Down from Troy: A Doctor Comes of Age / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 90%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (14) from $1.99   
  • New (6) from $13.18   
  • Used (8) from $1.99   


A beautifully crafted memoir by one of America's finest storytellers.

This New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 1992 cements seven-time author Richard Selzer as the modern-day heir to such doctor-authors as Chekhov and William Carlos Williams. Here, he presents the colorful story of his parent's attempts to shape his destiny.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With a physician's eye and an artist's vision, Selzer Confessions of a Knife traces the arc of his life from his 1930s childhood in Troy, N.Y., through his medical training and career as a surgeon in New Haven, Conn., to his retirement in 1985. He returns again and again here to his boyhood home near Albany, where he lived with his artistic mother, a singer who expected him to become a writer, his admired older brother Billy and his father, a general practitioner, ``one of a dozen or so who presided over the physical breakdown of the Trojans exacerbated by the poverty of the Great Depression.'' The sooty, pre-electronics age of Troy, with its cobblestone streets, horse-drawn hearses, saloons and brothels, is evoked with affection and irony as Selzer highlights the house calls and hospital visits he made with his father, whose death when the boy was 12 confirmed his own calling to medicine. In prose that breathes with life ``One enters the body in surgery as in love . . .'', Selzer also details his life in medicine, describing a wrenching malpractice suit and an encounter with an AIDS patient who sought help with suicide. July
Library Journal
From the author of Confessions of a Knife ( LJ 9/1/79) and Taking the World in for Repairs ( LJ 12/86) comes a poignant, elegiac memoir of his childhood in Troy, New York, as well as formative experiences in Korea and New Haven. While several sections of the book cover familiar ground for Selzer fans, such as his description of the similarities between surgery and writing (``In surgery there is a scalpel, in writing, a pen''), the rest is a heartbreakingly personal reflection on his mother and father--a woman who once sang in dance halls and a man who was a solid old general practitioner with a black bag and a sense of wonder. The city of Troy is a supporting character, described with a perception so acute as to be photographic. This is a terrible beauty of a book, full of love and pain and a palpable rich sadness that will stay with a reader forever. Selzer's finest work; highly recommended for most collections.-- Mark L. Shelton, Athens, Ohio
From The Critics
Surgeon and writer Richard Selzer looks back upon his upbringing in Troy, New York during the Great Depression. The memoir deals largely with Selzer's struggle to please his physician father, who wanted him to be a doctor and his mother (a singer) who wanted him to write. His sometimes grim tale also describes the abysmal conditions endured by his father's poor and working-class patients. This is a reprint of a 1992 book originally published by Morrow. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Superbly skilled writer/surgeon Selzer (Imagine a Woman, 1990, etc.) cracks open his psyche's sternum, showing us his heart repairs, then goes about sewing up the wounds while they are still dotted with blood. Now 64, Selzer didn't start writing seriously until he was 40, then retired at 58 to write full time. He finds many likenesses between surgery and writing: "Writing, like doctoring, has nothing to do with cleverness. It is all diagnosis and feeling...." His father and mother dominate this memoir, and he's greatly happy that he has fulfilled both their dreams. His mother, a singer forever bursting into arias around the house (even as Selzer here bursts into warblings and subtly shaded songs about yellow meadows of fat and maroon- and salmon-colored inner organs), wanted him to be an artist; his father, a general practitioner, took young Selzer around with him on his house calls and inducted him into the healing art. Much of what Selzer remembers here takes place in his hometown of Troy, N.Y., where prostitution flourished as a leading business during the Depression. Selzer's father doctored to the whores at the Selzer home, and after his death Selzer heard from an aunt that his father was a great womanizer with these clients. In fact, only after his parents' deaths has Selzer faced many family skeletons. His mother's death at 88 and burial in the rain is movingly told: "There was the trench, like a socket from which the tooth had been pulled. Then the ancient spectacle, full of murmuring and slow gestures. The village of black umbrellas." It's his widower mother's attractiveness to suitors that frees Selzer to show us her history as a teenage waterfront songstress, withhints of darker, more reckless days. A marvel as Selzer gives every pain its name—though his nonreading mother called his books all lies.
The Toronto Star

He recounts the lives of the poor and working-class patients who made up the bulk of his father's practice with a sense of the dignity of the human spirit under the most trying conditions.

Susan Cheever

Richard Selzer is a writer who cares more about truth than consequences. Ignoring the treasured Anglo-Saxon myth of the golden childhood and shunning the America of sugary Norman Rockwell towheads, he tells a grimmer, truer story, a tale teeming with dreadful images from the America of Poe and Hawthorne. Gesturing corpses and dying prostitutes, sudden deaths and acts of incestuous violence, lives dominated by horror and misunderstanding populate his powerful, moving memoir.
New York Times Book Review

Library Journal - BookSmack!
"A poignant, elegiac memoir of his childhood," said LJ's reviewer of this 1992 volume, boldly adding that it was "Selzer's finest work." Here, the surgeon/writer recounts his Depression-era adolescence in Troy, NY. The city already had gone to seed, and life there was tough. As a doctor's son, he saw a lot that other kids didn't and pulls no punches in revealing the city's underbelly. A solid addition to your memoir collection. — "Classic Returns," Booksmack! 2/3/11
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780870136030
  • Publisher: Michigan State University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Selzer is the author of numerous books and articles. He is a former surgeon and professor of surgery. Selzer taught writing at Yale University and is the recipient of dozens of awards and honors, including a Pushcart Prize, National Magazine Award (for his essays), an American Medical Writer's Award, and a Guggenheim fellowship. His work has been published in New American Review, Esquire, Harper's, and other periodicals.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Down from Troy

Photographs of Troy
by Peter Josyph

Afterword: The Frayed Rope Bridge of Memory
by Peter Josyph

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)