Nuland, Sherwin B. 1930-

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Nuland, Sherwin B. 1930-


Born December 8, 1930, in New York, NY; son of Meyer and Vitsche Nuland; married Sarah Peterson (an actress), May 29, 1977; children: Victoria Jane, Andrew Meyer, William Peterson, Amelia Rose. Education: New York University, B.A., 1951; Yale University, M.D., 1955. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis.


Home—Hamden, CT. Agent—Writers' Representatives LLC, Glen Hartley, 116 W. 14th St., New York, NY 10011.


Surgeon and author. Yale-New Haven Hospital, New Haven, CT, surgeon, 1962-91; Yale University School of Medicine, clinical professor of surgery, 1962—. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, chairman of board of managers.


New England Surgical Society, Associates of Yale Medical School Library, Yale-China Association.


National Book Award (nonfiction), 1994, for How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter; Pulitzer Prize and Critics Circle award finalist, 1995, for How We Die; American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow; finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 2001; received two honorary degrees.


Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, Knopf (New York, NY), 1988.

Medicine: The Art of Healing, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates (Southport, CT), 1992.

(With Matthew Naythons and others) The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War, Random House (New York, NY), 1994.

How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

The Wisdom of the Body, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997, published as How We Live, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Leonardo da Vinci (biography), Viking (New York, NY), 2000.

The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.

Lost in America: A Journey with My Father, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.

The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis ("Great Discoveries" series), W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2003.

Monument and Memory: September 27, 2002, the Columbia Seminar on Art in Society, Columbia University Department of Art History and Archaeology (New York, NY), 2003.

Maimonides, Schocken (New York, NY), 2005.

The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being, Random House (New York, NY), 2007.

The Uncertain Art: Thoughts on a Life in Medicine, Random House (New York, NY), 2008.

Author of forewords to Romance, Poetry, and Surgical Sleep: Literature Influences Medicine, by E.M. Papper, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1995; Surviving the Fall: The Personal Journey of an AIDS Doctor, by Peter A. Selwyn, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1998; Parenthood Lost: Healing the Pain after Miscarriage, Stillbirth, and Infant Death, by Michael R. Berman, Bergin and Garvey (Westport, CT), 2001; and Jewish Insights on Death and Mourning, edited by Jack Riemer, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2002. Author of introduction to The Collected Short Stories of William Carlos Williams, New Directions (New York, NY), 1996. Contributor to Incredible Voyage, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 1998.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review, New Republic, Time, American Scholar, Forbes, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Medical Economics, and Discover. Columnist for American Scholar; literary editor for Connecticut Medicine.


National Book Award winner Sherwin B. Nuland had already enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a surgeon at Yale-New Haven Hospital when he began an equally distinguished career as a writer of books with medical themes. Medical professionals, critics, and lay readers alike appreciate the skill with which Nuland explains the intricacies of physiology and medical procedures, as well as the sensitivity and honesty with which he confronts personal and ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine.

Nuland began his literary career with Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, a collection of linked biographies focusing on pioneers of Western medicine. Beryl Lieff Benderly commented in the Washington Post Book World that the author's medical expertise and knowledge of history "equip him admirably to explore the intimate connection between thought and therapy." Robert V. Bruce, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, also praised the book for its insights and scope. Bruce felt that a book so "eloquent, informed, [and] deeply committed" is a welcome supplement to conventional historical works.

New York Times contributor John Gross found Doctors slightly "old-fashioned" but nevertheless a successful work. Gross noted the limitations of Nuland's biographical approach, arguing that "twentieth-century medicine is too complex … to be reduced to a chronicle of highlights and heroic achievements," but recommended Doctors as a book that "bring[s] its subjects vividly to life."

In Medicine: The Art of Healing, Nuland presents the stories of some of the major developments in Western medicine, again focusing on biographical narratives but in a much more concise format and with forty-eight color reproductions as illustrations. James P. Morgan commended the book in the Journal of the American Medical Association as a beautifully illustrated, engaging, and provocative volume. The book, wrote Morgan, "conveys the most comprehensive and succinct view of the profession and practitioners of medicine I have yet seen."

Though these first books received positive reviews, it was Nuland's unflinching description of what happens to the human body when it dies that catapulted him to literary fame. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter was written after the death from cancer of Nuland's sixty-two-year-old older brother Harvey, for whom the author had recommended a painful and futile course of chemotherapy that ended up intensifying Harvey's suffering instead of curing him. The book describes in stark detail how each of the major killers (cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, trauma, heart disease, and lung collapse) affects the body, and incorporates the clinical details of cases that involve Nuland's own patients and family members.

Despite the book's bleak message—that there is no hope for a "good death," since pain, lack of control, and humiliation are inevitable as humans die—it received rave reviews throughout the country. John Elson, in Time, praised How We Die for its eloquence, sensitivity, and passion. Elson admired Nuland's "meticulously exact and wondrously evocative" prose, noting his description of the activity of cancer cells. Elson also commended Nuland's insights on ethical issues that technological advances have created in the treatment of dying patients. In the Washington Post Book World, F. Gonzalez-Crussi expressed similar enthusiasm, praising Nuland's "picturesque, unpretentious prose, and his refreshing style." Also affected by Nuland's insights about the increased depersonalization that occurs when dying patients are hospitalized, Gonzalez-Crussi concluded that "we feel prompted to pray that Nuland … be present at our deathbed to counteract the excessive technological zeal of the ‘high-tech doctors.’" In the New York Times Book Review, William F. Buckley, Jr., expressed admiration for Nuland's informed and sensitive descriptions, in particular the account of how Nuland, as a teenager, helped to care at home for his dying grandmother. "We are in the hands of a remarkable portraitist," Buckley wrote.

Following the success of How We Die, Nuland wrote a book about how the human body lives. Originally titled The Wisdom of the Body, the book was retitled How We Live by Nuland when it was reissued as a paperback. That title refers both to the book's subject and to its parallel relationship with How We Die. "What [Nuland] lectures about can be wonderful," observed Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times, "and his love of words is instructive." Gonzalez-Crussi, in the New York Times Book Review, admired Nuland's ability to make readers care about his characters, saying that he "has the ability to couch his material in forceful and terse prose." Los Angeles Times Book Review contributor Hillel Schwartz took issue with Nuland's emphasis on the body as a perfect system and faulted Nuland for a perceived bias in favor of the medical establishment. Though Schwartz found Nuland's prose sometimes thrilling, he criticized the author for depicting the world of medicine as essentially male.

In addition to his own books, Nuland, who retired from clinical practice in 1991 but continued teaching medical history and bioethics at Yale Medical School, has also contributed to collaborative efforts. He coauthored, with fellow physician Matthew Naythons and others, The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War, a well-received book on how combat injuries influenced new developments in medicine. The book was deemed "a visually and verbally compelling view of the underside of war" by John S. Haller, Jr., in the Journal of American History.

Nuland also contributed forewords and introductions to a number of books by others, including The Collected Short Stories of William Carlos Williams, for which Nuland wrote the introduction. Williams, one of the major American poets of the twentieth century, was also a pediatrician. In a 1997 interview for U.S. News and World Report, Nuland told Nancy Shute why he finds poetry interesting. He explained that the body's physiological order and harmony, for which he learned a profound appreciation during his clinical practice, influences emotional well-being and even suggests a biological need to create poetry.

Leonardo da Vinci is Nuland's study of the life of the man who, although not formally educated, became an architect, artist, engineer, mathematician, and planner. Since his death in 1519, some five thousand pages of his notes and drawings have scattered around the world, and over the last two centuries, scholars have been seeking them out in order to prove da Vinci's genius. Some critics, however, consider him an underachiever, for although he was talented, many of his projects were either not completed or completed poorly. Nuland is among those who view da Vinci as a genius.

In The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Reflects on Medical Myths, Nuland studies how the human internal organs, including the stomach, heart, liver, spleen, and uterus, were perceived in different eras. His next book, Lost in America: A Journey with My Father, is a memoir in which Nuland describes a tortured childhood and the failures of his father, Meyer Nudelman, and how they impacted his sons' lives. Nuland begins by describing how, while a resident at Yale, he suffered from a depression so severe, that but for the objection of one psychiatrist, he would have undergone a lobotomy. "Nuland's memoir is both heartbreaking and breathtaking," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.

Meyer was an uneducated immigrant who worked in the garment district. He was physically disabled and suffered all his life from syphilis, a discovery Nuland made when he entered medicine and began to study his father's symptoms. Meyer's temper made their home, where his grandmother and mother's unmarried sister also lived, tense and volatile. Nuland's mother, Vitsche, died when he was eleven, and Nuland's father required his assistance in walking and climbing stairs. Nuland, like his brother, changed his name from Nudelman and escaped his father's rages, emotional neediness, and the poverty of their household.

It is in Lost in America that Nuland first makes mention in his writings of his father, a man he once wished dead and then could not release when he did die. Morris Dickstein wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Nuland is masterly at holding to the vulnerable son's point of view." Dickstein concluded by writing that Lost in America "may well be a great book, full of feelings and memories that ring true."

The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis is regarded as a fascinating history of nineteenth-century medicine. In 1847, one of every six women who delivered a baby in the First Division at the Allgemeine Krankenhaus Hospital in Vienna, Austria, died of childbed or puerperal fever, as they did in other European hospitals. Although hospital deliveries were becoming more common over home deliveries, the death rate was horrendous. Ignac Semmelweis was a Hungarian doctor who was working in obstetrics because his first and second choices were rejected. Semmelweis observed that doctors were going from dissecting gangrenous cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands, and particles from dead bodies were transferred to the mothers, infecting them. It was the "doctors' fever" because they were creating it.

For fifteen years Semmelweis insisted that every doctor and medical student wash in a chloride solution before approaching a female patient, but his warnings went unheeded. If he had used a microscope in examining the particles, he probably could have convinced his colleagues of his claims, but he never really thought it through. He was refused a reappointment and fled to Budapest, where he was committed to a mental institution, probably suffering from Alzheimer's disease, and beaten to death by hospital personnel. Unfortunately, Semmelweis failed to properly record his theories, or write of them in medical journals, except for one confusing treatise in 1861 which was ignored. It wasn't until later that Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister documented the existence and dangers of germs, validating Semmelweis's claims.

Booklist's Ray Olson wrote that The Doctors' Plague "is one of the greatest stories in medical history." Library Journal's Kathleen Arsenault called Nuland "a distinguished biographer for Semmelweis." Siddhartha Mukherjee reviewed the book in the New York Times Book Review, writing that "it carries, within itself, an important and humbling idea." He noted contemporary "doctors' plagues," beginning with the drug Thalidomide, prescribed to pregnant women in the early 1960s, which resulted in deformed babies, and the SARS infection (an acronym for severe acute respiratory syndrome) that was carried by doctors. Mukherjee further noted that the million-woman study that uncovered the troubling side effects of hormone replacement therapy "marked a moment of deep introspection in women's health." Mukherjee called Nuland's study "intense and single-minded."

In 2005 Nuland published Maimonides, a biography of the twelfth-century Jewish physician and philosopher Moses Maimonides. The author focuses primarily on the books and medical papers Maimonides wrote as well as on the physician's travels. Rather than delivering an in-depth look into Maimonides' life, Nuland provides a succinct overview of what made this man important to the history of medicine. For readers who seek a more developed understanding of a particular area of Maimonides' life, the author includes a section at the end of the book on biographical notes. Overall, critics responded positively to Maimonides, citing the book's approachable size and scope along with its thoughtful prose. Nuland gives readers a "little gem of intellectual biography," wrote Booklist contributor Ray Olson. Maimonides is a "short, accessible work," noted Eric D. Albright in a review for Library Journal.

Two years later, in 2007, Nuland published his next book, The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being. Conducting an informal survey of older Americans, the author addresses the subject of aging and how disease affects us later in life. Nuland prescribes three ways to ensure a happier and healthier experience as an older adult: maintaining creativity, staying active physically, and establishing rewarding personal relationships with others. In one chapter, Nuland profiles physician Michael DeBakey, who remains active at age 98. In another chapter, Aubrey de Grey is profiled. Many critics and readers lauded Nuland's book, specifically the author's care at crafting the work. The Art of Aging is a "literate, thoughtful book," stated Library Journal contributor Karen McNally. Others appreciated Nuland's sincerity and solid recommendations about growing old gracefully. His "advice on aging is sound and unfaddish," wrote Olson in another Booklist review.

Nuland once told CA: "My interest in writing originates in my fascination with the English language, which has always been an enchantment to me, growing up as I did in an immigrant home where it was spoken badly when at all. In retrospect, I realize that I've been a writer all my life, though I never published a book for the general reader until I was fifty-seven years old. Since then, it appears that I can't stop.

"‘Process’ is far too dignified (or perhaps pretentious) a word for what I do. Having decided the general drift of what I hope to achieve, I simply sit down and write it with a 2.5 Eberhard Faber pencil, without plan or outline. I let it come out as it wants to—sentence by sentence and page by page—relying on a lifetime of impressions that seem to have been gestating in my unconscious mind during all that time. I'm usually surprised by what appears on the page, and often learn a great deal about myself by reading it. Later, I transcribe it onto the computer, which serves as the revision.

"I have no favorite book, just as I have no favorite among my four children, nor can I imagine such a thing. My hope is that my books will be remembered as much for their sound and their sense of language as they are for their content."



Nuland, Sherwin B., How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.

Nuland, Sherwin B., Lost in America: A Journey with My Father, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.


Booklist, November 15, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Lost in America: A Journey with My Father, p. 546; September 15, 2003, Ray Olson, review of The Doctors' Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever, and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis, p. 191; October 1, 2005, Ray Olson, review of Maimonides, p. 28; February 1, 2007, Ray Olson, review of The Art of Aging: A Doctor's Prescription for Well-Being, p. 4.

California Bookwatch, October, 2006, review of Maimonides.

Commentary, October, 2005, Jon D. Levenson, "Profiles in Judaism," p. 65.

Discover, December, 2005, Josie Glausiusz, review of Maimonides, p. 76.

First Things, April, 2006, David Novak, review of Maimonides, p. 49.

Journal of American History, March, 1995, John S. Haller, Jr., review of The Face of Mercy: A Photographic History of Medicine at War, p. 1665.

Journal of the American Medical Association, June 16, 1993, James P. Morgan, review of Medicine: The Art of Healing, p. 3042.

Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2002, review of Lost in America, p. 1597; September 1, 2003, review of The Doctors' Plague, p. 1115; July 1, 2005, review of Maimonides, p. 723.

Lancet, April 17, 2004, Didier Pittet, review of The Doctors' Plague, p. 1331.

Library Journal, October 1, 2003, Kathleen Arsenault, review of The Doctors' Plague, p. 108; August 1, 2005, Eric D. Albright, review of Maimonides, p. 111; March 15, 2007, Karen McNally, review of The Art of Aging, p. 87.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 29, 1988, Robert V. Bruce, review of Doctors: The Biography of Medicine, p. 6; May 25, 1997, Hillel Schwartz, review of How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, p. 9.

New York Times, June 14, 1988, John Gross, review of Doctors, p. 22; January 31, 1994, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of How We Die, p. B2; April 28, 1997, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Wisdom of the Body, p. 6; March 25, 2003, Richard Eder, review of Lost in America, p. E10.

New York Times Book Review, January 30, 1994, William F. Buckley, Jr., review of How We Die, p. 11; May 25, 1997, F. Gonzalez-Crussi, review of The Wisdom of the Body, p. 15; November 26, 2000, David Papineau, review of Leonardo da Vinci, p. 18; February 9, 2003, Morris Dickstein, review of Lost in America, p. 10; January 4, 2004, Siddhartha Mukherjee, review of The Doctors' Plague, p. 22; January 22, 2006, Anthony Julius, review of Maimonides, p. 7; March 4, 2007, Joseph Epstein, review of The Art of Aging, p. 9.

Philadelphia Inquirer, December 14, 2005, Carlin Romano, review of Maimonides.

Publishers Weekly, December 16, 2002, review of Lost in America, p. 59; September 1, 2003, review of The Doctors' Plague, p. 72; February 28, 2005, John F. Baker, "Nuland on How to Grow Old," p. 14; July 25, 2005, review of Maimonides, p. 72; January 29, 2007, review of The Art of Aging, p. 56.

Shofar, winter, 2007, Marc B. Shapiro, review of Maimonides, p. 183.

Time, February 21, 1994, John Elson, review of How We Die, p. 68.

Times Literary Supplement, May 27, 1994, Liam Hudson, review of How We Die, p. 7; January 30, 1998, A.M. Daniels, review of The Wisdom of the Body, p. 36.

U.S. News & World Report, June 30, 1997, Nancy Shute, "From Death to Life," p. 65.

Washington Post Book World, June 19, 1988, Beryl Lieff Benderly, review of Doctors, p. 6; February 27, 1994, F. Gonzalez-Crussi, review of How We Die, p. 1.

Weekly Standard (Washington, DC), December 12, 2005, review of Maimonides.


BookPage, (May 19, 2004), Edward Morris, "Finding the Father Inside."

Identity Theory, (March 9, 2003), Robert Birnbaum, interview with Sherwin B. Nuland.

Teaching Company Web site, (December 12, 2007), biographical information on Sherwin B. Nuland.