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Views & Reviews Medical Classics

The Death of Ivan Ilych

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 05 November 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2399
  1. Boleslav Lichterman, senior researcher, Institute for the History of Medicine, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Moscow
  1. lichterman{at}

    In one of his letters Tolstoy defined his novel The Death of Ivan Ilych as “a description of an ordinary death of an ordinary man.” It is based on the real story of Ivan Ilych Mechnikov, a lawyer who died at the age of 45 from sepsis. His younger brother, the Nobel medical laureate Ilya Ilych Mechnikov, wrote that Tolstoy had given “the best description of fear of death.”

    Ivan Ilych, a lawyer in a provincial Russian town, had led a life that was, Tolstoy wrote, “most simple and most ordinary, and therefore most terrible.” A successful careerist and head …

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