The author takes us on a highly colorful autobiographical tour of his medical career - his personal life never enters this account - from a classical medical education in Paris as a young expatriate Swede (he remains expatriate the entire book) to his internal medicine practice in France, including a tour of Naples as a volunteer during the cholera epidemic of 1881 and his finally settling in Italy. There are also anecdotes - many of them side-splitting and told with uncommon skill - about conducting a corpse back to Sweden, a truly thrilling journey to Lapland,  encounters with the legendary Charcot, his return to San Michele whence the book begins with a mythopoetic retelling of his first visit there, and his last years at San Michele as patron of a community (both local and international) and as collector and explorer of the nearby Mediterranean.        


This is, by anybody's analysis, a very unusual book by a very unusual man. He was a talented physician, writer, politician, linguist, art collector, raconteur, diplomat and leader. He was where history was made when it was made and helped make it. Such people are born not made. As trite as that is, one gets the sense that Axel Munthe had almost perfect judgment at birth. Of course, the events herein are all told convincingly by Munthe, but history seems to have borne his versions out.

For lit med people, this is a treasure: hysteria and its treatment in fin de siècle France, Charcot, a cholera epidemic, medicine in Italy and France in early 20th Century Europe - and more. For writers, this is a book worth reading and re-reading.        


John Murray

Place Published




Page Count