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Books, Journals, New Media
July 2, 2003


Author Affiliations

Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; David H. Morse, MS, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, Journal Review Editor.

JAMA. 2003;290(1):122-123. doi:10.1001/jama.290.1.122-a

It strains credibility that, on one cold Montreal day, William Osler gave his overcoat to "an aged alcoholic beggar to whom he had earlier given some coins." Is it believable that on another occasion, Dr Osler, dressed in academic robes, daily for 40 days "peeled, cut, and sugared a peach, which he fed bit by bit" to a child with severe whooping-cough?1

Even if Osler had been so wonderful, and there is much credible evidence that he was, of what possible relevance are his writings today? His landmark, single-author textbook of medicine is obsolete, though it is still interesting and highly readable, and has been out of print for more than half a century. His famous addresses, collections of which Eli Lilly & Co gave as gifts to graduating medical students until about 1953, are written in an old-fashioned style, and their many obscure literary references may tax the interest of modern readers. (But see the collection edited by Hinohara and Niki.2,3 The glosses provided greatly facilitate understanding many of Osler's most famous and most commonly quoted works.)

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