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Orwell's Cough: Diagnosing the Medical Maladies and Last Gasps of the Great Writers Paperback – 7 Nov 2013

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (7 Nov. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1780742258
  • ISBN-13: 978-1780742250
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,035,342 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Superb - One's prurient reading pleasure is elevated by Ross's clarity, his wit, his authority." Sebastian Faulks, The Spectator

 "This is a book to which I shall return again and again - Witty and deeply humane." Raymond Tallis, Wall Street Journal

"A quietly enthralling book - It's a little like reading a literary version of the TV show House." Daily Mail

"A gripping medical detective book - Entertaining." Telegraph

"Fascinating, surprising and at times hilarious compilation." New Scientist

‘Beguiling [and] enthralling’ Daily Mail

Review

“Orwell's Cough is riveting medical detective work. John Ross offers a truly unique perspective on the literary giants, and he will make you profoundly thankful for modern medicine!”

(Alex Boese - bestselling author of Elephants on Acid and Electric Sheep)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Through details of famous writers' medical maladies, John Ross explores their lives and literary works. What killed George Orwell: the stress of writing 1984, the damp and dreary weather on the Scottish island of Jura, or bad treatments for a childhood illness? If Milton had not gone blind, would he have written Paradise Lost? Did Jack London's self-medication lead to his physical weakening and eventual death? Also under investigation are Shakespeare's syphilis, Jonathan Swift's dementia, the Brontë sisters' tuberculosis, Nathaniel Hawthorne's stomach cancer, and the many maladies of Herman Melville. As well as plenty of interesting detail about writers' lives, there are tidbits about medicine through the ages, such as the Ancient Roman method of treating venereal disease.
The author is the Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, so he certainly knows his science; what's wonderful about this book is that he knows his novels too. The prose reads well, and each chapter has the drama and narrative arc of fiction. The details of the writers' lives are fascinating, and it's enjoyable to trace how their physical ailments may have affected their work. Orwell's Cough manages the perfect balance: enough medicalese to interest the biologically-minded, and enough details about writers' lives for the literary-minded. As soon as I finished the book, I turned right back to the start and read it again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I brought this book based on a review within bbc focus magazine. Usually this does me well and I enjoy their suggested reading. This sadly was not the case for orwell's cough.

Focusing on the medical conditions of some of the great literature writers the author guides you through their condition its historical relevance and his view on this issue. Both my wife and myself read this book and agreed that it is very repetitive. The Author follows a similar patter throughout his chapters and this leave the reader a firm knowledge of what will be coming next. I liken this to being on a journey similar to your trip to work, you know it is different but at the same time very familiar. I think the root of this problem is the author's background. Originally written for a medical group of people it is clear that the author is a very analytical and methodical person. Qualities that are useful as a doctor, less useful as an author.

This negative element does not distract from the content being very interesting and if you pick this book up you will learn something new (possibly). However you will not be entertained in any sense and you may be tempted to put this book down over turning the page to find out 'what happens next'.
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Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating book that works both as forensic medicine and literature. The first chapter on one William Shakespeare was overall the least engaging. There was more than a dram of speculation, which given the time period and historic record is perhaps excusable. I almost put the book down at that point (a large draft of belladonna with newt urine by pipette). But, persisted and was rewarded. Mr Ross has sound knowledge of the writers, their personal history and works. He also describes the development of medicine and the love of doctors to kill or seriously maim their patients with the orthodoxy of the day. For those who believe science is the only model of value in the cake shop today, it is a lesson on there is no single truth/silver bullet. Science remains experimentation, trial and elimination and sometimes that includes the poor, suffering patient. The doctor cannot and does not know everything and not everything they know is necessarily sound. A reflection for today, will a John Ross of the future be describing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments that may have polished of writers such as Christopher Hitchens. All very state of the art but more primitive than we may understand or give weight to. Reading books such as this inform us it is unlikely we recognise diseases that in later times may become obvious but which we today are blissfully unaware of as we continue to shorten our lives with a range of vices, treatments, lifestyles, habits and environmental ticking bombs. Mine is supporting Newcastle United, which I am told has shortened my life considerably. All I can say is thank goodness I did not support Manchester United or I would have had no life at all!Read more ›
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Format: Kindle Edition
Birth, sickness and death remain the three elemental biological truths of every sentient being. In a curiously mounted collection, Ross rounds up a bunch of literary giants and scrapes off the veneer of these touchstones to reveal a smattering of germs: literal and psychological. I say curious as the process of selection is opaque to the reader although it is clear that all the authors and poets chronicled here are author's favourites given his empathic and sweeping life-accounts of each without missing a beat. I must level a minor criticism against the format which stinks up a tedium rather quickly especially if the book's ten chapters are read back to back. The pattern responsible, that the reader is treated to ten times over, contains a thoroughly well-written introduction with a scene written in the style reminiscent of the era of the author, followed by a catalogue of immediate family, childhood and adolescence before the account of illnesses that plagued the physique and the psyche, dovetailed by a medical summary of contemporary management that the patients are greeted with now before bidding an elegiac goodbye, rightfully but predictably applauding the writers for battling their ills and blossoming creatively at the same time.

But the matter is almost too compelling to be read one chapter at a time. Like a voyeuristic teenager entering a hospital ward and chancing upon the bedside notes of a celebrity patient, I read with owl-like alertness the ignominy of disease and doctoring these gifted people found themselves affected by, especially the cover-hogging Orwell and the Bard.
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