You go back to the classics of a subject for the practical purpose of saving yourself a lot of work. You get an accumulation of observation, method, and technique that subsequent experience has confirmed, and you can take it at secondhand and don’t have to work it all out afresh for yourself. Maybe you can improve on it, here and there, and that is all right, but if you don’t know the classics of your subject, you often find that you have been wasting a lot of time over something that somebody went all through, clear back in the Middle Ages. …
… When I was at Ems a couple of years ago, one of their experimenters had just discovered that the Ems salts helped out a little in cases of pyorrhea. That was known four hundred years ago. It is mentioned in a report on the springs, written in the sixteenth century. Then it was forgotten, and discovered again only the other day.
—ALBERT JAY NOCK, PANTAGRUELISM, A SPEECH TO THE FACULTY OF MEDICINE AT JOHNS HOPKINS, OCTOBER 28, 1932, THE 400TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PUBLICATION OF PANTAGRUEL
The work of M. Laënnec is a book eminently practical, but we fear that its length can only be a great obstacle to its utility.
—A FRENCH REVIEW BY L. ROUZET, JANUARY, 1820 CITED IN THORAX 1981:36:487-492.
Most of the following textbooks have been referred to throughout this work. They may be recommended, provided that the reader understands that each is faulted by undocumented statements, elision, or in many cases simply the passage of time. Nevertheless, each has its virtues. Dr Sapira’s comments are in brackets or parentheses. An update concerning the latest edition follows, if applicable. Students fortunate enough to have access to a library that keeps old books in its stacks might find it instructive to look at the editions referenced here.
Adams FD. Physical Diagnosis. 14th Ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins; 1958, reprinted 1961, 962. [This was the last version of the text originally written by Cabot (vide infra) until it was resurrected in 1974 by Burnside. The current incarnation of Cabot’s original work can be read much more quickly than that available a quarter century ago, having only 223 pages versus 926 in the 1958 edition. The pagination sequences indicate the decrepitude of American medical education regarding clinical examination.]
Alexander I. The neurologic examination. Pullen’s Medical Diagnosis, last published in 1950. [This book is difficult to find. The present work makes use of some of the illustrations.]
“Bailey,” Clain A, ed. Hamilton Bailey’s Demonstrations of Physical Signs in Clinical Surgery. 15th Ed. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins; 1973, 572. [This is an example of a masterpiece that has outlived its author, and is still called “Bailey” even though Clain is now the editor. It is a benchmark work both in the quality of its illustrations and in the number of editions and sales. It is a true chrestomathy—it does not really teach a systematic approach, and the picture of examining equipment used within its pages does not even include a stethoscope (although this instrument is mentioned in the 16th edition), let alone an ophthalmoscope!] Now edited by John S.P. Lumley, the 18th edition (1997) was described as a “photographic atlas” and the 19th (1999) as a “self-assessment picture test book.”
Baker AB, Joynt RJ. Clinical Neurology. revised ed. New York: Harper & Row; 1986. [“Baker” remains a clearly written, authoritative description of neurologic diseases.]
Bauer J. Differential Diagnosis of Internal Diseases. New York: Grune & Stratton; 1967. [Another single-authored refutation of the notion that there is “too much knowledge” for one person to be broadly competent.]
Cabot RC. Physical Diagnosis. 11th Ed. Baltimore, MD: William Wood and Company; 1934, 540. [The first edition of this work came out in 1900. The last edition that Cabot wrote by himself was the 11th. I used this work well into the 1980s until one day it grew legs and walked out of my office. In 1938, Cabot took a partner, F.D. Adams, who wrote the 13th edition by himself: vide supra. Cabot was a Harvard medical student rooming with a law student, who was rehearsing for mock trials. Cabot transferred the mock trial to medicine and thus concocted the CPC, the clinicopathologic conference. One of the best teaching devices ever invented, it is currently in eclipse because of its antinarcissistic effects and the intellectual demands it makes on the participants.]
Cassell EJ. Talking with Patients: Volume 2, Clinical Technique. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 1985. [An illustrative passage: “It is sad that even during the period when this crucial technique (interviewing) is being learned, most instructors never listen to their students taking an entire history. The reason usually given for this lapse in teaching is, of course, that the process takes so long. Can you imagine a surgeon saying that surgeons in training are not supervised for a whole operation because it takes too long?”] This edition is still in print.