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A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  590 ratings  ·  77 reviews
In this quietly revolutionary work of social observation and medical philosophy, Booker Prize-winning writer John Berger and the photographer Jean Mohr train their gaze on an English country doctor and find a universal man--one who has taken it upon himself to recognize his patient's humanity when illness and the fear of death have made them unrecognizable to themselves. I ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published March 25th 1997 by Vintage (first published 1967)
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Mar 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this. It is filled with Berger’s succinct, extraordinary observations. His ways of seeing are on full display here. The book begins with bucolic scenes, sedate renderings of an English village. Scenes of the doctor’s rounds, in one a tree has fallen on a man in an orchard. We follow the doctor as he arrives. He administers morphine, calms the crowd around him. (It is told in utmost poetic simplicity.) The people tell him of a story about a man, Sleepy Joe, whose was under a felled tree ...more
Years ago I was at a dinner party, one of the group being a quietly spoken woman who had largely stayed mute. Somebody happened to say that she had a good dentist. Suddenly this woman exploded. 'How do you know he's a good dentist', she practically spat the words out. It wasn't a question, it was an accusation. None of us really knew how to respond and I still don't, despite having considered it a lot. Not being a dentist, how could I possibly 'know'? Whereas she, it now transpired, was both a p ...more
Claire Fuller
I would have given five stars if this had been mostly about the photographs (which are superb), and I would have given five stars if this had been mostly about the case studies - both these elements were wonderful. I was also really interested in how Berger saw Sassall's relationship with his patients, how he felt he needed to imagine what it was like to be them, to almost become them, and also the essay on anguish and how it takes us back to childhood.

I understand that all books are a product
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended reading for all GPs and GP trainers and trainees. Not only a n honest insight into being a GP, John Berger's speculation about the philosophy of care and underlying motivations about work ethic deserve discussion.
Is Dr Sewell as a solo GP with a high degree of procedural as well as psychological medicine living and working in his practice community an anachronism or the doctor of the future he asks and prophetically speculates from 1967 that computers will one day make better diagno
Chanel Earl
Jan 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Chanel by: A great teacher
This little piece of non-fiction is stunning. It describes the life of a doctor in rural England and his interaction with his patients. It isn't very traditional. There are several short stories, or even flash-length pieces in there, and the whole book is illustrated with actual photos.

Philosophically, it discusses what it means to be a doctor and to share such intimate secrets with your patients, what it means to heal and what it means to belong to a community.

I think I want to rer
Stuart Aken
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
I came to this extraordinary piece of writing via an unusual route. The village hall hosted a short dramatic presentation by ‘New Perspectives’ introducing the book using visual aids, a soundtrack and the skills of two actors to explain how the book came into being. Although that drama was flawed, it was also moving, and it piqued my curiosity, so I ordered a copy of the book. I’m glad I did.
I read the work in a hotel room, during a thunder storm, while waiting to attend a family event.
Michael Perkins
Jun 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Originally I took up this book because I thought there might be some interesting parallels to the first half of my father's career as a small town doctor in New Hampshire. But I soon noticed that the book involved a good deal of philosophizing by the writer.

Background research revealed a lot of omissions from this story. One was the arbitrary exclusion of the doctor's family from the book by the author. But the doctor's wife ran his practice and was his chief emotional support.

Cat Pierro
Jan 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a wonderful little book and a genre I haven't yet seen. First published in 1967. A writer and a photographer shadowed the writer's friend, an exceptional doctor, as he made visits to patients in his small town in England. The first third consists of sketches of individual cases they witnessed, and the rest covers wide-ranging philosophical/psychological reflections on what these patients get from their doctor, what this doctor gets from his patients, and the effect of the class differenc ...more
Jul 29, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Of course, it's never an easy thing for a book to live up to the hype. Quite another thing, though, for the hype to be so very incomprehensible. Perhaps it's time: what's revealed a half century after its first publication is a compendium of trite cod philosophy, a model of practice that was outdated by the time it was set down on paper, and some nice photos.

In some ways, the irksome, even dangerous model of practice Berger evangelises is the least objectionable aspect. There's littl
May 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
I first read this for a sophomore seminar in 2003. Recently, I've made many "life" decisions and I decided to read the book again. It was completely worth it! Berger chronicles the work of Dr. Sassall in a remote English village. The book was written in the 1960s and is also a photo-essay with fantastic photography of the doctor, patients, community, and countryside. Berger starts off with simple vignettes but then gets quite philosophical, integrating the influence of Sassall's childhood and ed ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
even if the main stream of the book seems the life of a doctor in a rural area, his relationship with his patients and his role in that community, after reading the book the readers actually feel the sorrow of a man who tries to understand humans(as the given quote of Goethe) and suffers when he can not help them in some cases. beyond this, Berger asks some questions which are hard to answer(actually paradox) such as the worth of human life or the worth of the moment(by the side of children and ...more
Apr 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Anyone with an interest in medicine would benefit from the this book. It is a powerful discussion of the doctor's role in his or her community. John Berger is a writer particularly adept at both telling one man's story and teasing out some of its larger implications. The book is perhaps more relevant now then it was in the 60's when it was written. Medicine has taken an unfortunate turn away from doctors tending to their community in the intimate way detailed here.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A portrait in words and photographs of the life and practice of an English country doctor in the middle of the Twentieth Century. The book is at its best when describing the practice and presenting case studies. However, it becomes tedious when the essay descends into philosophical and speculative musings about the psychological underpinnings of the doctor’s practice, his motivations for undertaking it and his relationship with his patients.

It rates 2.5 stars.
Jeanie Blyth
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a gem, I loved the images particularly, the way they were within and contributing to not only the text, but the feel of that time. It was evocative of my grandparents era, of farming and medicine, of stoicism and of the humility of truly heroic humans.
Riccardo Cioni
Aug 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An amazing book, a must read for all medical students and doctors
Justin Paul
Oct 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-auto
Hard to categorise. Wise but clear. Will read more Berger.
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What I feel when I read Berger has to be love. It can't not be that. If people are understood and described by the language they use then I can't say I've encountered anyone whose language reveals the degree of careful, thoughtful introspection that his does. Whose language I feel eager to adopt and learn; to understand how Berger thought and be the kind of person who can't help but betray the extent of his sensitivity to people and the relations that exist between them.

This book is deceptive i
Ed Hatfield
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
To be clear before beginning writing about this book - the edition which I read was with the original text by John Berger and an accompanying set of photographs by Jean Mohr, which added greatly to my enjoyment and which I hope are present in the other published versions of the book.

This book has recently turned 50 years old. It tells a loose and unstructured biography of a rural doctor named John Sassall, who practised in England in the 'Forest', an unspecified community where he tr
Nov 19, 2017 rated it liked it
On page 125, close to the end of this rather long-ass essay, the author wonders "whether I begin to make myself clear." It's the sort of question that won't actually wait for an answer because the man is immediately again on his merry way. Of course this work may not be for general readers, but you may get the feeling that that's not because the author doesn't want it to be, but rather because he can't make it so. It starts off well. The subject is very interesting, the country doctor as a conce ...more
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-reread
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tracey Gemmell
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
I discovered this book on a list of books one should read before one dies. The blurb reminded me of the James Herriot books - the following of an English country doctor (instead of vet) as he completed his rural rounds. There are beautiful and evocative descriptions of the England of the 1960s. It includes a multitude of photos of patients and settings. However, there is no humour in this non-fiction and only a few recountings of various house - and field- calls. The book then evaluates the huma ...more
A startlingly humane portrait of a doctor practising medicine in rural England in the 1960s - the type of universalist country doctor (part priest, part magician, part healer) that doesn't exist anymore.

Berger writes intelligently and empathetically about what it is to heal, what makes a good doctor (as opposed to "talented" or "clever"), and how we evaluate the worth of a human life. Jean Mohr's observant, un-intrusive photographs are just as much a part of the essay as Berger's words are.
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This resonated with me on several different levels. It is interesting as simply a reflection on rural British life in the 1960’s, from the perspective of a country doctor. It has photographs (often visually poetic) to accompany the prose. But it is also a deeply philosophical essay about the relationship of a man to his work, to his fellow men, and to himself. I enjoyed it immensely, and would add that despite it having been written over 50 years ago, it remains highly relevant and engaging. ...more
Fred Ayres
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-reads
Incisive, somewhat errant, portrait of a physician practicing in the English countryside in the mid-1960s. Provides compelling answers to the questions, "How can one know if a doctor is "good"?", "What draws one to medicine?", and "How do doctors view themselves in the microcosm of their patients' lives and in the macrocosm of the human experience?"
Rhonda Eustice
Sep 15, 2019 rated it liked it
Great description of a rural, small town doctor’s practice. At times, however, it felt like the author was like a minister giving a sermon, making a profound description that he could said beautifully in 5 minutes and then droning on about it for another 30 minutes. Overall, a pretty good essay with themes that are still relevant 22 years after this book’s publication.
Amy Jane
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wouldn’t usually read a biography of someone I haven’t heard of, but as well as having been written by the great John Berger, this book was recommended by a philosophy professor whose literary opinion I valued a lot. Both gentle and profoundly written this book reveals the value in all human life; an idea often forgotten.
Gustaf Hultman
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Started with a few captivating cases and an introduction to the bleak countrysideand overworked lone doctor, then took a detour via the author's personal musings which I didn't find as rewarding.

However the afterward (added 30 years the first publication) suddenly cast the entire book in a different light and carried a depth that took me by surprise.
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
"It is generally thought that common-sense is practical. It is practical only in a short-term view. Common-sense declares that it is foolish to bite the hand that feeds you. But it is foolish only up to the moment when you realize that you might be fed very much better. In the long-term view common-sense is passive because it is based on the acceptance of an outdated view of the possible."
Jeremy Wells
Oct 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is as much a meditation on what it means to heal as it is a biography of a rural English doctor. It offers not many answers, but succinctly and eloquently poses many. The photos are spellbinding. I wanted to delve straight back in as soon as the last page had been turned.
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very special book. A subtle and clear reflection on what it means to be a doctor, to care and to treat illness, in modern Western society. The photographs - and the relation between photographs and text - are also remarkable; sparse and mysterious, but true.
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John Peter Berger was an English art critic, novelist, painter and author. His novel G. won the 1972 Booker Prize, and his essay on art criticism Ways of Seeing, written as an accompaniment to a BBC series, is often used as a college text.

Later he was self exiled to continental Europe, living between the french Alps in summer and the suburbs of Paris in winter. Since then, his production has in
“english autumn mornings are often like mornings nowhere else in the world.
The air is cold.
The floorboards are cold.
It is perhaps this coldness which sharpens the tang of the hot cup of tea. Outside, steps on the gravel crunch a little more loudly than a month ago because of the very slight frost”
“Like an artist, or like anybody else who believes that his work justifies his life, Sassall – by our society’s miserable standards – is a fortunate man.” 1 likes
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