Gonzalez-Crussi, F. 1936–

views updated

Gonzalez-Crussi, F. 1936–

(Frank Gonzalez-Crussi)

PERSONAL: Born October 4, 1936, in Mexico City, Mexico; immigrated to United States, 1973; naturalized citizen, 1987; son of Pablo (a pharmacist) and Maria (a pharmacist; maiden name, Crussi) Gonzalez; married Ana Luz, December 22, 1961 (divorced, 1974); married Wei Hsueh (a research pathologist), October 7, 1978; children: (first marriage) Daniel, Francis Xavier, Juliana. Education: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, B.A., 1954, M.D., 1961.

ADDRESSES: Home—2626 N. Lakeview Ave., Apt. 3508, Chicago, IL 60614.

CAREER: Writer, physician, pathologist, and educator. Licensed to practice medicine in Indiana, Illinois, and Ontario; certified by American Board of Pathology, 1967, Canada Register, Ontario, 1970. Penrose Hospital, Colorado Springs, CO, intern, 1962; St. Lawrence Hospital, Lansing, MI, and Shands Teaching Hospital at the University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, resident in pathology, 1963–67; Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, assistant professor of pathology, 1967–73; Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, IN, associate professor of pathology, 1973–78; Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, professor of pathology, 1978–2001, emeritus professor of pathology, 2001–. Formerly head of laboratories at Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago, IL.

MEMBER: International Academy of Pathology, Society for Pediatric Pathology, American Society of Clinical Pathologists, Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Chicago Pathology Society, Society of Midland Authors.

AWARDS, HONORS: Best Nonfiction Award, Society of Midland Authors, 1985, for Notes of an Anatomist; Guggenheim fellowship, 2000–01.


Extragonadal Teratomas, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (Washington, DC), 1982.

(Editor) Wilms Tumor (Nephroblastoma) and Related Renal Neoplasms of Childhood, CRC Press (Boca Raton, FL), 1983.

Notes of an Anatomist (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1985.

Three Forms of Sudden Death and Other Reflections on the Grandeur and Misery of the Body (essays; includes "Some Expressions of the Body [in Four Movements]"), Harper (New York, NY), 1986.

On the Nature of Things Erotic (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1988.

The Five Senses, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1989.

The Day of the Dead and Other Mortal Reflections (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1993.

Suspended Animation: Six Essays on the Preservation of Bodily Parts, photographs by Rosamond Purcell, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1995.

Partir es morir un poco, prologue by Ruy Perez Tamayo, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (Ciudad Universitaria, Mexico), 1996.

There Is a World Elsewhere: Autobiographical Pages, Riverhead Books (New York, NY), 1998.

(Author of introduction) Paul F. Kruif, Microbe Hunters, Harvest Books (San Diego, CA), 2002.

(Author of foreword) Pamela Nagami, The Woman with a Worm in Her Head: And Other True Stories of Infectious Disease, St. Martin's Griffin (New York, NY), 2002.

On Being Born and Other Difficulties (essays), Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2004.

On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2006.

Venir al Mundo, Verdehalago (Mexico City, Mexico), 2006.

Translator of two essays by Paul Valéry, "Speech to the Surgeons" and "Simple Reflections on the Body," from French to Spanish, 1998. Contributor to numerous medical journals and periodicals.

Author's works have been translated into numerous foreign languages.

ADAPTATIONS: The works of Gonzalez-Crussi were adapted for the stage by the Live Bait Theatrical Co. of Chicago in January, 1995, in a play titled Memento Mori, by Sharon Evans (director) and Valerie Olney.

SIDELIGHTS: Writer and pathologist F. Gonzalez-Crussi established himself as a noteworthy author with the publication of three nontechnical essay collections. Described as "witty" and "well-read" by Brett Singer in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Gonzalez-Crussi colors his informal writings with the insight he has gained from three decades of practicing medicine. Critics credit him with renewing the essay as a viable literary form in the twentieth century and liken his style to that of classic writers, such as Herman Melville, Michel Eyquem Montaigne, and Charles Lamb.

Gonzalez-Crussi's first collection of essays, titled Notes of an Anatomist, deals with a vast array of subjects from a pathologist's perspective, including corpses, ancient embalming techniques, the phenomenon of multiple births, bodily appendages, and natural monstrosities. Many critics considered the volume to be a rich and thought-provoking first effort that artfully blends the author's personal experience and wry humor with mythic and literary references. Gonzalez-Crussi spices his essays with historical asides. His use of allusions, ranging from the mention of sixteenth-century French king Henry IV's venereal diseases and Spanish painter El Greco's astigmatism to the style of a Federico Fellini film, prompted critic Dennis Drabelle to call him a "skilled wielder of literary references" in a review for the Washington Post.

John Gross, writing for the New York Times, suggested that Notes of an Anatomist "could also have been titled 'A Pathologist's Apology'," as it attempts to purge doctors who perform autopsies of their presumed callousness. Gonzalez-Crussi asserts the nobility of pathologists in "The Dead as a Living," an essay from the volume. Physicians who search for the cause of their patients' deaths, explains the author, are unequaled in their "interest in the dead as dead persons, rather than abstractions." The doctor went on to argue that pathologists regard a corpse as a unique repository of clues capable of disclosing the cause of an individual human being's death. Ironically, however, the highly personal postmortem examination also reveals man's sameness in what Gonzalez-Crussi calls "a most brutal way," noted Edward Schneidman in a review in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. The author reminds us, wrote Bruce Hepburn in an article for New Statesman, of the disturbing but undeniable fact that "decomposition of one sort or other is our universal fate and that it is salutary for us all to keep our latter end in mind."

Critics applauded Gonzalez-Crussi's literary debut for both its form and content. D.J. Enright wrote in the New York Times Book Review that the essays "mix fact with speculation and gravity with humor, are rich in apposite and astounding anecdote and are elegant in expression." Schneidman echoed Enright's praise and expressed the consensus of the critics when he called the essays the "marvelously original and provocative" products of a "gifted" writer. Notes of an Anatomist earned Gonzalez-Crussi the Best Nonfiction Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1985.

The author's follow-up volume of essays, Three Forms of Sudden Death and Other Reflections on the Grandeur and Misery of the Body, centers on issues of aging and death. Allan J. Tobin, commenting on the doctor's treatment of a seemingly somber topic, wrote in the Los Angeles Times Book Review: "Gonzalez-Crussi deals less with the gloom of death than with the joy of life, especially of a life devoted to inquiry." Tobin suggested that just as the doctor examines physiological abnormalities in an effort to better understand normal life processes, he writes his essays in an attempt to explore timeless human mysteries: "There are only two themes worth writing … about," Tobin quoted Gonzalez-Crussi as stating: "love and death, eros and thanatos."

The title Three Forms of Sudden Death refers to death by lightning, asphyxiation, and unknown causes, topics Gonzalez-Crussi discusses in the book along with thoughts on cannibalism, the female breast, and human emotions. Gonzalez-Crussi's third publication, On the Nature of Things Erotic, marks a departure from the scientifically inspired writings that dominate the author's earlier collections. The essays deal with love, desire, and seduction, achieving "something that it is not too much to call wisdom," stated John Gross in the New York Times. Some reviewers expressed a desire for the author to offer his own theories on the subjects he addresses, rather than compile the thoughts of others, but most enjoyed his accounts of ancient Greek love diagnoses, medieval Chinese seduction, and the classical view of homosexuality as a sign of high culture.

On Being Born and Other Difficulties is a "learned and graceful meditation on the question 'where do we come from?,'" commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Beginning with the ancient Pythagoreans, Gonzalez-Crussi traces the evolution of how humans think about the origins of life and the mysteries of how single cells flourish into independent thinking human beings. He delves into evolutionary history and the development of philosophical, cultural, and social thought on the meaning and making of life. He looks at old myths and misconceptions, such as the idea of "maternal impression," in which it was thought, for example, that a pregnant woman frightened by a particular type of animal would give birth to a child with characteristics of that animal. He looks at some inherently misogynistic ideas that have accompanied pregnancy and childbirth, and at the magical powers allegedly invested in the caul, or membrane that sometimes covers an infant's face at birth. He discusses midwives and his opinion that they should be treated with more respect; he tells the story of eighteenth-century Italian professor Lazzaro Spallanzani, who fitted frogs with contraceptive garments; and he explores the wondrous technology of in-vitro fertilization, fertility enhancement, and other medical advances that are gradually revealing the mysteries of conception, gestation, birth, and the very foundation of life. Gonzalez-Crussi addresses large questions that seek to illuminate the most expansive, but at the same time most intensely personal questions of all: what is the meaning of life, and where does life come from? The "charm of the book is precisely its wonder" noted Daniel Swift in the New York Times Book Review. Booklist reviewer Ray Olson called the book "another lusciously slowreading gift from an author without peer in our time."

On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene offers an "astute series of essays on human mortality and the function of art, this time concerning the sense of sight," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Gonzalez-Crussi explores different ways and reasons for seeing. He ponders the nineteenth-century Parisian desire to see the human body inside and out by viewing cadavers on display at the morgue. In this way, the onlookers could confront their own mortality in terms of the very real representation of death laid out before them. He discusses seeing for the sake of the prurient, represented in mythology by Actaeon spying on the goddess Diana. He explains the science and physics of sight, and meditates on the detached but careful observation that meets the clinician's eye. He notes how sight can often be prejudicial and opinionated, how mirrors present three distinct types of seeing, and how sight can serve the purposes of chaos and anarchy or peace and tranquility. Constantly confronting us as humans, Gonzalez-Crussi observes, is our desire to see that which is forbidden, despite the effort to do so, and the consequences that might result. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book a "captivating set of philosophical meditations on the relationship between the viewer and the viewed." Olson, in another Booklist review, commented that On Seeing provides "the kind of deep, slow, cultivated reading pleasure that pretty much only [Gonzalez-Crussi] affords."

As Gonzalez-Crussi attained both critical and popular success as a writer, he continued to work as a practicing pathologist and a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, a position from which he is retired. As an author, he is the practitioner of a long-ignored art, "a true essayist," wrote Gross in an article for the New York Times. By following the paths of his imagination, Gonzalez-Crussi has touched upon what critics consider to be universal themes in essays of universal appeal.

Gonzalez-Crussi once explained of his work: "In my books, I have attempted to join science and the humanities. I would like to produce works of literature inspired on medical and biological subjects—not scientific divulgation. Notes of an Anatomist originated from a desire to reflect on the personal experience of a pathologist. Three Forms of Sudden Death attempts to be a personal statement of perplexity at the limitations and strengths of the human body."



Gonzalez-Crussi, F., Notes of an Anatomist, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1985.


Booklist, May 15, 2004, Ray Olson, review of On Being Born and Other Difficulties, p. 1586; January 1, 2006, Ray Olson, review of On Seeing: Things Seen, Unseen, and Obscene, p. 40.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005, review of On Seeing, p. 1310.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 7, 1985, Edward Schneidman, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. 5; December 7, 1986, Allan J. Tobin, review of Three Forms of Sudden Death and Other Reflections on the Grandeur and Misery of the Body, p. 17; March 27, 1988, Brett Singer, review of On the Nature of Things Erotic, p. 6.

New Statesman, April 11, 1986, Bruce Hepburn, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. 24.

New York Times, May 14, 1985, John Gross, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. C14; April 15, 1988, John Gross, review of On the Nature of Things Erotic, p. C36.

New York Times Book Review, July 7, 1985, D.J. Enright, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. 9; April 9, 1989, Anna Fels, review of The Five Senses, p. 35; November 12, 1995, John Banville, review of Suspended Animation: Six Essays on the Preservation of Bodily Parts, p. 8; July 11, 2004, Daniel Swift, review of On Being Born and Other Difficulties, p. 20.

Observer (London, England), April 13, 1986, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, May 24, 2004, review of On Being Born and Other Difficulties, p. 55; December 19, 2005, review of On Seeing, p. 54.

Washington Post, July 5, 1985, Dennis Drabelle, review of Notes of an Anatomist, p. B2.

Washington Post Book World, April 9, 1989, review of The Five Senses, p. 10.


Project Syndicate Web site, http://www.project-syndicate.com/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Frank Gonzalez-Crussi.

Writers' Representatives, LLC Web site, http://www.writersreps.com/ (March 25, 2006), biography of Frank Gonzalez-Crussi.

About this article

Gonzalez-Crussi, F. 1936–

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article