By most accounts Dr. Sam Abelman is a failure in life, an irascible old general practitioner who lives in the same grimy Brooklyn neighborhood he has always lived in. He is truculent and tactless, an easy mark for the young specialists who steal his patients. One night a bunch of hoodlums drop a battered young woman on his doorstep. Abelman's nephew, a reporter, publishes a news item about the incident, "Doctor Saves Raped Girl."

Meanwhile, Woody Thrasher, vice president of an advertising agency, is looking for a new type of television show to sell to one of his clients. He comes up with Americans USA, a candid look at "ordinary" Americans who are just doing their jobs, but in an extraordinary way. He decides that Sam Abelman would be the ideal first subject.

Thrasher, a young, high-powered executive, meets Abelman, the last angry man, who summarizes his view on life by saying, "The bastards just won't let you live." The doctor's practice is declining, he can't afford to retire or move away, and the local people certainly don't seem to love him. They don't show gratitude for his services. They don't pay their bills. Many of them consider him a racist, and incompetent to boot. Abelman is clearly not a good candidate for "doctor of the year."

Yet, Thrasher soon finds himself intrigued. Abelman spends hours working in his miniature vegetable garden and reading Henry David Thoreau. He is a brilliant diagnostician, a devoted husband, and an endless campaigner against the "galoots" who think the world owes them a living. Abelman takes aim at "galoots" wherever he finds them, and he finds them everywhere.

The novel interweaves these two men's developing relationship, as Abelman agrees to do the show and Thrasher works to sell it to his bosses, with incidents from Abelman's earlier life. When it turns out that Americans USA will award its subjects their "heart's desire" (in Sam Abelman's case a new house), the doctor declines to go on, refusing to accept "charity" and claiming that Thrasher "tried to crap me up." In the end he agrees to do the show, but suffers a massive heart attack and dies.


In its portrayal of the world of advertising and television, The Last Angry Man is an artifact of the 1950s. The story is rather wooden and predictable, as are most of the characters. However, the character of Dr. Sam Abelman is far from wooden; he emerges from these pages as one of the most unusual (and outrageous) doctors in American fiction. His combination of absolute integrity and self-defeating belligerence has prevented him from achieving much success in the professional world, yet he will not change. He will not give in. He would rather give up his opportunity for fame, adulation, AND a new house, than to feel he has accepted charity.

Sam Adelman's motto, "The bastards just won't let you live," may not have been widely applicable to medical doctors in the 1950s, nor in any of the ensuing decades until recently. However, the motto definitely captures a sentiment that is widespread among American physicians in the year 2000.


Charles Scribner's Sons

Place Published

New York

Page Count