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Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156004008
ISBN-10: 0156004003
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

In this collection of nineteen unforgettable essays, Dr. Richard Selzer describes unsparingly the surgeon's art, opening up the body to view, one part at a time. Both moving and perversely funny, Mortal Lessons is an established classic that considers not only the workings and misworkings of the human body, but also the meaning of life and death. And although Dr. Selzer's dark humor makes the burgeoning tumors and ulcerations of his essays more bearable, he is frank about the mysterious and dreaded inevitable - the sometime surprise, as he calls it, at the center of surgery: death. Behind his traditional "surgeon's arrogance" the reader will find endearing self-mockery, a very real empathy for his patients, and the ready suggestion that even the surgeon is still very small when he stands before nature.

About the Author

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 220 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt Brace; 1 edition (April 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156004003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156004008
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #485,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There is an innate beauty in the structure of the human body. The mystery of the intricate brain, the poetry of blood rushing through vessels, organs working together to keep the body working in unison. Dr. Richard Selzer's collection of essays Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, captures the essence of a surgeons life from the most intimate of perspectives. Mortal Lessons is a thoughtful, introspective recollection of Selzer's own experiences as a surgeon. Commonly thought of as distant, unfeeling practitioners, Selzer humanizes the entire profession as he recounts patients, cases, fellow doctors, and the human body through years of practical experience. Selzer's gifted, conversational style of writing eases the horror of exploring the liver, 'belly', skin, and various elements of the human body through the eyes of the surgeon. But it is outside the operating theater that Selzer truly shines in this collection of essays. Perhaps the most touching episode of Mortal Lessons is the brief postoperative discussion which transpires between Selzer and a young couple, the wife of whom he has just left scarred for life. Selzer, traumatized by being forced to cut a nerve in the woman's cheek to remove a tumor, answers the couple's questions. 'Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. "Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks? "Yes," I say, "it will. It is because the nerve was cut." She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. "I like it," he says. "It is kind of cute." All at once I know who he is. I and understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
As a fellow surgeon with a love for literature and the marvels of the human body, I found Dr. Selzer's book tickled both my fancy and my funnybone. He is enthusiastic for sharing his reverence at the amazing complexity and function of our bodies (as well as its grievous shortcomings), yet he is still able to regale the reader with mischievous humor and steady doses of comic relief. I found this one of the funniest books I had read in several years. Many of the chapters in the last half of the book are not, as the subtitle would suggest, 'notes on the art of surgery'. They deal with things as different as bird watching, abortion, smoking, car sickness, and childhood memories from the classroom. Although they do not supplement the first half of the book with further descriptions about the art of surgery, they do add spice to an already meaty book about ourselves.
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Richard Selzer is a surgeon with a poet's ear for language. Even when writing about the liver or amputation of a diabetic foot, Selzer can make the reader see the beauty and the wonder of the body. When I was hospitalized last month, I showed it to my doctor and he too marvelled at the grasp Selzer has of medical facts and good writing.
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I found this book to be awe inspiring. If all doctors realized the complexities of the human body and the LIFE contained therein and recognized the sanctity of human existence there probably would be fewer mistakes in surgery. It must be an awesome experience to be inside a human life...not just operating on a body.
I literally fell into Dr Selzer's writing style. I bought this book ...blind, so to speak. I didn't know what to expect. I'm glad I was compelled to take a chance on it. I wish he were MY doctor.
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Format: Paperback
i was given his book by a friend who studied at Vanderbuilt this fabulous author with whom I have only begun to familiarize myself with. We were studying for the medical school entrance exam together and she introduced him through the above statement concerning women. Selzer has a way of detailing events whether tragic, humorous, delightful, and magical that keeps in mind the trails of man in the flesh as well as the soul. the chapter about abortion still lingers in my mind considering I am a male and was undecided where to stand. the picture he painted of the child's outstretched arms, macabre and powerful,but in all it's drama very real and this does not escape me. His description of woman as "yolky, ovoid, rich" is one of the most sensous lines ever to describe women biologically. The chapter "Jacob street" chapter which details his beginnings demonstrates the makings of an early romantic. The type of romantic not just in love but in life. His love, not only for the art of medecine but for humans in general, is very much the foudation this book is set upon. I know so many doctors that began this road of warrior, poet, and humanist only to have their souls turn to cinder with greed and arrogance. Selzer recaptures what idealistic young doctors strive to be and hopefully one day i will become,
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Format: Paperback
Selzer's collection of essays was first brought to my attention when I came across a few excerpts in a book that I use to teach my AP Language and Composition class. The passage about the young woman with the post-operative, wry smile was absolutely beautiful and sad and touching. I was instantly captivated by the power of the language. Such simple words strung together in such an impactful way. That is exactly my goal with my composition students so I went out and bought this book. Every single essay in the book is outstanding and chock full of teachable material. The same care and precision Selzer used with his scalpel he uses with his pen, and the results are poignant, honest essays on life, death, and the human soul.
First and foremost, students need to be exposed to more non-fiction. This novel meets that criteria. The students also need to be exposed to rich language. Selzer's essays are all so rich in metaphors, allusions, and imagery that a reader can gain more from each new reading. I use part of his essay "The Knife" in class when I am focusing on imagery. The pictures he paints are so vivid that every student can visualize it. Some of the girls were a bit squeamish about the subject of surgery, but everyone agreed that Selzer's work is an outstanding example of a mature writer with complete control of his craft that is purposefully creating meaning with his use of specific, concrete details and imagery.
Along with imagery and details, one could easily use Selzer's works to teach allusion. Selzer's use of a wide range of allusions enriches his texts. I have never read a single one of his works that didn't include myriad allusions. These allusions add to the meaning of the texts, and they also serve to build ethos in the reader by revealing an erudite writer.
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