Publisher: Kent State University Press
Distributed by: The Kent State University Press, c/o Book Masters Inc. (BMI)
Distributed by: Baker & Taylor
Distributed by: Ingram Book Group
ISBN: 978-0-87338-942-6
Price: $28.95
Hardcover: 344 pages
Publication Date: June 15, 2008

The Spirit of the Place
Samuel Shem

'The Spirit of the Place is written with a large heart, a healing touch, wry and wise insight into the human condition. Worthy of the Best of Samuel Shem, which is worthy indeed.'

James Carroll, National Book Award Winner and author of House of War
Book Description

Samuel Shem's first novel, The House of God, the classic novel of life and death in an American hospital, has sold more then two million copies and is required reading in medical schools throughout the world. Thirty years later Shem returns with The Spirit of the Place, his most ambitious work yet. It goes beyond a focus on young doctors-in-training to that of a world-traveled doctor called home in the early '80s to become the doctor to the small town he ran away from, to face his own history and that of the town itself. A novel of love and death, mothers and sons, ghosts and bullies, doctors and patients, illness and healing, The Spirit of the Place spins a tale of universal human experience and the changing life of a small town with genuine warmth and humor.

After a divorce and a year of wandering the world with "Doctors Without Borders," Orville Rose has settled into a new love with a beautiful Italian spiritual teacher. A telegram informs him that his mother has died. He returns to Columbia, "a Hudson River town plagued by breakage," and the startling terms of his mother's will. She has left him an enormous sum of money and her historic home, but there's a catch: he must live in her house on the Courthouse Square continuously for a year and thirteen days before he can collect. But that's hardly what Orville had in mind. As he struggles with the decision and its aftermath an entire set of unimagined events and personal transformations—both hilarious and poignant—occur.

Spirit shows Shem at his finest—compassionate, capacious, funny, full of big ideas and memorable personalities. It offers an authentic, unvarnished portrait of the medical profession and underscores the crucial link between the health of individuals and the health of communities at a pivotal period of American history.

About the Author

Samuel Shem (pen name of Stephen Bergman) is a novelist, playwright, and, for three decades, a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty. His novels include The House of God, Fine, and Mount Misery. He is coauthor with his wife, Janet Surrey, of the hit Off-Broadway play Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the story of the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (winner of the 2007 Performing Arts Award of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), and We Have to Talk: Healing Dialogues between Women and Men.


  • An August Indie Next List Pick from the American Booksellers Association
  • Best Books Award Winner—USA Book News

Interviews & Profiles


In the late 1970s, Samuel Shem penned a groundbreaking satire, "The House of God," exposing the growing dehumanization of the system for training doctors. It alienated Shem (real name Dr. Stephen Bergman) from the Harvard establishment for more than two decades, but it is still standard reading for doctors in training today because the author was so prescient about the lack of empathy and compassion that plagues post-modern medicine.

In his new novel, "The Spirit of the Place," Shem once again deals with a pressing subject: healing. And it comes just at the right time as we debate how to extend health care to larger groups of people, while there's been no simultaneous public discussion on how to preserve quality of care....The fact that Rose faces an actual choice between staying in such a stressful warts-and-all situation versus returning to his idyllic travels in Europe is a reminder for both doctors and patients as to what really matters in health care.
[click here to read the full review]

The New York Post

"The latest novel from Shem (The House of God) is the funny and wrenching account of Dr. Orville Rose's return to his hometown, Columbia, N.Y., after the death of his mother in 1983. Orville's mother's will states that he will receive nearly a million dollars, the family house and a luxury car if he stays and works in Columbia for a year and 13 days. At first he is appalled, but he eventually decides to stay, working with local doctor Bill Starbuck. As he tends to the sick and injured, Orville falls in love with local historian Miranda Braak, becomes acquainted with the locals' careless mean-spiritedness (it's so pervasive that Miranda is working on a thesis called "The Columbian Spirit"), observes a townwide battle over whether to save a grand old hotel and receives ghostly visits from his antagonistic mother. It's hard to put down the book as Orville must decide, once the required stay reaches its end, whether to remain or flee with his newfound wealth. Shem deftly comments on the Wal-Mart-ization of smalltown America while entertaining the reader."

Publishers Weekly

"A nice, light read for a summer afternoon, this is a story about why coming home is never quite what you expect."

Kirkus Reviews
Advance Praise

"A deeply moving and profoundly intelligent exploration of the complexities and rewards of family, profession, and place. The story of a young physician returning to his small town becomes a tale with universal meaning. This book continues to resonate in the mind and heart long after it is read"

—Jerome Groopman, M.D., Author of How Doctors Think

"In this lovely novel Samuel Shem brilliantly describes scenery from the Italian Lakes to the Hudson River Valley with vivid enchanting detail. But his real subject is the landscape of the human heart with its dangers and delights, its vertiginous cliffs and mossy woods, its comforts and contradictions. This is a wonderful book about the surprises of human connection and the infinite power of love."

—Susan Cheever, Author of American Bloomsbury

"This new novel from Samuel Shem, raucous and insightful physician of the soul, captures a town, a man, a time of life with all the verve and nerve that marked THE HOUSE OF GOD. Hooray!"

—Bill McKibben, author of The Bill McKibben Reader

"Samuel Shem captured the humor, the angst and pathos of medical training in that unforgettable book, THE HOUSE OF GOD. His new book is an incredible and heartfelt story of a physician whose life has taken the most unexpected twists and turns. THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE entertains, satisfies, and affirms; it is beautifully conceived and brilliantly executed. Shem has done it again!"

—Abraham Verghese, author of My Own Country and The Tennis Partner

"As in THE HOUSE OF GOD and MOUNT MISERY, I was riveted by this story of a world-weary young doctor called to heal the body and spirit of his ailing hometown—and of himself. THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE is special—a grand, wonderfully insightful story of love and death, mothers and sons, doctors and patients—filled with larger than life characters and told with outrageous Shem-humor and authentic humanity."

—Michael Palmer, New York Times Bestselling author of The First Patient
Praise for The Spirit of the Place from Booksellers

"From many perspectives, this new Samuel Shem novel is a delight. More insider doctor lore, complicated families, love and marriage, great rendition of small town upstate New York and idyllic Italy with a bit of magical realism thrown in await you in The Spirit of the Place. And those are just the basics."

—Dana Brigham, Brookline Booksmith