Views & Reviews Medical Classics


BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 13 July 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4786
  1. Ralf Genthe, general practitioner,
  2. Tanya Genthe, teacher, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
  1. r.genthe{at}

A patient complains about pain in various parts of his body. Finding no physical explanation, we might diagnose fibromyalgia. Our professional predecessors had to be more imaginative, however, and might have decided that all the nerves in the left side of the patient’s body were too short. When medical nomenclature was a less internationally agreed convention and more the result of the individual physician’s creativity, this diagnosis may have seemed as plausible as the next.

Thomas Mann (1875-1955) is one of the greats of German literature and was awarded the Nobel prize in 1929. Mann is best known in the medical world for his depiction of patients with tuberculosis in The Magic Mountain, and had a keen eye for symptoms and described them with eerie accuracy. Readers of Buddenbrooks will feel challenged to come up …

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