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The decline and fall of Western civilisation?

The school of thought called ‘declinology’ has been growing in influence over the last decade The French-American historian Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus From Dawn to Decadence: 500 years of Western Cultural Life was published in 2000. The author was then 93 years old; he wrote five more books before his untimely death at the age…

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The doctor as polymath

Dr Seamus O’Mahony True polymaths are rare, but there are some notable examples in the medical profession Jonathan Miller (doctor, theatre and opera director, documentary maker, broadcaster, abstract sculptor, and photographer), who died in November 2019, was often called a “renaissance man” or a “polymath”. He hated these judgements, regarding them as vulgar and glib.…

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Lifting the painted veil

William Somerset Maugham was a great doctor-writer, who exposed humanity’s delusion and folly William Somerset Maugham is sometimes dismissed as middlebrow, but he was a writer of the first rank and The Painted Veil, his novel set during the cholera epidemic in China, has extra resonance during these times. The Harvard historian Jill Lepore’s essay…

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Stanley and Reggie

‘Human Nutrition and Dietetics’ is from an age when medical textbooks were far from anodyne Several years ago, at a multidisciplinary meeting, one of my pathology colleagues told me his department was clearing out old books and that I could take any I fancied. I looked through the pile, and spotted a 1986 edition of…

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Backlash – what backlash?

Reactions to ‘Can Medicine Be Cured?’ have been flattering, but occasionally puzzling My new book Can Medicine Be Cured? was published in February this year. As the book is a polemical critique of modern medicine, many friends and colleagues have asked me whether I have received criticism or opprobrium. Quite the contrary, I say —…

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The tale of Sherlock’s greatest foe

All medical progress depends on the unreasonable doctor or researcher Prof Dame Sheila Sherlock (1918-2001) almost single-handedly established hepatology as a speciality in Britain. In the 1940s, she trained as a research fellow with Sir John McMichael at the Hammersmith Hospital in London and made her name with her work on percutaneous liver biopsy, then…

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The wisdom of Solomons

The dull memoir of the noted early 20th Century physician Dr Bethel Solomons is leavened by some bizarre passages Despite his many achievements (President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Master of the Rotunda, capped 10 times for Ireland in rugby), I had never heard of Bethel Solomons (1885-1965) until I came across…

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Setting free the resentful prisoner

Prof Seamus O’Mahony argues that older doctors should be relieved of on-call and acute duties to concentrate instead on elective and outpatient work The phrase ‘resentful prisoner syndrome’ was coined by the doctor, journalist and broadcaster Michael O’Donnell in a 1983 article in the British Medical Journal. He defined it as the “fate of many…

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