At a loud party,"" journalist Kramer's interest was piqued by the chance remark of an experimental psychologist that ""surgical patients take in what's happening, react to it, even heal better or worse according to what's said by surgeons and nurses who think patients are out cold."" Remembering his own experiences 15 months earlier, when casual words by hospital personnel during removal of a suspicious lump on his hip convinced him--briefly--that he was dying, Kramer set out to explore the world of the surgeon. For a year he followed Lars Andersson, a fastidious, reserved vascular surgeon, and Russell Stearne, a cruder, obnoxious general surgeon, about their respective duties and their homes (neither had much leisure time). Operating procedures, follow-up care, office hours, emergency night calls: all are reported from Kramer's vantage point at the surgeon's side, but always with flashes of dÃ‰jÃ vu empathy as he remembers his own patient days. Among the highlights: Kramer's visit to a surgical conference, where surgeons test an exhibitor's electric scalpels on raw steaks; Stearne's reiteration that ""you can justify at least three surgical procedures on anyone in America over the age of sixty-five""; reflections on terror in the hearts of surgeons (""hidden, even from themselves""). The stereotypes of surgeons--""men of action,"" ""technically deft,"" ""impersonal""--are reasonably accurate, he concludes. From malpractice to patient ""noncompliance"": a thoughtful, telling descriptive chronicle--like Kramer's exceptional last, Three Farms.