Reviews Book

Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 24 August 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:451
  1. Boleslav Lichterman, Centre for the History of Medicine (
  1. Moscow, Russia

    For decades professional medical historians considered the biography to be outdated as a genre. However, in recent years there has been a revival of interest in the lives of outstanding individuals. Michael Bliss, a professor of history at the University of Toronto, first published William Osler: A Life in Medicine (review BMJ 2000;321: 1087). He sees a Cushing biography as a sequel to the Osler biography: “Each would stand alone, but together the two volumes would be a biographical study of the rise of North American medicine and surgery.”

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    Michael Bliss

    Oxford University Press, £23.99/$40, pp 608 ISBN 0 19 516989 1

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    Bliss's biography of Cushing revolves around several metaphors. There are numerous references to sport. Neurosurgery is a team game, and Cushing is compared to a “star player, star coach, and general manager, all in one.” Every operation was like a championship set: “He played tennis the way he operated, and he operated the way he played tennis.” Cushing described the first world war as a football game and life in general as a sports event (“Life all round is a kind of sporting event and the best …

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