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Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers [Hardcover]

John J. Ross

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Melia Publishing Services Ltd (16 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312600763
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312600761
  • Product Dimensions: 21.8 x 14.7 x 3.1 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,399,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Ross was born in Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada. He received his BA in English from Saint Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and his MD degree from the Faculty of Medicine, McGill University. He is board-certified in internal medicine and infectious diseases, and is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School.

Product Description

[ [ Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers ] ] By Ross, John J ( Author ) Oct - 2012 [ Hardcover ]

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  33 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, fascinating mix of medicine and literature 20 Oct 2012
By Declan - Published on Amazon.com
This slyly funny, supremely readable book has ten chapters, each focusing on a different author (or family of writers, in the case of the Brontes) and their real-life medical mysteries. The author knows both his medicine and his literature, and the writers are treated with great sympathy (with the exception of John Milton). Doctors of yesteryear gave these writers dreadful and useless therapies, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, oil of puppies, mustard poultices, and "mummy" (ground-up human bones or meat). Thank heavens for modern medicine!
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Dangerous Medical Life of Your Favorite Authors 15 July 2014
By Mark Graham - Published on Amazon.com
John J. Ross explores a side of famous authors we do not typically get to see. His book, "Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers", encompasses a great deal of medical history you won't find anywhere else. As readers will learn, "desperate diseases called for desperate remedies".

Much of the history you will read here is shocking! For instance, William Shakespeare was treated with a "sweating tub to cleanse the disease from the disease from the skin". Other authors that Ross covers in this book include Jonathan Swift, Oliver Cromwell, the Bronte sisters, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. In some cases, the cures has worse results than the original ailments.

Such intimate knowledge about historical figures is typically only found in books like "The Queen's Bed" by Anna Whitelock; however, "Shakespeare's Tremor" offers more than you would ever want to know about your favorite authors. The narratives found in each chapter read quickly, creating a thought-provoking story.

The witty tone of Ross' book allow you to easily take in the social and political history that he presents. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the incredibly personal stories the author, a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, relays. He paints an accurate and intriguing picture of familiar figures. You will find yourself bringing up many of these topics in conversation.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Desperate diseases called for desperate remedies." 30 Oct 2012
By E. Bukowsky - Published on Amazon.com
If you enjoy mysteries, biographies, and history, you may be interested in "Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough," by Dr. John J. Ross, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. This book grew out of a presentation about syphilis that Ross made at a Boston teaching hospital, in which he incorporated a number of quotations from Shakespeare's plays. Ross was amazed at the number of times that Shakespeare alluded to "the pox" in his writings. Could the Bard have been afflicted with syphilis?

John Ross explores the history, literary output, and maladies of ten of the most celebrated writers in the English language: William Shakespeare, John Milton, Jonathan Swift, Charlotte Bronte (and her family), Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, William Butler Yeats, Jack London, James Joyce, and George Orwell. Although this book is billed as non-fiction, Ross admits that some of his statements are pure conjecture. For example, we know very little about Shakespeare's health, other than that his handwriting in later years was unsteady. This narrative may be noteworthy not so much for Ross's speculation about his subjects' alleged ailments, but for his perspective on how these individuals dealt with such hardships as troubled childhoods, financial setbacks, marital problems, psychological disorders, and physical pain. It is horrifying to read about the primitive treatments used by incompetent physicians who not only failed to heal their patients, but in many cases administered substances that were injurious if not downright toxic.

Ross discusses Milton's blindness; Swift's deafness and dementia; Bronte's tuberculosis; Hawthorne's possible stomach cancer; Melville's bipolar disorder; Yeats's brucellosis; Joyce's eye inflammation and arthritis; Orwell's weak lungs, and a whole array of additional physical and mental problems that plagued the ten people covered in these pages. At times, the author goes a bit overboard. For instance, in the chapter on Shakespeare and syphilis, Ross provides an extensive list of highly unpleasant symptoms in graphic detail, describes the treatments used in Elizabethan England, and touches on how syphilis arrived in Europe in the first place. This might be appropriate for a scholarly treatise on venereal disease, but Ross offers too much unnecessary detail that is tangential to the book's central theme. Nevertheless, "Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough" is recommended for its literate and well-researched analysis that sheds light on the personal experiences and chronic illnesses of ten creative geniuses.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medical mysteries of the masters 23 Dec 2012
By Robert Ewing - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Such an interesting book in many ways! To learn about the medical problems of great writers of the past, you need to learn about the world they inhabited and the state of medicine in that world. So often, the cures were worse than the problems. The author seems to know his literature, his history, and his medicine. Fascinating and instructive. These are frank and insightful brief biographies of great authors. The book will make you very glad you live today.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable and interesting all the way 27 Dec 2012
By Polly - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a delightful book, and also tremendously informative -- gives a good sense of the lives of many great writers from the slant of the problems they encountered because of illness. One thing one learns: hard to believe the physical misery people suffered in the past that would not have to be suffered today, and the remarkable perseverance these writers maintained to continue writing. They just slogged through all kinds of physical agonies! It's not about the literature itself but yet this author manages to convey insights into what they wrote. I'm really glad I chose this book!
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