The book's historical scholar ship, scientific insight and perspective, and archival completeness and ingenuity are due to the superb qualifications of the authors—Saul Benison, professor of history at the University of Cincinatti; A. Clifford Barger, professor of physiology and one of Cannon's successors as chairman of the department of physiology at Harvard Medical School; and Elm L. Wolfe, archivist and associate editor of the W.B. Cannon Project at the Countway Library, Harvard Medical School.
The central figure in the drama is of course Walter B. Cannon, a pioneer in the modern approach to medical education, and contributor to the development of physiology in terms of both new concepts and their applications to human health. In fact the key to the drama is the multidimensional quality of Can non's personality. His brilliantly creative but methodical approach to scientific problems, his generosity to students and colleagues, his scrupulous attention to detail in re search and administration, his recognized abilities as an arbitrator of disputes, his devoted concern for family and friends, and the selfless ness with which all his affairs were conducted are legendary.
Although Cannon is central, the book is rich in material concerning other people and institutions, particularly those at Harvard. For some readers the extent of the material dealing with Harvard may at first seem excessive, but the detail is necessary to understanding and following the threads of the drama. For example, without Cannon's support as a negotiator the medical school might not have had a graduate student program in 1908 when Roy Hoskins became Cannon's first graduate student. Hoskins, being a Ph.D. candidate rather than a medical student, did not accept assignment of a research topic in one of Cannon's fields of interest, but insisted on a topic of his own choosing in endocrinology. As was typical, Cannon, though feeling ill-prepared to supervise research in a field in which he was not expert, let Hoskins find his own way.
Without the connection to Hoskins, Cannon later acknowledged, he might never have explored the field of the relations of emotions to bodily functions. These studies led to the scientific concepts for which Cannon is most widely known. His theory that evolution has provided animals and humans with a system for mobilizing bodily resources in emergency situations—"flight or fight"—was a keystone in the concept of integrative function in physiology expressed in Cannon's important book The Wisdom of the Body. Today the integrative function of the neuroendocrine mechanisms is prominent in the forefront of biological and medical investigation.