This volume nicely supplements the few other anthologies of literature on medical themes currently available in that it covers a wider historical span. Selections from the Bible, Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, Rabelais, as well as 18th-century writers including Pepys, Daniel Defoe, Malthus, Schiller, and Goldsmith provide an array of historical touchstones that offer windows onto medical and literary history and points of comparison for the larger selection of works from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The selections are mostly short--averaging around 10-12 pages. Each is introduced with lively, often witty, comments by Gordon, whose popular Doctor in the House series was adapted for stage and screen in England, and whose associations with the medical world include an editorial position on the British Medical Journal as well as a wife and two children who are physicians. Many of the selections focus on the figure of the physician viewed variously from the viewpoints of patients, other physicians, and him or herself.

Selections from novels by three Victorian women doctors as well as selections from several physicians’ diaries provide unusual additions to a useful collection of excerpts from well-known literature including works by Scott, John Keats, Jane Austen,George (Marian Evans) Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Hardy, Aldous Huxley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sinclair Lewis, F. (Francis) Scott Fitzgerald, Waugh, Orwell, and more recent and popular fiction, up through Erich Segal.


As an overview and sampler of medical themes in English literature this volume should be a welcome resource for those who teach literature and medicine, medical history or medical ethics, as well as a completely enjoyable book to dip into both for the rich variety of primary texts as well as for the astute, informed, and thoughtful comments by the editor. Though the pieces are short, each provides adequate material for reflection and discussion as well as an incentive to read some of the longer works they’re taken from.


English edition copyright, 1993.


St. Martin's

Place Published

New York




Richard Gordon

Page Count