Cover image for On being born and other difficulties
On being born and other difficulties
Gonzalez-Crussi, F.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Woodstock, NY : Overlook Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
217 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BD443 .G66 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



There is no theme more central to human life on earth than birth (unless it is its natural counterpart, death). With a pathologist's trained eye for observation of detail and a style unrivaled in elegance and wit, F. Gonzalez-Crussi, author of The Five Senses, reflects on the largest of topics, those in which science, religion, and philosophy brush most closely together, such as the origin of life in the universe, the complex evolution of human sexuality, and the debate over when the soul is acquired. Drawing on a variety of sources spanning the fields of biology, literature, history, myth, medicine, and philosophy, On Being Born and Other Difficulties surveys a vast field of opinions and theories, contrasting the supremely rational processes by which we evolved on this planet with our irrational and often bizarre attempts to understand them. Gonzalez-Crussi traces millennia of misunderstandings to their sources - Aristotle, Hippocrates, Descartes, Sir Thomas Browne, Cervantes, Rabelais, Maupassant, and Nietzsche, among others - engaging them with precision, humour, and humanity. With its unparalleled depth and insight, On Being Born and Other Difficulties is a profoundly entertaining work of the highest literary calibre.

Author Notes

F. Gonzalez-Crussi is currently Professor Emeritus of Pathology at Northwestern University Medical School.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Gonzalez-Crussi has already treated the physiology and medicine of death, sex, and, with the resplendent admixture of some sublime memoirs, The Five Senses (1989). Thus it is appropriate that he apply his physician's knowledge, multilingual literacy, and expository legerdemain to conception, gestation, and parturition. He begins, as the first essay's title in part says, at the Beginning . . . or Almost, with the question, Where do we come from? observing that the Renaissance divides answers to it that assume a living universe from those that assume a dead one. Subsequent essays spring from further contrasts between premodern and modern thinking about the womb and the fetus, influences from outside the womb upon the fetus, the phenomenon of right-left orientation, and midwifery. Others consider the travails of uncertain fatherhood and how sexual reproduction requires that individuals be genetically similar dividuals. In-vitro fertilization, fertility boosting, and the Pandora's box of consequences they open are the foci of the pensive concluding piece. Another lusciously slow-reading gift from an author without peer in our time. --Ray Olson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this learned and graceful meditation on the question "where do we come from?" Gonzalez-Crussi (There Is a World Elsewhere), emeritus professor of pathology at Northwestern University Medical School, traces the history of thought about the origins of life, from the Pythagoreans to the present day. The author begins with the mysteries of evolutionary history and the origins of each of us as individuals, and ends with an outline of modern obstetrics, sperm donation and in vitro fertilization. In between, he surveys the folly of past misunderstandings and myths; in particular, he scrutinizes misogynist received ideas about the properties of the womb and "hysteria," notions of female inconstancy, and male paranoia about virginity and paternity. The concept of "maternal impression," or links between maternal experiences during pregnancy and birth defects, provides some especially grisly material. In a chapter on the presentation of the baby at birth and the mystical powers attributed to the caul, Gonzalez-Crussi draws on his own experiences as a young medical intern in a maternity ward. He treats the skills of midwives with great respect, lamenting their eventual marginalization in industrial-age, male-dominated medicine. In a grand rhetorical style, Gonzalez-Crussi illuminates the murky depths of the history of medicine, reflecting, often morbidly, on our evolving attitudes to the natural wonders of birth, life and the origins of the universe. Illus. Agent, Lynn Chu at Writers' Representatives. (June 10) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentp. 7
To Begin at the Beginning ... or Almostp. 9
Believe only the Deliveryp. 32
Saga of the Womb, or the Perils of the Motherp. 54
On Female "Impressionism"p. 73
Before Being Born, You Must Take Sidesp. 105
From Dividual to In-Dividualp. 127
Crossing the Valley of the Shadow of Birthp. 147
The Flowers of Evil in the Garden of Biologyp. 176
Notesp. 205
List of Illustrationsp. 219