An impressionistic portrait of Harvard Medical School that reveals the pluses and minuses of research-oriented medical education. Whether or not it's the number one medical school in the country -- the point is arguable -- Harvard Med is undeniably a prestigious and influential institution whose methods and results warrant examination. Journalist Langone (In the Shogun's Shadow, 1994, etc.) provides an occasionally awestruck, mostly anecdotal, rarely academic picture of the school, its teachers, and its students. Although he begins with orientation and ends with commencement, his approach is nonlinear: A chapter describing new students' first exposure to patients is followed by an account of how applicants are selected, which precedes a grisly account of dissecting a cadaver. Langone's research included taking the gross anatomy lab along with first-year students -- an experience, he claims, that begins the hardening process that leads to arrogant and unfeeling doctors. Harvard Med, the author makes abundantly clear, is a training ground for medical scientists and specialists, not for general practitioners. It excels at teaching students to diagnose, treat, and research diseases. How to treat patients is a skill much harder to impart, and few at Harvard try, in Langone's view. He depicts a school that mirrors the best and worst features of America's health care system, giving Harvard an A+ in technology but a dismal grade in compassion. His chapters on the school's history, showing that it has made huge changes over time in its admission policies (in 1992 minorities were 22% of those admitted, women 45%) and in its teaching methods and subjects, suggest that Harvard Med will continue to evolve, but there is no indication that its plans include providing the kind of medical education that leads to empathetic healers. Strongly recommended for pre-med students, Harvard-bound or not.