The 22 short stories in this volume are lively, economically written accounts of medical and epidemiological investigations over a thirty year time span from the mid-1940's to the late 1970's. Similar to the "clinical tales" Oliver Sacks (see this database) and others have more recently popularized, these stories are full of medical detail interspersed with dialogue, and are narrated in the manner of popular mysteries.

Even technical medical problems are made comprehensible to a lay audience without oversimplification. "Eleven Blue Men," the opening story details an investigation of eleven simultaneous cases of cyanosis traced to a particular salt shaker. "The Orange Man" traces the investigation of a rare case of carotenemia-lycopenemia. "The Dead Mosquitoes" recounts a strange outbreak of reactions to organic-phosphate poisoning traced to a batch of blue jeans. All the stories are notable for the relative rarity of the cases on record.


This collection is a "page-turner." Each story is a quick and fascinating read. Each teaches a particular lesson in deduction and also in the importance of apparent irrelevancies in public health investigations. They emphasize not only the medical but the human interest of unusual cases of sudden, strange attacks of apparently inexplicable illness. While they purvey no inflated image of doctors as heroes, they do provide a close look at the kind of admirable, quick-witted work good medical investigators do.


Plume/Truman Talley

Place Published

New York