Book of the Month, February 2024 – The Citadel by A J Cronin

book cover of The Citadel by A J Cronin

For February’s Book of the Month I have chosen The Citadel by A J Cronin, first published in July 1937 and considered to be his most famous work. Dr Cronin was born in Scotland and graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1919 with a medical degree. After war service he went into general practice in Garelochhead before moving to Tredegar. He served as Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain following his research paper about lung disease in miners, and later practised in Harley Street, London and ran a medical practice in Notting Hill. He began writing when he had to take six months’ complete rest to treat a duodenal ulcer. Over the course of his career he wrote many novels and short stories, including Dr Finlay’s Casebook, a collection of stories the BBC turned into a much loved serial which ran from 1962 to 1971.

 Although The Citadel was not autobiographical, the fictional account of a young doctor’s career is deeply informed by the author’s own medical career. His attention to detail in his descriptions of people and incidents conveys great compassion for all, a reflection of his Presbyterian upbringing. This is also reflected in the controversial nature of parts of the story, exposing the incompetence of many in the medical profession at that time and the corruption among fashionable London practices to boost their own and each other’s fees – which the doctor gets caught up in but eventually turns away. The author’s pioneering ideas for better healthcare, outlined in the story, were influential in the creation of the UK’s National Health Service, and possibly also played a major role in Labour’s landslide victory in 1945.

My copy was another lucky find in a second-hand book shop. I had read other novels by A J Cronin and found them engaging and powerful. The Citadel did not disappoint, in narrative, characterisation or plot. The book begins in 1924, two years after insulin was first demonstrated to save Type 1 diabetics from certain death, and four years before penicillin was proved to have antibiotic properties: two revolutionary treatments doctors did not have at the start of the story. The historical details of medical treatment, work and society a hundred years ago are vividly conveyed. We often forget how far we have come as a society, but this book describes without sentimentality just how hard life was for manual workers and the unemployed before the health and social security reforms which followed WWII.

It is good that this book is still in print. It should be required reading for every politician, not just for its story, but for its vivid description of what life was like for many in the UK a century ago – and what we could return to again.

 

So there we have it, February’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in March when I’ll be revealing another must read.

 

Maggie x

 

 

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