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“Not your ordinary doctor”

Individually and collectively, doctors have frequently sought fulfillment outside the traditional boundaries of their profession; doctors’ orchestras and political reform groups are not uncommon. Similarly, parliamentary careers, publishing, broadcasting and success in sport are recognised associations to a life in medicine.

03 Apr 2011

Jim Leavesley

Allen & Unwin

ISBN: 978-1-74237-330-0

Reviewed by Dr Peter Thomas

Individually and collectively, doctors have frequently sought fulfillment outside the traditional boundaries of their profession; doctors’ orchestras and political reform groups are not uncommon. Similarly, parliamentary careers, publishing, broadcasting and success in sport are recognised associations to a life in medicine.

Uncommonly, medicine is forsaken as the practitioner moves beyond to other pursuits. Novel writing is one; revolutionary politics is another. Think Radovan Karadzic, the ex-psychiatrist in the Balkans, and Che Guevara. The current leader of Syria, Bashar al-Assad is an ophthalmologist by training.

This book is about an eclectic group of doctors, from antiquity on, “medical truants” in the author’s vernacular, who achieved fame or notoriety beyond medicine. Not all found what they were seeking and paid a price. Some became pawns in a bigger game they could not control and some are remembered for the wrong reasons. Some went to prison and some were judicially executed for their activities. Some have become icons in history and not a few are remembered with affection and even reverence. All have a great story however, and Dr Jim Leavesley tells them with his usual attention to detail supported by impeccable research.

The book contains humour and many insights and vignettes, all revealing and delivered with the author’s characteristic precision of language and a welcome low “fog index”. Some popular misconceptions are corrected along the way. For example, it seems Dr Guillotin, “a kindly and clever man”, did not die under his infernal machine.

As the subject list is international, the author acknowledges many deserving doctors miss out. Similarly, women are under- represented. These are not faults, rather an acknowledgement of reality and demographics. They would easily fill a companion volume to this one.

This is a great book for a busy person seeking entertainment, distraction, and education. Paradoxically, I found it a difficult book to review critically because it is so likeable. It is idiosyncratic, funny and serious. It is also highly entertaining and highly recommended.


Published: 03 Apr 2011