REVIEWED BY MARGARET BARRON, MD
Compassion's Way: A Doctor's Quest into the Soul of Medicine
Medi-Ed Press, Bloomington, IL, 2002, 648 pp., $38.50
When I was asked to write this, my very first book review, I did not know that
the book's author was a professional reviewer of books and movies. If I
had known it, I probably would have been too intimidated to attempt this. I
said yes because I was intrigued by the title. I was expecting something along
the lines of the essays of Dr. William Carlos Williams.* Although I am entering
my 21st year of practice, the "quest into the soul of medicine" never
ceases to amaze me.
* William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), a pediatrician, was a leading 20th-century American poet.
The author's preface is thorough and offers good advice on how to read
the book. I took his advice and read it aloud to a small audience. I also asked
my college-age son, who studies film, and a middle-aged hospital administrator,
who works closely with physicians, to read some of the book's 11 sections.
It did not hold their interest, so I continued on my own. I have to admit that
I did not finish the whole book. It is more than 600 pages, and the going was
slow. I did read some of its sections in their entirety. I read several essays
in each of the other sections.
The book is a compendium of the author's essays and book and movie reviews.
Each section has a title, but sometimes it was difficult for me to ascertain
the theme in the topics chosen for the section. Each individual essay is interesting
on its own, but some of the essays are repetitious. They have similar themes
and they begin to merge in the reader's mind. You get the feeling: "Didn't
I already read this one?" The various essays and reviews do not appear
in the order of their publication, so it was difficult to follow the author's
journey. The reader does not get a sense of psychological growth or of moving
along a continuum of maturation in the profession. The last essay, called "Chartres
and the Accidental Pilgrim," talks about a defining moment in the author's
life, but it does not note at which age the event occurred. This makes it difficult
to put the rest of the essays in context. I am not sure why that was chosen
to be the closing piece. I also could not figure out how some of the movie reviews
fit into the theme of "compassion."
After reading the next to last essay, which is called "Epiview,"
I realized that the author and I have different definitions of compassion. I
disagree with the author that "compassion is a validation of the individual."
It wasn't until I read this piece that I understood why the book did not
"hang together" for me. My preconceived idea of what the book would
be about prejudiced my reading. I think that a more appropriate title would
have been "Ralph Crawshaw: Thoughts from an Interesting Life." If
approached from this viewpoint, the organization of the book makes sense. It
is definitely meant to be read in small doses.
Margaret Barron, MD
Director, Emergency Services
Copyright © 2004 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.