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March 13, 1981

The Medical Detectives

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago


by Berton Roueché, 372 pp, $15, New York, Times Books, 1980.

JAMA. 1981;245(10):1071-1072. doi:10.1001/jama.1981.03310350055031

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


The Medical Detectives is the latest collection of Berton Roueché's clinical and epidemiologic mysteries. As is traditional, all have appeared "in somewhat different form" in his New Yorker feature, "Annals of Medicine." Since the late 1940s, Roueché has delighted readers, physician and nonphysician alike, with his accounts of experts unraveling problems so uncanny one is astounded that an explanation exists.

Communicable disease outbreaks, poisons, and specific illnesses are the familiar subjects of The Medical Detectives. We read of the epidemiologic investigation, the diagnostic process, and the patient's experience with illness as these events progress rather than, as with journal articles, "through the retrospectoscope." The stories unfold often largely in the words of the participants, who share their flashes of insight and serendipity. Roueché describes the people involved and provides local color, such as the small-town motels and late-night cups of coffee that apparently are the lot of the epidemiologic field