Literatim: essays at the intersections of medicine and culture

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, UK

 

Cover of Literatim: Essays at the Intersections of Medicine and Culture
Cover of Literatim: Essays at the Intersections of Medicine and Culture

In this interesting collection, medical historian Howard Markel has brought together his previously published essays from the New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of the American Medical Association, and the PBS Newsletter into one volume. The collection of eighty pieces covers a wide range of topics that have interested Markel over the years, including not only medical historical pieces and biographical sketches, but others where the human experience has been portrayed in the arts. The topics covered are at the intersection of medicine, the humanities, culture, and politics. The collection is subdivided into four sections: medical literature, medical texts, medical performances, and a final selection from his PBS essays.

The first essay is on the Hippocratic Oath, followed by pieces on the great British lexicographer Samuel Johnson, and Charles Dickens’ work in establishing London’s famous Great Ormond Street Hospital. An essay on F. Scott Fitzgerald and his sad descent into alcoholism and premature death is a salutary reminder how great talent can be affected by addiction and inner demons. Even the 1978 medical satirical novel The House of God by Samuel Shem gets a worthy analysis.

In the second section, an essay on John Snow, the early British anesthetist and the father of epidemiology, has added relevance in these times of the COVID-19 pandemic. An essay on Sigmund Freud and his experiments with cocaine gives a glimpse into the ways that chance plays a part in discoveries and how jealousies in scientific research can smolder unabated throughout a lifetime.

In the third section, the opening essay on American playwright Eugene O Neill deals with the effects of tuberculosis on his writing and describes his time in sanatoria recovering. The essay on the little-remembered 1933 play Men in White describes the first realistic theatrical portrayal of doctors and surgeons, which in its day caused a stir.

The essays from PBS are eclectic. Topics include George Gershwin’s tragically short life, Elvis Presley and his addictions, Marilyn Monroe and her addictions, the Mayo family and the clinic they founded, and the death of the British Romantic poet Keats. There are essays on Van Gogh, Mozart’s death, Oscar Wilde, Dostoevsky’s epilepsy, Alfred Nobel, and American presidents.

The essays in this collection provide fascinating insights into old stories and would be profitably read by all those interested in humanity.

 

Literatim: Essays at the Intersections of Medicine and Culture. Howard Markel. Hardcover: 384 pages. Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 10, 2020).

 


 

 

ARPAN K. BANERJEE, MBBS (LOND), FRCP, FRCR, FBIR, qualified in medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School, London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham from 1995-2019. He served on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012-2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology from 2012-2017. He is the Treasurer of ISHRAD and adviser to radiopaedia. He is the author/co-author of numerous papers and articles on a variety of clinical medical, radiological and medical historical topics, and seven books including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology 2005 and The History of Radiology OUP 2013.

 

 

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