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The discreet pleasures of bad books

I prefer doctor memoirs that are stylish and witty, but those that are pompous and self-serving offer their own pleasures The best political memoirists never achieved high office: Alan Clark, Chips Channon, Chris Mullin. They were observers rather than leaders, too ironical and detached to take it all seriously. The autobiographies of presidents and prime…

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The education of a vaccinator

There were some frustrations in training for the vaccination programme, but now I am ready and anxious to get to work It started with a phone call from a GP friend. She was gathering names of retired doctors to volunteer for the vaccination programme. Did I want to join them? Yes, of course. I heard…

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Death of an advocate

Decisions on how money is spent on healthcare should be based on need and not on special pleading “We tend to get at the summit of our professions,” the great surgeon Wilfred Trotter once wrote, “only those rare geniuses who combine real specialist capacity with the arts of the bagman.” I was reminded of this…

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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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