Kurtzman, Neil
CreateSpace (708 pp.)
$23.35 Paperback
$9.99 e-book
January 6, 2012
ISBN: 978-1461096535
Kurtzman’s debut novel traces the evolution of a wary first-year medical student who becomes chief resident at a busy city hospital.
Many may believe the making of a doctor to be a tedious endeavor, but this notion will be quickly dispelled when readers become acquainted with Richard Grollman, an eccentric doctor-to-be with an affinity for opera. With wit and dark humor, Kurtzman’s descriptive dose of the day-to-day life of a medical student in the late 1950s details the challenges and rewards of the entire process. As Grollman progresses through his eight years oftraining, he experiences a number of trials and tribulations while surrounded by a cast of crazy surgeons and bumbling interns, before eventually discovering that he’s learned more than procedure and bedside manner. In his final act as chief medical resident, Grollman expounds upon his epiphany with his trademark cynicism: “Medicine is an elaborate masquerade in which the doctors pretend to cure while the patients pretend to get better…. Surgery is no more complicated than automobile repair and requires no more talent or ability. Knowing what to do and when to do it, or more importantly, when not to do it, is what counts.” By the novel’s conclusion, Kurtzman has presented readers with a thorough examination of the art of medicine and more than a few may be left pondering whether sometimes doing nothing may in fact be the best remedy. Although a familiarity with the medical field will engender a stronger connection to Kurztman’s work, it is not required. The book could benefit from another round of editing for brevity and excessively flowery language without detracting from its strengths: a zany point of view and black humor.
Holds its own alongside Samuel Shem’s The House of God, a highly regarded take on the life and times of medical students.

Kirkus Indie, Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Rd., Austin, TX 78744

DOING NOTHING. Neil Kurtzman. Lee, NH: 1st Books, 2000, 663pp. ISBN 1–58721–436–9. Price:Trade Paperback $19.95, electronic book $6.95.

Over the last several years, there has been a plethora of stories based on experiences of medical personnel, both inside and out of the hospital. One may only go to the nearest bookshop to see books written by nurses, doctors,and students that describe the extraordinary situations that characterize medical life. Most of these are interesting but are of very similar content. Doing Nothing by Dr. Neil Kurtzman is representative of this style and type of work. Kurtzman takes us through the education of Richard Grollman, from his first day of medical school through his last day as chief resident on the medical service of a busy city hospital. Through his experiences, the reader is taken through a wonderful journey as we see the highs and lows of his life during his “education.” One is taken through the trials of medical school and the challenges faced during residency. This story examines the human side and art of medicine. This is a wonderful book that would be appreciated by most people, but would be greatly enjoyed by physicians who can certainly relate to Richard. It is reasonably priced and very well written. It is very difficult to put down. I would recommend this book without hesitation.

Loma Linda, California
J. Neurosurg. / Volume 98 / February, 2003
Dear Neil,

I just finished Doing Nothing and I wanted to write to tell you what a great read it was. Wickedly funny, the book would have scared the hell out of me if I hadn’t been laughing so hard. Before I cracked the cover, I would have expected it to be interesting and erudite, and it certainly is those things. But, I think you’ve accomplished a remarkable tight-wire act with Grollman, who manages to be a very sympathetic protagonist while at times freely arousing feelings of frustration, outrage, and bug-eyed incomprehension. Though not easily admitted, partly out of fear of cliché, partly out of fear of exposure, I can identify with him in many ways! The book has easily assimilated all sorts of influences, evoking to me Heller, Pynchon, and others; and yet, it has just as easily come out sounding only like Neil Kurtzman. That is a rare enough achievement for a veteran novelist, let alone a first-timer. As Grollman looked forward (perversely) to his stint serving under Walker, I found myself wishing I could read the sequel right away. Congratulations on a remarkable, and remarkably enjoyable, novel!

With all best wishes, and in admiration, Andy Sill

Andrews Sill, Conductor Milwaukee Ballet
Former Music Director Lubbock Symphony Orchestra

Conductor Sheboygan Symphony Orchestra
This first-time effort by a physician-novelist is an auspicious beginning. It is a chronology of a young man as he proceeds through four years of medical school and four more years of post-graduate training in Internal Medicine. The hectic, often chaotic, life these eight years encompass is described in vivid (some might think too vivid) detail and with a mixture of dark and light humor, sex and pathos. Many interesting characters, probably drawn from real-life, pop in and out of the pages, which can be read briskly with a chuckle and occasionally a tear. The book begins in a cynical tone and ends with a strong sense of hope and humanism. This transformation faithfully reproduces the actual experience of physicians-to-be and those moving thru the often-grueling life of post-graduate training. Altogether, I found this to be a thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable book. I look forward to the next one.

Richard Glassock, MD,MACP


Please convey my profound admiration and gratitude to Dr. Kurtzman. Stumbled today on his account of Baum in “Trovatore” (I must have been there too), and am now frantically downloading every other piece he has written. Dazzling stuff — wise, witty, informed, passionate, edgy. Warms the cockles.

Thank you.


Martin Bernheimer*

*Bernheimer is the Pulitzer Prize winning music critic for the Financial Times
Good friends from the Dyess AFB years, Dr Vernon Farthing and his wife Chris, sent me your book Doing Nothing.  Wow!  I graduated from Emory School of Medicine and had a career as an Air Force Ob-Gyn, then faculty U Cal, Davis.  I have read House of God, Intern by Doctor X,  and all those books by the surgeon, Dr Nolen.  All were good but none brought back the joy, fear, and a host of other emotions of your book.  The head of Cardiology at Emory during the 70s was Dr Walker!  No one will forget his Grand Rounds.  I am now fully retired and my wife and I devote most of our time as docents, boad members, and lecturers at the Ameilia Island Museum of History (I have a MA in Anthropology, U of Hawaii, ’70), something we always wanted to do.  Thanks so much for your book….I hope there is another in the wings.

Bill Birdsong, MD
5.0 out of 5 stars A Medical Catch 22 plus opera, March 29, 2009
By Operafilly (Fallbrook, Ca United States)
If you liked Catch 22 you will like this. Instead of investigating the mentality of many characters, we experience everything thru this eccentric medical student who also happens to be an ardent opera lover. Even if you can’t stand opera and will not understand the operatic illusions, there is a chapter devoted to the performance of a real life outrageous tenor which is hysterical (and so true from what I’ve heard about him).

If you thought medicine was based on science and logic, think again. Our lazy, but intelligent character becomes intense and clever figuring out ways to negotiate the capricious hospital system as he learns how it functions. And he gets involved in researching more than the other docs to figure out what the patients’ problems really are. The cases range from sad to hopeless to hysterical. I have come across one meaning for the title. Why do something when doing nothing will have the same outcome for the patient. Lots of ethical thoughts abound that will make you think. And that might be the ultimate purpose of the author.


I will miss Grollman.  He’s been my most fun companion in a long time.  You are so gifted with words I felt like I should be taking notes……..”inner lemming”  and such.  The mystery is why it took me so long to find your book.  Some are a struggle to get thru and sometimes well worth it.  But yours is a feast for such fun.  Perhaps a balance to the wonderful, but morose and melancholy operas we love.
You hit home with the Mozart vs. Verdi and Verdi vs. Wagner.  And so many other things I can’t remember them all.

Adrienne Smith gave me a copy to read and unfortunately (for me) it sat in my book pile gradually rising to the surface a week ago. I finished it today. So far I have shown it to my 4 th year med student, my 3rd year family practice resident and my nurse practitioner student. I think 2 of 3 have already ordered copies. Move over House of God. This is now my recommendation to all students and house officers. I’m a family practice Doc in Bernalillo, NM. Graduated from UCLA med school in 73. FP residency in Greensboro, NC in 76. Have been in practice in Bernalillo for the last 33 years (almost). That and I play chamber music so I get all the music stuff too. Have passed it on to my music/medicine friends and my brother who is an opera nut and is on the opera chat rooms all the time. He is dragging me out to see the Ring Cycle in Seattle this year.

Alan Firestone, MD
Placitas, NM
Doing Nothing
This book was given to me by the step daughter of the author. It has finally surface in my reading pile. It was hilarious. My laughing out loud awakened my wife who threatened to make me go sleep in the other room. This is the tale of Richard Grollman’s medical school, residency and chief resident’s experience in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Although toward the end of the book, it spends a bit more time being hallucinatory, more like Pynchon, it is a wild and all too accurate assessment of medical education. It touches on labs that are lost, elevators that never arrive, incompetent interns, crazed surgeons, near psychic consultants and the joys of being awakened from a dead sleep to be told of a phantom admission in the emergency room. This book is now on my mandatory reading list for all residents. The medical student, resident and nurse practitioner working with me have all ordered the book already and there is a waiting list who want to read it. Read it if you are even tangentially involved in medicine. Read it at your peril if you are a potential patient. Move over House of God