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15 Writers Who Were Also Medical Doctors

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Doctors are notorious for their illegible writing (ask any pharmacist), but these medicos gained more fame for their readable writing than for their skill with a scalpel.

1. ANTON CHEKHOV (1860–1904)

In the midst of his acclaim as a playwright and master of the modern short story, Chekhov—whose works include The Seagull and Uncle Vanya—continued to practice medicine sporadically.

2. MIKHAIL BULGAKOV (1891–1940)

Bulgakov is best known for his posthumously published novel, The Master and Margarita, a critique of the corruption and paranoia of Soviet society. A nearly fatal case of typhus contracted while serving as an army physician in the northern Caucasus persuaded him to switch from doctoring to writing.

3. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (1859–1930)

While studying medicine in Edinburgh, Doyle served as a clerk to Joseph Bell, a pioneer of forensic science famed for his ability to deduce a stranger’s occupation and recent activities by close observation. Does that ring a bell? Yes, Dr. Bell was the primary inspiration for Doyle’s fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes.

4. OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, SR. (1809–1894)

Holmes, father of a Supreme Court justice (and potentially the inspiration for Sherlock’s last name) was a very popular poet in the 19th century and one of the founders of The Atlantic Monthly. As a medical practitioner and professor at Dartmouth Medical School and Dean of Harvard Medical School, he campaigned for improved hygiene and railed against quackery like homeopathy.

5. ROBIN COOK (1940- )

Cook practiced ophthalmology for decades after his medical thrillers with one-word titles—including Coma, Outbreak, and Fever—found a guaranteed spot on the bestseller lists and were sought after for movie and TV adaptations. Coma was made into a film (directed by none other than Michael Crichton) in 1978 and adapted as a TV mini-series in 2012.

6. MICHAEL CRICHTON (1942–2008)

The author of techno-thrillers including Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain began publishing fiction while at Harvard Medical School. Unlike Dr. Cook, when Dr. Crichton completed his degree, he ditched medicine in favor of his early love: writing.

7. WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS (1883–1963)

Williams, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, may be best known for his brief poem, “This is Just to Say.” Despite his many literary pursuits, he had a long career in medicine, serving as chief of pediatrics at a Passaic, New Jersey, hospital from 1924 until his death.

8. KHALED HOSSEINI (1965 - )

This Afghanistan-born author was a practicing internist until sales of his first novel, The Kite Runner, flew sky high.

9. W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM (1874–1965)

Though he had qualified as a doctor, the success of his first novel, written while he was in medical school, led Maugham to jettison the medical profession in favor of literature. Despite scathing early reviews, Maugham’s 1915 novel Of Human Bondage has never gone out of print.

10. WALKER PERCY (1916–1990)

After completing his medical degree at Columbia University, Walker contracted tuberculosis. Reading existentialist philosophy during his convalescence, he decided to devote himself to writing. His best-known work, the National Book Award-winning novel The Moviegoer, reflects his philosophical interest.

11. FRANÇOIS RABELAIS (C. 1483–1553)

The French satirist, whose raunchy humor made “Rabelaisian” synonymous with earthy or bawdy, came by his knowledge of bodily functions honestly. He had been a friar in west-central France, but, restrained from scientific study in the monastery, left to study medicine and later set up practice in Lyon, an intellectual center of the time.

12. NAWAL EL SAADAWI (1931 - )

This Egyptian feminist activist, physician, and psychiatrist has written many works of fiction since the publication of her first novel, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor, in 1958.

13. FRIEDRICH SCHILLER (1759–1805)

Schiller served as an army surgeon before achieving fame for plays that were revolutionary in form and social criticism. Schubert, Brahms, and Beethoven each set poetry by Schiller to music. In Beethoven’s case, it was the “Ode to Joy” in his Ninth Symphony.

14. ARTHUR SCHNITZLER (1862–1931)

Schnitzler, whose psychological dramas reveal the lust and world-weariness of Viennese society as the 19th century turned into the 20th, practiced medicine, with an emphasis on psychiatry, most of his life. Stanley Kubrick's film Eyes Wide Shut and La Ronde by Max Ophüls were based on works by Schnitzler.

15. ABRAHAM VERGHESE (1955 - )

Verghese, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, continues to write essays since the publication of two memoirs and the bestselling novel, Cutting for Stone.

BONUS: WRITERS WHO STUDIED MEDICINE BUT DIDN'T GET MEDICAL DEGREES

OLIVER GOLDSMITH (1728–1774) 
The author of the novel The Vicar of Wakefield and the play She Stoops to Conquer tried his hand at various trades and spent a few years studying medicine in Edinburgh.

JOHN KEATS (1795—1821)
Although Keats never wrote “Ode on a Test Tube,” he studied medicine at a London hospital as an apprentice to an apothecary-surgeon and became a licensed apothecary. But poetry was his drug of choice.

GERTRUDE STEIN (1874—1946)
Pressed by her mentor, William James, Stein entered Johns Hopkins Medical School, but grew bored and dropped out in her fourth year.

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A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
SP Books

The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

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An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]

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