A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths


A briskly surgical removal of the harmful nodes of legend infesting medical science.

Nuland continues, in this study of the body’s major organs, the myth-busting rejection of magical higher powers that inspired

his National Book Award-winning How We Die (1993) and The Wisdom of the Body (1997). His hysteria-ectomy cuts away

millennia of superstition about the humors, elements, and so on, while recalling medical history’s progress from belief in the

unseen to belief only in the seeable: "Since Western medicine's origins in ancient Greece some twenty-five hundred years ago,

the perspective of its researchers and practitioners has been that the processes of both normal and diseased physiology must be

visualizable in order to be understood in any realistic way." Nuland seasons the journey from the ancients' insistence on

metaphysical theories of cosmic unity to Francis Bacon's verifiable "scientific method" (still ignored by holistic medicine) with

his personal experiences in treating organ disorders. When the left lateral lobe of a patient's liver improbably regenerated, Nuland

ascribes it simply to "dumb luck." He is moved, however, by the joy of a spouse to whom he gave an overly optimistic

prognosis. The skeptical author feels that religion has an honorable place in the hospital, but only at bedside. Many readers will

agree that the stomach is not the seat of the soul, that the spleen does not produce melancholy nor the uterus hysteria. On the

other hand, the surgeon's scalpel may be too quick to scrape away mysterious but verifiable data on topics like astrology and

prayer's effect on health. And while it’s true that no one should identify the heart with the locus of feelings, it’s equally true that

ancient writers never used the term for that four-chambered pump in the thorax as a synonym for the throbbing, trembling berth

of emotions.

Mysteries shmysteries! Just let articulate atheists and miraculous doctors like Nuland keep on extending the lives of the faith


Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-85486-4
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2000


NonfictionTHE UNCERTAIN ART by Sherwin B. Nuland
by Sherwin B. Nuland
NonfictionMAIMONIDES by Sherwin B. Nuland
by Sherwin B. Nuland
NonfictionTHE DOCTORS’ PLAGUE by Sherwin B. Nuland
by Sherwin B. Nuland