The Koop

In this forthright and engaging autobiography, former Surgeon General Charles Everett Koop recounts the story of his life, beginning with early childhood, continuing with his life as a pediatric surgeon followed by two stormy four-year terms as America’s most controversial Surgeon General, and ending with a discussion of the major health issues facing America today.

Koop describes his happy childhood in Brooklyn at great length. He was an only child. His father was an assistant bank vice-president (although he never finished high school) and a “superb” man; his mother was “well-read and intelligent.” Doting grandparents lived upstairs. He cannot remember a time when he did not want to become a doctor. By the time he was fourteen he was masquerading as a medical student in order to observe operations and practicing surgery on animals in his basement.

He was graduated from Dartmouth College and Cornell University Medical College, and went on to pioneer in pediatric surgery, holding the post of surgeon-in-chief of the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia for thirty-five years.

President Reagan selected Koop to be Surgeon General because of Koop’s strong religious convictions and pro-life stance. But Koop wanted to address the broader issues of health promotion and disease prevention and was unwilling to serve Reagan’s conservative political agenda. When he refused to exaggerate the dangers of abortion to a woman’s health to support the case against abortion, many pro-lifers felt betrayed. In another confrontation with the administration, Koop produced an outspoken report on AIDS that endorsed sex education and the use of condoms. Koop saw himself as the Surgeon General of all Americans.

He retired in 1989 at the age of seventy-two, but continues to speak out on health issues. His book is straight talk with a touch of humor about the way politics can undermine health policy in the United States. His simple and unaffected style reveals a man of great integrity who did his best to serve the American public.