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October 8, 1997

Osier: Inspirations From a Great Physician

JAMA. 1997;278(14):1201-1202. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550140095053

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Reading about Osler is easier than reading Osier; his style is dated and his literary allusions are obscure. In "Books and Men," for example, he wrote:

Those of us who have brought forth fat volumes should offer hecatombs at these shrines of Minerva Medica. What exsuccous, attenuated offspring they would have been but for the pablum furnished through the placental circulation of a library. How often can it be said of us with truth, "Das beste was er ist verdankt er andern!"

In the same paragraph is the oftenquoted sentence, "To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all."

Because the modern reader of Osler would need to trudge through many passages like the former to find rare gems like the latter, one might justifiably ask whether Osler is relevant to