A Life in SurgeryBook - 2005
"Your friend, Harvey Cushing, has opened the book of surgery in a new place," William Osler told a mutual acquaintance in early 1901. Indeed, in the early years of the twentieth century, Cushing (1869-1939) almost single-handedly created brain surgery as a specialty. Working at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University, and Yale University, his rise to become the world's most prominent surgeon - as well as a Pulitzer Prize winner for biography - was an epic of the American Dream. Michael Bliss, one of North America's most pre-eminent professional historians and the leading voice in the field of medical history, has taken up the challenge of documenting this brilliant and complex man in a new biography, Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery.
Never before has such a detailed and compellingly readable account of a surgeon's life been written. Bliss vividly recounts Cushing's boyhood, his growing interest in surgery and, subsequently, neurosurgery, his travels and attentiveness to European surgical models, the influence of Osler and William Stewart Halsted, and his extraordinary passion and self-confidence in the operating room.
Interweaving Cushing's personal story with graphic accounts of his technical prowess, Bliss skillfully charts not only the life of a man, but also the birth and rise of the most esoteric and exotic fields of surgery and endocrinology (in which Cushing became a pioneer). Cushing was also known as an accomplished writer who wrote the influential The Pituary Body and its Disorders as well as a classic biography of his mentor and colleague, Osler. Not surprisingly, Cushing was a driven, relentless, workaholic, and Bliss's work lays plain the hurtful effect this had on his relationship with his wife and daughters, as well as some of his colleagues.
A sequel of sorts to Bliss's award-winning biography of Osler, and the completion of his project of describing the rise of North American medicine at the beginning of the modern age, Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery breaks new ground in medical biography. It will have a profound and lasting impact of the view of early-twentieth-century medicine and the lives of those who shaped it.