Friday, March 18, 2011

Mass General publishes book outlining 200 years of medical care and progress

Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011

BostonMassachusetts General Hospital (MGH) today celebrates the launch of its new history book, Something in the Ether: A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811-2011, by local author Webster Bull and his daughter, Martha Bull. The 527-page hardcover volume commemorates 200 years of medicine, capturing the spirit of the nation’s third oldest general hospital as conveyed through work of some of the most captivating, colorful and inspiring characters in health care, past and present.

The book bridges together events and stories that tell of the building and shaping of the MGH. It begins with the vision of two prominent Boston physicians who in the early 1800s understood the need for a place where the poor could find care and comfort. The eight chapters carry readers through two centuries of medical progress, institutional decisions, changes in practice and powerful and influential personalities. The final section describes both the hospital’s commitment to people around the world through participation in modern-day disaster relief efforts, as well as its enduring tradition to care for the most vulnerable patients, including homeless individuals on the hospital’s own doorstep.

Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president, says the book is not your traditional chronological hospital history. “I think readers will find Something in the Ether to be a lively and engaging story,” he says. “It describes the building and changing of the MGH, but it also offers a glimpse of medical progress, the changing community, world events and the society’s values through the lens of an academic medical center.”

In 2007, MGH commissioned Bull to write a book in conjunction with the hospital’s bicentennial in 2011. Bull enlisted his daughter, Martha Bull, to help him research and write the volume. The father-daughter team together have backfilled the centuries with anecdotes gleaned from extensive research through archival records, hospital reports and publications as well as interviews with more than 100 MGH individuals – physicians, nurses, administrators, volunteers, donors and trustees. The book also includes more than 200 historic and current photographs. 

Webster Bull, a resident of Beverly, Massachusetts, is president of Memoirs Unlimited, a company he founded in 1988 to write and publish the histories of individuals, families, and institutions. Since then he has produced over 60 personal memoirs, family histories, and books about organizations.  Martha Bull, Webster’s daughter, is an actor and writer living in New York City. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she is now studying for a master’s degree in fine arts at Columbia University.

 “We approached this project as lay writers following our noses,” says Bull. “This book seeks to suggest the astounding breadth and depth of this extraordinary hospital. It became clear to me early on that the history of the MGH is not only relevant to those who are connected with it, but also to people in Boston, in New England, indeed, around the world as the hospital’s ongoing  quest to innovate has often changed the field of medicine far beyond its walls.”

In the book’s foreword, Slavin and David F. Torchiana, MD, CEO and chairman of the Massachusetts General Physicians Organization, write:  “There is not only an intellectual commitment but also an emotional attachment that comes over those of us who work here…We trust that the stories of achievement, of trial, and of humanity in this book will help us all to understand the mission, in order to advance it.”

Something in the Ether retails for $30 and is being distributed by Amazon, the MGH Gift Shop and various bookstores and gift shops in the Greater Boston area.  

About Massachusetts General Hospital

Celebrating the 200th anniversary of its founding in 1811, Massachusetts General Hospital is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $600 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.


Donita Boddie, (617) 724-5627,

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