Eloquent pathologist González-Crussi (On Seeing, 2006, etc.) delivers another literature-infused treatise, this time expounding on the human body’s vital organs.
This slim yet robust volume is divided into five sections: Digestive, Scatology, Respiratory, Reproductive and Cardiovascular. As usual, the author avoids staid medical analysis and instead uses historical anecdote and literary allusion to form the basis of discussion for each organ. Enemas at Versailles, gastric experimentation in the early 1800s, the mystery of Chopin’s respiratory failure and Camille Paglia’s imaginative writing on menstruation are just a few of the varied and fascinating threads that tie together the story of our internal anatomy. Also presented are recent technological advances and their effects on life span and quality, a reminder of the author’s significant contribution to modern-day medicine. These scientific miracles often come with ethical quandaries that present unique challenges to both patient and doctor. For example, identity issues often arise after a patient has received a heart transplant, an unsurprising result given the emotion traditionally attributed to the heart. Throughout these narratives, González-Crussi presents a unifying theme of life-giving symbiosis, drawing from Chuang tzu’s theory of “the human body as compendium or epitome of the macrocosm.” As many a poet has encapsulated in verse, breath is representative of the life/death cycle, one that manifests itself constantly within our anatomical infrastructure. In his chapter on the lungs, the author is moved to wax poetic: “Attention: mark this caressing zephyr, this mild breeze; it is the gaze of death constantly watching us, entranced from afar—a premonition of the strong gale that is to follow, and which will bear us away in its bosom, like motes in the wind.” It’s this attention to language that makes the book so enjoyable—rarely are academics so stirring in their writing.
Stimulating, artful medical history.