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Surgeon Atul Gawande among MacArthur Geniuses

Last updated on: September 19, 2006 22:28 IST

Indian-origin surgeon Atul Gawande, whose many articles and essays on medicine in The New Yorker have made him one of the most recognised of American writers, has won a $500,000 "genius" award from the John D & Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

The award has been given this year to 22 other accomplished men and women. They include a jazz violinist, a painter, and a social psychologist. The award comes with no strings attached and the recipients do not have to tell the foundation how they spent the money.

Gawande, 40, is a Rhodes scholar and studied ethics at Oxford. He also has a masters degree from Harvard School of Public Health. His medical degrees are also from Harvard.

Currently, he is a surgeon and an assistant professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. He is also an assistant professor in health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Gawande is also the author of the best-seller Complications, a book about the imperfections of medical science.

"Whatever the topic," mused a reviewer in Entertainment Weekly four years ago, "Gawande infuses his writing with poetry and a reverence for humanity." His writing has also appeared in The Best American Essays and The Best American Science Writing

The MacArthur nominations are made by highly distinguished professionals in many fields and are kept secret till they are announced. The recipients are contacted a few hours before the announcement.

"They made me swear on my children not to tell anyone but my wife," Gawande told Harvard Crimson. "I can think of about 20 people who deserve it just from this neighborhood."

The MacArthur Foundation is named for John D MacArthur, who owned Bankers Life & Casualty Co in Chicago, and his second wife, Catherine.

It has awarded 732 grants to American achievers since the programme began in 1981.

Among the few people of Indian origin to win the award are musician Ali Akbar Khan and poet and professor A K Ramanujan who died over a decade ago.

Winners include one of America's best-known literary critics Harold Bloom, the distinguished choreographer Twyla Tharp, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and former Harvard professor and best-selling writer Stephen Jay Gould.

"These are people pushing boldly to change, improve and protect our world to make it a better place for all of us," said Daniel J Socolow, director of the fellowship programme, in a statement.

Gawande, whose second book on the risks of medicine will be released in the spring of 2007, is considering taking a sabbatical to finish a history on scientific experimentation done on humans. He began the investigation over two years ago.

Photograph: File Photo 

Arthur J Pais in New York