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Samuel Shem Books In Order

Publication Order of House of God Books

The House of God (1978) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Man's 4th Best Hospital (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Fine (1985) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Mount Misery (1997) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Spirit of the Place (2012) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
At the Heart of the Universe (2016) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Plays

Bill W. and Dr. Bob (1990) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books

We Have to Talk (1998) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Buddha's Wife (2015) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Samuel Shem is the pseudonym of Stephen Joseph Bergman, the American psychiatrist turned bestselling author. Shem is best known for his novel “House of God,” which has become a must-read for medical students the world over. In addition to “House of God, “his other novels such as “Mount Misery” and “Man’s 4th Best Hospital” are fiction but almost realistic depictions of how doctors are trained in their residency. In 1966, Shem graduated from Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, having learned under notable cardiac physiologist Denis Noble FRS that would later go on to chair the Oxford Cardiac Electrophysiology Group. He then graduated from Harvard Medical School and Harvard College. His debut novel “House of God” was inspired by his experiences interning at “Beth Israel Hospital.” He currently teaches at the NYU Langone Medical Center of the New York University School of Medicine.

When Shem’s debut novel “The House of God,” was published it gained much critical acclaim for its satire and humor. The novel made The 10 Best Satires of All Time List at Publishers Weekly and Lance called it one of the two most important medical novels of the century. “Mount Misery” another of his novels focusing on psychiatric training was also lauded for its biting humor while “At The Heart of the Universe” was praised as a lovely transformative story on the nature of the home, and parenting. He also co-wrote an award-winning play with Janet Surrey titled “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” which told the story of the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous. Shem is an in-demand speaker that has spoken across the globe on the topic of staying human in medical practice. He has also given more than 60 commencement speeches to college graduates in the United States and Europe.

Before writing his debut novel “House of God,” Samuel Shem had never written a novel but given the experiences at the internship, he felt that he had to put some of it down. In fact, he has asserted in interviews that some of the things he had to go through were so horrible than what he put in the novel that after he graduated, he decided to write them down for catharsis. Six of the characters that are in the novel are based on people that did their residency at the same hospital as Shem in Boston. Most of the time they would get together for a few beers and Samuel would get a tape recorder. Once everyone was drunk they would talk more freely about their experiences. What started as a cathartic process soon became a novel though at first, no publisher wanted to publish it. However, he was persistent and seven drafts later he got it published. During this time, Shem was going through a very bad patch in his life and he had tried everything including a play and a comedy but never a novel. He believed that a novel full of satire and humor would be the perfect way to write a story about residency that medical residents would want to read it. As such, House of God is about 40% really sexy and funny and the rest of it is a cynical but realistic look into the horrors of residency. Given that it is still very relevant, he teaches a seminar on the novel at New York University.

Samuel Shem’s debut novel “The House of God” follows a golden boy named Roy. He is the pride and joy of his family having known nothing but excellence in his academic endeavors. His father who is a dentist could not be prouder since he had for a long time dreamt of going to medical school. Once he is done with college, he starts his residency at a prestigious Jewish hospital named “House of God,” where many of the older physicians and medical practitioners still have memories of the holocaust or have family and friends that had been impacted by it. The hospital is thus represents something of the clawing back of Jewish status, wealth and prestige. He had walked into his residency expecting to be seen as a savior and hero only to be confronted by the dying and sickly that are all extremely demanding. The hospital consultants are callous, cold and distant and it seems they are more interested in making money than helping their patients. He is learning that there is no idealism in medicine as the work is inhumane and terrifying. Moreover, it seems that most of the work they do is more harmful than helpful. They look down on old people and use coded language such as GOMER which stands for Get Out of My Room to discriminate against the old. Soon the residents are facing an existential crisis and they are not even a year into the job as they engage in risk-taking behavior, sexual promiscuity, and drinking. But Shem also talks of the bitter truths about internship, about death, disease, and life.

“Man’s 4th Best Hospital,” the second novel of the “House of God” series by Samuel Shem is the sequel to the debut novel. It is set several years after the events of the first novel. The residents that were struggling with adapting to their medical careers are now in leadership positions. The former Resident nicknamed Fat Man is an administrator at Man’s 4th Best Hospital and has convinced the other residents such as Dr. Roy Basch to join him. Having had their residency in terrible conditions they are determined to teach a new generation of residents and interns in a better way. For Fat Man and his cohorts, the important thing is to make medicine humane again rather than let it be corrupted by money and computer screens. Included in the novel is the deterioration of the medical industry as doctors are reduced to just cogs in a wheel. Through the characters, Samuel Shem tells of how doctors are now churned out and trained to make more money for Big Pharma and insurance companies. Since hospitals and clinics are now the property of huge profit-seeking companies, doctors are given quotas and rewarded for seeing an inordinate number of patients. Moreover, patient care is now all about prescribing all manner of drugs and ordering as many expensive tests even if they are not necessary. Shem excellently captures the inhumane and brave new world and in doing so exposes the medical industry.

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