- Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (August 24, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195329619
- ISBN-13: 978-0195329612
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 24 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,633 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery 1st Edition
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"As cleanly efficient as a successful operation.... As this solid, accessible biography reveals, Cushing may have been the very devil to live with, but with a scalpel in his hand, he did God's work."--Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
"An absorbing chronicle of the career of one of the greatest medical innovators ever produced by the US--or any other country.... One of the most extraordinary lives any biographer might wish to study.... It is Bliss's great accomplishment that he has made accessible not only the science, medicine, and professional atmosphere of Cushing's career, but also the character and personality of the man.... What Bliss has given to his subject is what Cushing himself, or any of us, would ask of a biographer: understanding."--Sherwin Nuland, New York Review of Books
"Monumental. Bliss begins before the cradle and ends beyond the grave, touching both on the material facts of Cushing's remarkable successes and on his convoluted inner life.... It is difficult to imagine how any future writer might improve on this masterpiece of compassion and erudition." --Richard Barnett, Lancet
"Brings back to life an amazingly accomplished man who was the father of American neurosurgery, a leading authority on the pituitary gland, a pioneer of endocrinology and a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer."--Denver Post
"A fast paced, engaging portrait of one of America's great pioneers and heroes. Bliss gives important insight into Cushing's motivations, inspirations, demons, and flaws, thus revealing how he was motivated to change a field and bravely create a new outlook on the functioning of the brain as well as a fundamentally new approach to medicine and research." --Henry Brem, Harvey Cushing Professor and Chairman, Department of Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins
"Bliss...had a voluminous treasure trove of primary documents with which to work. His readable and thoroughly documented book presents Cushing as both an icon and a human being whose family and colleagues suffered from his single-minded devotion to work and blunt perfectionism. Written almost 60 years after the last major Cushing biography, this illustrated work calls on new resources and provides a more contemporary perspective."--Library Journal
"The essence of biography is the elucidation of personality, and this is accomplished in a superb fashion in Michael Bliss's splendid modern biography of Harvey Cushing, with each chapter providing a facet of insight into a complex and fascinating icon of 20th century medicine and surgery." --Edward R. Laws, MD, FACS, Professor of Neurosurgery and Medicine, University of Virginia
"Bliss has provided us with a definitive biography of the founder of American neurosurgery. It is a book about glitter and intensity, about vision and persistence, and about the emergence of America as a world leader in medicine. Sophisticated, balanced, and thoughtful it is a story of interest to physicians, surgeons, and lovers of history." --Peter M. Black, MD, PhD, Franc D. Ingraham Professor of Neurosurgery, Harvard Medical School and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief, Brigham and Women's Hospital
"Another tour-de-force by Michael Bliss. Like Bliss' William Osler: A Life in Medicine, it will be a classic of medical history." --Jock Murray, Medical Humanities Program, Dalhousie University
"It is beautifully written and illustrated, a pleasure to read, and paints Cushing 'warts and all.' A must for anyone with an interest in the development of our profession and with the life of this extraordinary man."--British Journal of Hospital Medicine
"Bliss does a superlative job in conveying the strains that Cushing's surgical ambition and his celebrity status placed on his marriage."--Susan E. Lederer, American Historical Review
About the Author
Michael Bliss holds the prestigious rank of University Professor at the University of Toronto. He has written numerous prize-winning books in medical history, including The Discovery of Insulin and William Osler: A Life in Medicine. One of Canada's most distinguished historians, he has received the Order of Canada and an honorary Fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
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This is an outstanding book in several ways. First, Bliss is able to take a highly technical area, Cushing’s work with the brain, and make it readable and easy to follow for the general reader. The author never talks down to the reader and can make the various tumors, the operational procedures, and Cushing’s work with the pituitary gland interesting reading. Second, Bliss is completely in charge of his prose. The writing is lucid and smooth. Transitions and paragraph breaks are excellent. Chapters are subdivided in ways that follow the content easily (and also help the reader decide where to temporarily stop). Third, it was a massive task, successfully done, to take all of Cushing’s enormous output, including his detailed war-time diaries, and cull all of it down to one volume. The book is 522 pages of text in relatively small font but this is a drop in the bucket compared to what Bliss had to work with. In this sense the book is a masterful technical achievement. Finally, Bliss is able to show both the strengths and weaknesses of this brilliant, innovative, and often obsessive man and get the reader to identify with him. If one reads the Osler biography, feeling empathy for William Osler is easy. He was very likeable in so many ways. But not so with Harvey Cushing. It is no small achievement for Bliss to make Cushing a sympathetic figure. In certain areas it was not difficult. Cushing’s work in Europe in World War I with wounded soldiers was extraordinary. His professional achievements were outstanding and his care for patients was genuine. In other ways it was very difficult. Cushing was a man of his time when it came to stereotypes and prejudices and Bliss gives many examples. Cushing never let ethnicity affect his care for a patient but otherwise he had plenty of opinions about certain groups of people. Likewise, as so many of his assistants and co-workers testified, he was very difficult to deal with and, while he could be charming socially, his family relations were often nonexistent. But the bottom line, which Bliss never forgets, is that Harvey Cushing saved thousands of men and women who would have died without his pioneering work on the brain. His techniques and innovations, his care in doing an operation correctly and safely, and his sheer brilliance in the field led the way to the point in brain surgery where we are today.
I recommend this book very highly. It gives the reader a perspective on the history of surgery that most of us do not know about. Cushing opened the way into working safely inside the human brain – a feat that stands forever as one of the great advances in medicine.
I have also read Bliss's Osler biography, which is just as good.
Michael Bliss, however, is a competent biographer, revealing Cushing's genius as well as his many faults. Cushing was an irascible perfectionist with zero tolerance for any incompetence in the OR. His arrogance and caustic tongue became the stuff of legend; interestingly, as Bliss implies, his personality has become almost a stereotype for the brilliant surgeon, egotistic, sarcastic with no patience for mistakes while in surgery. He was a difficult man to work with and for, however, his care for his patients took priority over all other actions. Ambitious and single-minded with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, Cushing pioneered brain surgery, writing volumes of medical articles and essays, countless lectures, and even a Pulitzer Prize winning two-volume biography on his mentor and world renowned physician, William Osler.
There are numerous anecdotes in this fine biography, but the one that really stands out is Cushing's first experience with a patient who dies in front of his eyes. A young student at Harvard, he managed to get invited to assist with `etherizing' patients for surgery. Weeks pass and everything is moving along fine until one evening he administers the ether to a young woman under-going an operation for a strangulated hernia, whose chances for survival are next to nil. The patient dies before the operation commences minutes after Cushing etherizes her. This of course devastated the young medical student, who walked the streets of Boston deciding to quit the profession. When he returned and told his teacher of his intent, he berated the boy, calling him "a damned fool" and to buck-up, for they had work to do. He continued on, of course, but remembered this incident over thirty years later.
As any good critical biography should be, it is written with erudition, (explaining medical terms and procedures for the laymen) as well as presenting as a riveting narrative- this is an entertaining and inspiring work of an astonishing individual in American medical history.