Praise for Shakespeare’s Tremor and Orwell’s Cough

“Dr. Ross hits his narrative stride… in chapter after chapter. The stories of the wounded storytellers unfold smoothly on the page, as mesmerizing as any they themselves might have told, those squinting, wheezing, arthritic, infected, demented, defective yet superlative examples of the human condition.” ―The New York Times

“A rollicking good story.” ―The Washington Post

“[This] engrossing account of the illnesses endured by Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, the Brontes, Hawthorne, Melville, Yeats, Jack London, Joyce and Orwell…which deftly mixes close reading and diagnostic acumen, will stay with me for a long time. I have scarcely touched on the richness of this witty and deeply humane book. It would be worth reading for the extraordinary tale of the pathologically shy Hawthorne…Dr. Ross avoids the common mistake of overconfidence in his retrospective diagnoses, aware that nothing fits so neatly as a wrong diagnosis. And he avoids the reductive temptation of explaining the genius of his writers by pathologies that are, after all, suffered also by the untalented. Though some of his stories are familiar, they have never, in my experience, been told so well. Given that many of Dr. Ross’s subjects were suffering from infectious diseases, it helps that this is his area of expertise. But he is also a penetrating literary critic and a perceptive and humane observer of the lives of writers and of those in their orbit. His light touch with cultural, social and political history is something from which many of the professionals in literary studies could learn. This is a book to which I shall return again and again.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Carefully looking at distinguished authors from a medical perspective, Ross blends biography, history, literature, science,and imagination in just the right doses.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“Lively, probing.” ―The Washington Times

“Especially recommended for readers who enjoy historical context with their great books.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“This lively, occasionally squirm-inducing book sketches the case histories of 10 writers whose health influenced their literary work…Into a satisfying series of medical mysteries [Ross] injects notes of wry humor and obvious affection.” ―The Boston Globe

“…a fascinating, surprising,and at times hilarious compliation.” ―New Scientist

“Most writers aren’t doctors. And most doctors aren’t writers. When the two talents coincide, readers are treated to rare wisdom and novel insights. John Ross skillfully walks us through a clinic of the famous unwell.” ―Nassir Ghaemi, author of A First-Rate Madness and Professor of Psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine

“We always long to know writers better: more than just their words, we want to immerse ourselves in their lives, to really feel what they felt. This book does that, plunging you in the day-to-day pains and struggles of some of the most celebrated names in the canon.” ―Sam Kean, author of The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinists’ Thumb

“If this irresistibly entertaining collection of medical biographies is anything to go by, its author would make a crackerjack after-dinner speaker.Each section consists of a whirlwind tour through the life of a famous literary figure from a doctor’s perspective, some of it imagined, and all of it punctuated by witty and fun-loving asides…what sets Ross apart is his pure storytelling ability.Using a fluid and unpretentious style, much like fellow physician and writer Atul Gawande’s, he excels at condensing massive amounts of research into pleasurable reading.” ―Winnipeg Free Press

“The book is rather like a gripping medical detective book as Ross works out what was wrong with a collection of literary greats.” ―The Daily Telegraph

“Ross has nicely merged biographical data for each author with insightful discussions of his proposed medical diagnoses, and how their symptoms and treatments might have affected their work. While those in the medical community will find this book of interest, it is wonderfully engaging, often witty and quite intriguing to those of us outside of it, too.” ―Shelf Awareness


Canadian in Boston, hospital medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, contributing editor at Harvard Health Publications, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.