In this collection Richard Selzer brings together 25 stories from his previous books, along with two new stories, Avalanche (see this database) and "Angel, Tuning a Lute." The unifying theme is the world of medicine and healing, which Selzer explores with a keen eye and compassionate heart. These stories are firmly grounded in the foibles, suffering, and exultation of the human body.

In the Introduction Selzer sketches the path by which he became a surgeon-writer and he indicates the origin of some of the stories. Particularly interesting are the stories that do homage to literary and historical figures; for example, "Poe's Light-house," which grew out of a fragment Edgar Allan Poe wrote in his last delirium, and "The Black Swan," a re-writing of a Thomas Mann novella (Mann's The Black Swan is annotated in this database).

Likewise, the story of how "Avalanche" was written is an interesting tale in itself. Selzer's description of pruning the story from his journal reminds me of Michelangelo's comment that the sculpture already exists in the block of marble. The sculptor merely removes the unnecessary stone. The Doctor Stories contains many of Selzer's tales that have become part of the Literature and Medicine canon; these include, for example, "Tube Feeding," "Sarcophagus," Imelda, Mercy, Brute, and Four Appointments with the Discus Thrower. (See this database for annotations of the latter four.)


This is an excellent retrospective of Richard Selzer's medically related stories. It demonstrates not only the depth and range of his writing about illness and healing but also the elegance, specificity, and sensitivity of his prose.


Picador USA

Place Published

New York



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