MBL Falmouth Forum Presentation: The Essence of Good Medicine: from “The House of God” to “Bill W. and Dr. Bob”

Samuel Shem


Friday, December 6, 2013 at 7:30 PM, Lillie Auditorium


Samuel Shem, pen-name of Stephen Bergman, is a doctor, novelist, playwright and activist.


What is “good medicine” today?  Dr. Samuel Shem, author of the “classic medical novel” THE HOUSE OF GOD that has sold three million copies worldwide, and co-author with his wife Dr. Janet Surrey of the award-winning Off Broadway hit play BILL W.AND DR. BOB, about the relationship between the two men that founded Alcoholics Anonymous, will use these works to describe what, in our 21st century culture, is “inhuman” medical care, and what is “human”:  the danger of isolation, and the healing power of mutual connection.

Shem has been described in the press as “Easily the finest and most important writer ever to focus on the lives of doctors and the world of medicine”, and “He brings mercy to the practice of medicine.” The Lancet called THE HOUSE OF GOD: “One of the two most significant medical novels of the 20th century”. Its sequel, MOUNT MISERY, is about training to be a psychiatrist; and FINE, about a psychoanalyst.

His 2008 novel, THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE, about a primary care doctor in a small town, was reviewed as “The perfect bookend to THE HOUSE OF GOD”. It won the “National Best Book Award 2008 in General Fiction and Literature” from USA Book News, and the “Independent Publishers National Book Award in Literary Fiction 2009.”

With his wife Janet Surrey he wrote the Off Broadway hit play BILL W. AND DR. BOB, about the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, which won the “Performing Arts Award of the National Council on Alcoholism 2007”. It returned to Off Broadway in July 2013. Website: www.billwanddrbob.com

Also with Surrey, the nonfiction book: WE HAVE TO TALK: HEALING DIALOGUES BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN, winner of the Boston Interfaith Council’s Paradigm Shift Award, 1999.

A graduate of Harvard Phil Beta Kappa, a Rhodes scholar at Balliol College Oxford, and a graduate of Harvard Medical School, Shem was on the faculty of Harvard for three decades.

He has written an article on “Fiction as Resistance” (Annals of Internal Medicine), given over fifty commencement speeches on “How to Stay Human in Medicine,” including Harvard Medical School in 2009, and lives in Boston and Costa Rica.

Website: www.samuelshem.com