The Doctors’ Plague

Notes & Thoughts    The Doctors’ Plague:  Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis by Sherwin B Nuland, W. W. Norton & Company 2003, 191 pages

for Citizen Reader’s Book Menage, May 23

As is typical of books I check out from the library, I have returned it before writing the review.  I did take notes, so let’s see what I can piece together (new stuff is in green, definitions in blue).   This may turn into a big vocabulary lesson.

i    ISBN 0393052990 is written down but according to this gives page count at 160.  I know I had the 191 page version.

119 lucubration –  a piece of writing, typically a pedantic or overelaborate one.

127 Klein’s son-in-law ?!  –  (I don‘t remember what this is nor why it was note-worthy, perhaps my next jottings will lend a clue:)  why does NO one else DUPLICATE the theory in lab work?!

149  sinecure – a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit.  (I just love this word; I want a sinecure, (perhaps I have one…))

152 beleagured – (I love this word, too.)  beset with troubles.   (maybe it’s the definition that I like)

156 logorrheic (couldn’t find, but did find) logorrhea – “pathologically incoherent, repetition incessant or compulsive talkativeness, wearisome volubility/voluble
If PATHOLOGIC means ‘diseased’, then is this a double entrendre?
Basically, it was 543 pages of unreadable crap (I think I am paraphrasing Nuland’s paragraph describing Semmelweis’s final written defense.)

158 bombastic (another groovy word I like because it sounds like its meaning) – high-sounding language with little meaning, used to impress people.

166 profligacy – shameless dissoluteness / reckless extravagance / great abundance 

157 – DOH WOW!! (again, I barely recall what I am reacting to, please someone tell me?) OMG – SO SAD!
um, if TV, it would have been murder   (WHAT?! am I wondering if ‘they’ air a made-for-TV drama?)

170 rara avis – a rare person or thing

172 – maladroit (for some reason, I had never quite given real thought to this being the opposite of adroit.)awkward, bungling, tactless

173 “as so often happens in psychopathology, self-concept exists side by side with its opposite …  Apparent disloyalty and deeply insecure men unable to take obvious next step.”   ?   huh.

175 Aeschylus, Sophocles:    deeply insecure, yet arrogant?

180 encomia – a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly.

190 Reference to 1949 Morton Thompson’s The Cry and the Covenanthas anyone read this?





I found Dr. Semmelweis and his behavior very fascinating and thoroughly enjoyed Nuland’s theories of Early Onset Alzheimers.   I was saddened by what happened to the poor guy.    Though I sort of knew the story going in, I was not aware the time between his commitment to the Insane Asylum and his death was so very short.   Which made the next book (The Birth of Love) even MORE fascinating and I am so glad I chose to read this first.

What I didn’t get nor understand was WHY no other doctors anywhere in the world, took up Semmelweis’ ideas and tried to prove or unprove the germ theory!    Was it some professional code that the so-called experts needed the originator to present something/anything in order to run a counter proof?     It just seems odd that SO MANY years went by with his friends’ only trying to persuade Semmelweis to publish rather than someone just taking it and running their own experiments.


And, really.   Knowing what we now know of germ theory and our culture’s current paranoia of washing everything carefully or we might DIE , it’s a wonder that anyone in the Vienna hospitals back then survived at all.     It’s so hard not think of all Semmelweis’ opponents as damnable and arrogant assholes.

Very interesting book; I recommend.


Copyright © 2011. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

9 thoughts on “The Doctors’ Plague

  1. I want a sinecure too! Where can I get one?? I’m racking my brains to think of rich relatives or friends to arrange this for me. . . . I got nothing. Sigh.

    1. It’s one of those words that I never can remember which is odd because it has such a fab meaning. It just doesn’t sound like it’s definition – perhaps I need to study Latin. I really dig word origins.

  2. I think you have a bit of a sinecure with the real estate thing, don’t you? Fabulous word.

    This sounds like a great book. I love reading about germs and scientific discoveries. Sounds like the poor guy drove people away, but I’ve read some interesting books about science that went into similar “controversies”. Scientists don’t like to be told they’re wrong about anything, so they tend to get branded or ostracized for saying, “Huh, look at that. We were all wrong about [whatever].” Kind of sad, really.

  3. Your notes remind me of my notes; sometimes even when I have the book right there in front of me, I just can’t figure out why I made the particular notation. Ah, the joys of the brain.

  4. This book sounds very interesting, although I have a couple of Nuland’s books lying about the house already that I haven’t read as yet- probably should try to read those first, but will add this to the TBR. I’m familiar with Semmelweis’story- it was particularly tragic. Nuland has included some great words in there too, thanks for the post.

Welcome! I invite you to comment. If for some reason commenting is troublesome, pls send email to BkClubCare [at] Gmail

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s