The subtitle of this photographic essay is "The Story of a Country Doctor." Berger and Mohr give the reader an imaginative portrait of Dr. John Sassall, an English general practitioner who lives and practices in a remote rural community. The book begins with several stories of Sassall’s work with patients, gradually introducing the man himself and revealing his thoughts about his profession, his life, and the nature of healing.

Berger explores what people in the community think about this unusual doctor who has given up his chance to "get ahead" in the world in order to remain with them. They are sure he is a "good doctor," but what does that mean? How does one judge "goodness" in a physician? Berger comments in an impressionistic way on the nature of Sassall’s relationships with patients--a complex mixture of authority, fraternity, and intimacy.

The latter part of the essay expands its focus to the community as a whole and the nature of contemporary medicine. Throughout the book, Jean Mohr’s photographs serve as indispensable features of the story.


This fine essay is an excellent source for reflection about the physician-patient relationship and the physician’s place in the community. Howard Brody refers extensively to Dr. Sassall’s story in Stories of Sickness (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1987), and also in his discussion of the stages of compassion in The Healer’s Power (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992, pp. 257-258). Contemporary students are likely to find Sassall’s experience dated; certainly the photographs depict a different world from 1990’s medicine in the United States.

Yet, the book is full of insightful comments on illness and doctoring that are just as apt today as they were 30 years ago in rural England. Just one example: "In illness many connections are severed. Illness separates and encourages a distorted, fragmented form of self-consciousness. The doctor, through his relationship with the invalid and by means of the special intimacy he is allowed has to compensate for these broken connections and reaffirm the social content of the invalid’s aggravated self-consciousness." (p. 69).

Another example: "He never separates an illness from the total personality of the patient--in this sense, he is the opposite of a specialist. He does not believe in maintaining his imaginative distance; he must come close enough to recognize the patient fully." (p. 113)



Place Published

New York



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