August 1978

Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery

Author Affiliations

New Haven, Conn


by Richard Selzer, $8.95, 219 pp, New York, Simon & Schuster Inc Publishers, 1977.

Arch Surg. 1978;113(8):1017-1018. doi:10.1001/archsurg.1978.01370200111030

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Richard Selzer has written a series of essays ostensibly on the art of surgery; but a textbook this is not. He invites his reader to the operating room and without the benefit of anesthesia discloses graphic details and frightening mysteries of blood and organ. As if with the aid of a "zoom lens," we see all that meets the surgeon's eye; and much that doesn't, and there's the rub. We see all that meets the mind and the heart as well.

The drama of the surgeons' microtheater becomes the drama of mortal existence. Man, in his nobility, and yes, in his weakness, is the subject of Selzer's essays. The unanswerable questions, the search for meanings are not satisfied, but somehow the questions seem more acceptable. The author artfully holds a mirror. We see ourselves and smile. The wash of tenderness and of humor allow us to like ourselves–and the author.

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