Baptism for a Lightweight

Blog Post by James J. Amos, Staff Psychiatrist, Dean Medical Center, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

I was rearranging my Psychosomatic Medicine reference books the other day. My library has 3 main heavyweights—literally. I recall the review by Donald Kornfeld and Ralph Wharton in the 2005 issue of Psychosomatics of the American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychosomatic Medicine, published in 2005. He tempered his praise for the work by noting that the book contained over a 1000 pages and weighed nearly 7 pounds and saying “The weightiness of our specialty need not be demonstrated by the heft of our textbooks…”

So I weighed my 3 main textbooks on our clinic scale. The results: 

  1. The second edition of the Oxford Press’s Psychiatric Care of the Medical Patient edited by Alan Stoudemire, Barry Fogel, and Donna Greenberg, 2000: 6.6 lbs
  2. The APPI Textbook of Psychosomatic Medicine, edited by James Levenson, 2005: 6 lbs
  3. The Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins Psychosomatic Medicine, edited by Michael Blumenfield and James J. Strain (excluding interactive DVD), 2006: 5 lbs

OK, so I left out the Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of General Hospital Psychiatry. The fifth edition weighs zero pounds. There; happy? It also has more than 800 pages and could very well be described as hefty. All of them, including the venerable Mass General Handbook are incontestably valuable references for Psychosomatic Medicine practitioners. Not only can I check them for definitive information on just about any subject in the field; I can dampen that TV cabinet vibration, do curls, and chock my car wheels— on and on.

And this is partly why I collaborated as co-editor and with many contributors infinitely more respectable than I on the forthcoming Introduction to Psychosomatic Medicine, to be published by Cambridge University Press. I tried to talk Cambridge University Press into including in the title “the little book”, even though at 300 pages and probably zero pounds, I still consider it too hefty. Will Strunk, in his book “The Elements of Style” exhorted writers to omit unnecessary words and to be “clear, brief, bold.” He called his own parvum opus the “little book” with secret pride (Essays of EB White, New York, Harper Row 1977).

Part of the impetus for emulating Strunk’s approach was to recapitulate what we try do as consultants practicing at the interface of medicine and psychiatry. I think our patients and our colleagues appreciate precision, brevity—and sparingly, a sense of humor. Our weighty specialty could use a lightweight.

James J. Amos is co-editor of Psychosomatic Medicine: An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry.

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