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February 1, 1995

Order Out of Chaos: John Shaw Billings and America's Coming of Age

Author Affiliations

Emory University School of Medicine Atlanta, Ga


by Carleton B. Chapman, 420 pp, with illus, $28.95, ISBN 0-88135-187-3, Boston, Mass, Boston Medical Library, 1994.

JAMA. 1995;273(5):423. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03520290077035

John Shaw Billings (1838-1913) was one of those extraordinary people that America was blessed with in the latter 19th century (John Wesley Powell is another who comes to mind)—extraordinary not only in the extent of their accomplishments but also in the widely diverse spheres in which they worked. Undertaking a biography of such a person and trying to explain how anyone could cover so many fields, and cover them well, in one lifetime is an ambitious task. Dr Carleton Chapman, a past dean at and historian of the Dartmouth Medical School, has obviously admired and pursued his subject over a considerable period, the result being as thorough an account of that lifetime as is possible. His depiction of Billings as the prototypical workaholic and compulsive detailer gives a persuasive major explanation of how he accomplished so much.

A brief overview of this life in the space of a book review

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