‘Classic.’ A book which people praise but don’t read—Mark Twain

Blog Post by James Amos, MD, The University of Iowa Hosp and Clinics

When I announced the publishing of our book, Psychosomatic Medicine, An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry,  someone said that it’s good to finally get a book into print and out of one’s head.  The book in earlier years found other ways out of my head, mainly in stapled, paper clipped, spiral bound, dog-eared pages of  homemade manuals, for use on our consultation serviceIt’s a handbook and meant to be read of course, but quickly and on the run. As I’ve said in a previous blog, it makes no pretension to being the tour de force textbook in  America  that inspired it. However, any textbook can evolve into an example of Twain’s definition of a classic.  The handbook writer is a faithful and humble steward who can keep the spirit of the classic lively.

We must have a textbook  as a marker of Psychosomatic Medicine’s place in medicine as a subspecialty.  It’s  like a bible,  meant to be read reverently, venerated, and quoted by scholars. But the ark of this covenant tends to be  a dusty bookshelf that bows under the tome’s weight. A handbook is like the Sunday School lesson plan for spreading the scholar’s wisdom in the big book. Over the long haul, the goal of any book should mean something other than royalties or an iconic place in history. No preacher ever read a sermon to her congregation straight out of the Bible. It was long ago observed by George Henry that there’ll never be enough psychiatric consultants. This begs the question of who will come after me to do this work.  My former legacy was to be the Director of a Psychosomatic Medicine Fellowship in an academic department in the not-so-distant past. Ironically, though there will never be enough psychiatric consultants, there were evidently too many fellowships from which to choose.  I had to let the fellowship go. My legacy then became this book, not just for Psychosomatic Medicine fellows, but medical students, residents, and maybe even for those who see most of the patients suffering from mental illness—dedicated primary care physicians.

On my birthday recently, my wife gave me a card;  the message read: “Getting Older: May each year be a feather on the glorious Chicken of Life as it soars UNTAMED and BEAUTIFUL towards the golden sun.” My gifts included among the  obligatory neckties a couple of books on preparing for retirement.  Before I retire, I would like to do all I can to ensure that the next generation of doctors learn to respect the importance of care for both body and mind of their patients. That’s the goal of our book. And may the glorious Chicken of Life lay a golden egg within its pages to protect it from becoming a classic.

Psychosomatic Medicine, An Introduction to Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry , edited by James Amos and Robert G. Robinson is available from Cambridge University Press

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