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  • John P. McGovern: A Lifetime in Stories by Bryant Boutwell
  • Megan Seaholm
John P. McGovern: A Lifetime in Stories. By Bryant Boutwell. (College Station: Texas A&M University Press. 2014. Pp. 262. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.)

At first glance, this book by Bryant Boutwell seems to be a hagiography of a remarkable man—physician/scientist, consummate professional, philanthropist, and one who made the Texas Medical Center into a magnificent and unparalleled collection of therapeutic, educational, and scientific institutions. Indeed, seventeen pages of appendices are required to list John P. McGovern’s awards, editorial appointments, and professorships, as well as facilities and endowed programs named for him. But Boutwell has done much more. [End Page 336]

Boutwell, a doctor of public health, teaches medical communications, history, ethics, and humanities at the University of Texas (UT) Medical School at Houston and has held leadership positions at the UT School of Public Health and at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Before writing this biography of McGovern, he wrote Conversation with a Medical School: The University of Texas-Houston Medical School, 1970–2000.

Boutwell writes of McGovern’s early and prodigious accomplishments—stellar medical student at Duke University, impressive resident at Yale University as well as in London and Paris, military service in a veteran’s hospital (1946–1948) and physician/scientist in the relatively new field of pediatric allergy. McGovern was just twenty-eight when he joined the faculty at George Washington University. He was teaching at Tulane’s School of Medicine when “[Lee] Clark’s pink palace of healing . . . captured the attention and imagination of Jack McGovern” (127). McGovern moved to Houston in 1956, assumed a thriving practice in pediatric allergy, created Baylor’s first allergy and immunology residency and fellowship program, taught in the UT Houston Postgraduate School of Medicine, began investing some of his money, and became a major philanthropic force for Houston and the Texas Medical Center. McGovern was, Boutwell explains, “the triple hitter in medicine . . . physician, teacher, and researcher” (104).

Boutwell provides a veritable genealogy of famous physicians, milestones in the development of medical education, and a short history of the Texas Medical Center. For example, he tells the story of Johns Hopkins Medical School, opened in 1893 and representing “a new era in American medical schools . . . along the lines of the great German model that [William] Osler and other leaders in American medicine admired” (45). This is pertinent to McGovern because Wilburt Davison, early mentor and life-long friend, studied medicine at Hopkins when Osler and other luminaries in American medicine taught there. Boutwell provides similar informative digressions regarding Duke, Columbia, and Tulane Universities; M.D. Anderson Cancer Center; the Hôpital des Enfants-Malades in Paris; and McGovern’s associates.

Senior scholars in the history of medicine will not find any new arguments about medical education, the development of the specialty of allergy and immunologic disease, or what makes a great physician, but general readers will gain a splendid introduction into the history of medical education in the United States, the significance of “Oslerian Medicine,” the development of the Texas Medical Center, and the life and career of McGovern.

Megan Seaholm
The University of Texas at Austin


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pp. 336-337
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