Cover image for William Osler : a life in medicine
William Osler : a life in medicine
Bliss, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 581 pages, 24 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, portraits ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
R134 .B55 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



William Osler was born in a parsonage in backwoods Canada on July 12, 1849. In a life lasting seventy years, he practiced, taught, and wrote about medicine at Canada's McGill University, America's Johns Hopkins University, and finally as Regius Professor at Oxford. At the time of his death in England in 1919, many considered him to be the greatest doctor in the world.
Osler, who was a brilliant, innovative teacher and a scholar of the natural history of disease, revolutionized the art of practicing medicine at the bedside of his patients. He was idolized by two generations of medical students and practitioners for whom he came to personify the ideal doctor. But much more than a physician, Osler was a supremely intelligent humanist. In both his writings and his personal life, and through the prism of the tragedy of the Great War, he embodied the art of living. It was perhaps his legendary compassion that elevated his healing talents to an art form and attracted to his private practice students, colleagues, poets (Walt Whitman for example) politicians, royalty, and nameless ordinary people with extraordinary conditions.
William Osler's life lucidly illuminates the times in which he lived. Indeed, this is a book not only about the evolution of modern medicine, the training of doctors, holism in medical thought, and the doctor-patient relationship, but also about humanism, Victorianism, the Great War, and much else. Meticulously researched, drawing on many new sources and offering new interpretations, William Osler: A Life in Medicine brings to life both a fascinating man and the formative age of twentieth-century medicine. It is a classic biography of a classic life, both authoritative and highly readable.

Author Notes

John William Michael Bliss was born in Leamington, Ontario, Canada on January 18, 1941. He graduated from the University of Toronto. He taught at the University of Toronto from 1968 until 2006. He was a historian of Canadian business and politics as well as medicine. He wrote 14 books during his lifetime including A Canadian Millionaire, The Discovery of Insulin, Banting: A Biography, William Osler: A Life in Medicine, and Harvey Cushing: A Life in Surgery. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2016. He died from complications of vasculitis, an inflammatory blood vessel disease, on May 18, 2017 at the age of 76.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Osler, a Canadian, became famous in the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, first in Canada, then in the U.S., and finally in England. In 1926, seven years after his death, neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing wrote a two-volume biography of him that won a Pulitzer Prize. Why, then, is another biography needed? First, Osler was a major player in the history of medicine as clinician, teacher, and literary and scientific author. Second, much new material has become available since the 1920s. Finally, Bliss proved himself with his biography of Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin, as well as other scholarly and readable books. He individuates Osler and his family members, colleagues, and patients, setting them all in enough, but not too much, social, medical, and political historical context. Thoroughly documented, this is a biography that is pleasurable to read and deserving of a place in virtually every public, college, and medical library. --William Beatty

Library Journal Review

Medical historian Bliss (The Discovery of Insulin) has written the authoritative modern biography of 19th-century Canadian physician William Osler. Idolized by many as one of the greatest of all modern physicians, Osler emerges from this critical text as a brilliant, influential physician and teacher, full of compassion for his profession and patients. Bliss offers a glimpse of the rise of modern medicine and medical education as it unfolded around Osler and provides a view of the time as well as of the man. This volume replaces Harvey Cushing's two-volume tribute, The Life of Sir William Osler (1956), as the definitive text in the field. Highly recommended for history collections in all academic libraries and essential for medical collections.√ĄEric D. Albright, Duke Medical Ctr. Lib., Durham, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Osler (1849-1919) was a Canadian physician who became one of America's premier clinicians, reformed medical training at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and ended his career as the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. Osler personified the physician, the Hippocratic ideal of clinical observation and accurate diagnosis. Patients adored him, and students and colleagues sought to emulate him. In the 1960s an Osler revival began among physicians who agree that he remains the model physician. Oslerians seek to restore to the profession Osler's focus on the patient's humanity--a humanity, they note, that is increasingly served yet eclipsed by technology. Harvey Cushing was Osler's first biographer; his ponderous and magisterial The Life of Sir William Osler (1925) won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize. But was Osler really that good? Bliss (Univ. of Toronto) probes the Osler aura and concludes that, yes, he was. Bliss succeeds where Cushing failed: he engages the reader from the first page. By the last page the reader understands why Osler has generated a century-old awe and affection that shows no signs of dimming. Meticulously researched and crisply written; an excellent book that will educate a variety of audiences. All levels. T. P. Gariepy; Stonehill College

Table of Contents

Preface: On Doing an Osler Autopsyp. ix
1 English Gentlemen with American Energyp. 3
2 Learning to See: Student Yearsp. 36
3 The Baby Professorp. 80
4 The Best Men: Philadelphiap. 122
5 Starting at Johns Hopkinsp. 168
6 We All Worship Himp. 208
7 The Great American Doctorp. 259
8 Leaving Americap. 308
9 A Delightful Life and Placep. 332
10 Sir Williamp. 369
11 All the Youth and Glory of the Countryp. 402
12 Never Use a Crutchp. 441
13 Osler's Afterlifep. 477
Notes and Sourcesp. 505
Acknowledgmentsp. 557
Illustration Creditsp. 561
Indexp. 563