Concord, Massachusetts

Two weeks of talks, readings, and discussions celebrating the written and the spoken word.

John J. Ross, M.D.

Events: Medical Lives of Great Writers

Book: Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough

Were Shakespeare’s shaky handwriting, his obsession with venereal disease, and his premature retirement connected? Did John Milton go blind from his propaganda work for Oliver Cromwell, or did he have a rare and devastating complication for a very common eye problem? Did Jonathan Swift’s preoccupation with sex and filth result from a neurological condition that might also explain his late-life surge in creativity? Were Herman Melville’s disabling attacks of eye and back pain the product of “nervous affections,” or did he actually have a malady that was unknown to medical science until well after his death?

These questions and many more are answered by John Ross in a fascinating untold story of the impact of disease on the lives and works of some of the finest writers in the English language. Ross cheerfully debunks old biographical myths and suggests fresh diagnoses for these writers’ real-life medical mysteries.

John J. Ross is a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.