Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Jean Harris Case

The Birth of a Best-Seller

Overweight people are at a higher risk for heart attacks than other people.  Thus, a cardiologist must be interested in weight control.  For many years, Dr. Tarnower gave his heavy patients a one-page sheet with a few rules for paring pounds: cut down on the carbs, eat a lot of fish, lean meat, fruits and vegetables, cut out alcohol, go easy on fats, salt, and sweets.  The advice was not particularly brilliant or original but it was sound.

When friends from the publishing world suggested Tarnower write a book selling this diet to the world, he hesitated.  He had no experience as a writer.  Jean Harris strongly opposed his doing such a book.  Diet books, in her opinion were tacky and trite and "diet docs" the object of ridicule rather than respect.  Such an opus could damage his reputation, she believed.

Jean did not persuade Herman to nix the project.  Instead, he found the argument put forth by writer Samm Sinclair Baker that Tarnower could both enrich himself and "help millions of people around the world at the same time" more alluring. 

Thus, The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was conceived.  It took three months to transform a single sheet into a book.  This was accomplished by including a variety of recipes, detailing successful case histories of people who had lost weight on the diet, and giving the reader the good doctor's musings on weight, eating, and health.

Despite her contempt for diet books, Jean Harris became deeply involved with work on the book.  She labored with her usual combination of enthusiasm, and perfectionism.  When the book was published, the acknowledgements page began, "We are grateful to Jean Harris for her splendid assistance in the research and writing of this book."

The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet was an immediate best-seller.  It shot to first place on the best-sellers' list of the The New York Times, slipped to third, and went back to Numero Uno after an unexpected publicity boost by an event that took place on March 10, 1980.

Unfortunately, the author of the book was no longer around to enjoy his success.


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