restricted access The Quotable Osler (review)
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Bulletin of the History of Medicine 78.1 (2004) 245-246

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Mark E. Silverman, T. Jock Murray, and Charles S. Bryan, eds. The Quotable Osler. Philadelphia: American College of Physicians, 2003. xiii + 283 pp. $30.00 (1-930513-34-8).

"What?—Another book about Osler!" the cynics will quickly exclaim, without even looking at any of the 812 numbered quotations from Osler's writings in this book. I am not one of these naysayers. The Quotable Osler is different from other books about Osler and will be valuable to Osler scholars, practicing physicians, and teachers of medical students.

Mark Silverman (professor of medicine at Emory), Jock Murray (professor of medical humanities at Dalhousie), and Charles Bryan (Heyward Gibbes Distinguished Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of South Carolina) collected favorite quotes. They added several suggested by members of the American Osler Society, and organized them into nine sections: Personal Qualities; The Art and Practice of Medicine; The Medical Profession; Diagnosis; Disease, Specific Illnesses, Lifestyle, Drugs; Medical Education; Men and Women, Aging, History; Science and Truth; and Faith, Religion, Melancholy, Death. An extensive index is helpful in finding specific ideas.

Osler scholars will want the book at their bedside, so to speak. It is doubtful if any scholar has read all of Osler's 1,500 publications. These quotations will introduce readings that have been ignored or neglected. They will also help correct some of the quotes in speeches and various articles that are attributed erroneously to Osler. For practicing physicians who know little or nothing about this extraordinary physician and humanist, this book is a splendid introduction. In 1999, the sesquicentennial year of Osler's birth, Richard Golden's biographical tribute to Osler appeared in JAMA; it is reprinted at the beginning of this book. There are also citations to additional sources of information about Osler and his writings.

This book is especially useful for teachers of medical students. Five senior students at the University of Texas Medical Branch took a month-long elective in medical history in March 2003. As one of the readings, I assigned this book, asking each to select three favorite quotations. The three-hour discussion about their choices was one of the most satisfying "teaching" encounters that I have experienced in dealing with senior students for more than thirty years. They knew little about Osler. Although I added a few biographical items, Golden's overview was generally sufficient for these students. Most of the discussion involved their responses to the ten quotations they chose (nos. 16, 20, 23, 35, 98, 145, 154, 199, 275, and 470). In searching for interpretations of the quotes, their comments ranged broadly from the past to the present, and into the future. Depending on the contents of the quote, some students displayed intense personal struggles about the meaning of self-satisfaction, easily irritated sensibilities, and marriage (nos. 16, 23, 275). Other students talked about the epidemic of daily complaints among fellow students, residents, and faculty as all adapt to today's social and cultural challenges (no. 35). They acknowledged the central value of work in medicine (no. 98) and the choice that each doctor must make [End Page 245] about viewing medical practice as a perpetual joy or a "perpetual annoyance" (no. 145).

I marveled at the animated and respectful conversation among the students. Osler would have rejoiced. I hope the editors and publisher will create a less expensive, paperback edition so that more students can be introduced to his enduring wisdom.

Chester R. Burns
University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston