to

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