Views & Reviews Medical classics

The Story of San Michele

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39167.673808.59 (Published 05 April 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:751
  1. Richard Smith, chief executive, UnitedHealth Europe (richardswsmith@yahoo.co.uk)

    Next time you see a patient with insomnia, rather than prescribe a hypnotic recommend that he or she writes a book. The result might be sleep for the author and a masterpiece. Henry James gave that advice to Axel Munthe; it worked, and we now have an exquisite book, The Story of San Michele, that has been translated into 45 languages and was once required reading for medical students.

    The book is a mixture of autobiography and fantasy, with the boundaries between the two delightfully blurred. (Most autobiographies are largely fantasy anyway, but few are so clear about it.) Munthe, a Swede, was born in 1857, …

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