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One of the first things I learned upon following my beloved off to Medical School was that surgeons, in general, are arrogant, self-righteous, shortcut-seeking carpenters (in fact, to this point, I'll only make an exception for Dr. Davis, a long time friend of my in-laws and now a friend of ours).  The other thing that quickly became apparent was that the determined effort of the nattering class to reign in health care costs by attacking the medical profession was having a deleterious effect on doctors and robbing them of much of the joy of practice.  Richard Selzer is, or was, a surgeon and his writings offer a pleasant counterbalance to both of these impressions.  He is a passionate physician who clearly loves his work and while he does display an elevated level of self-importance, he is also obviously humbled by the challenges he faces and by the mysteries of medicine.

This collection includes essays ranging from detailed descriptions of the natural history of the internal organs to ethical considerations of issues like abortion and smoking to reminiscences of his Troy, NY boyhood.  I was enjoying the book anyway, but one passage in particular cinched its recommendation.  Here is Selzer on the indicators for cirrhosis of the liver:

    Another measure of susceptibility is, brace yourselves, the absence of hair on the chest.  In
    males, of course.  Unpelted men of the sort idealized by bathing-suit and underwear manufacturers
    are sitting ducks for the onset of cirrhosis.  All other things being equal, women, the marrying
    kind, would do well to turn aside from such vast expanses of naked chest skin and cultivate a taste
    for the simian.

This encomium is music to the ears of we hirsute men.


Grade: (B-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Richard Selzer (b. 1928) (short bio, etc.)
    -Lessons About Life  (essay on Mortal Lessons Shannon Casey)
    -Addressing Wounds (The Doctor Stories reviewed by Eli Kintisch in Yale Review of Books)
    -Review of The Doctor Stories (JAMA)
    -REVIEW : of The Doctor Stories by Richard Selzer (Eli Kintisch, Yale Review of Books)