Dr. Michael J. Halberstam, 48, who was mortally wounded Friday night during an apparent robbery attempt in his home in Northwest Washington, was born into a family of physicians and embraced medicine as the first of his many careers.
While conducting a private practice in cardiology and internal medicine, he also became a deft and entertaining author of books and articles on a very wide range of subjects. He wrote about medicine and medical policy for the general public as well as for his professional peers. He wrote a novel set in 1988 in which one A. L. Levine, a self-made millionaire, becomes the first Jewish president of the United States.He published reviews on books ranging from medical topics to tennis.
He also was an observer of politics and life in the city, a participant in local affairs, a fisherman, a sports fan who played tennis and playground baseball and basketball (a persistent and unfulfilled ambition was to play in the National Basketball Association) and an oarsman who rowed on the Potomac River.
But first of all he was a physician. Unlike many of his colleagues, he was not interested in group practice. As he saw it, his role as a doctor was to take care of individual patients. He conducted his own tests on his patients on the theory that the results would be more reliable than if done by someone else, took samples of their blood himself because he thought he should keep in practice at that and similar routine chores. He was prepared to give tough medical advice and ready to understand the problems of the people who went to him -- difficulty with success or failure, depression, sex, marriage, whatever.
His way with the healing arts is manifest in "A Coronary Event" (1976), which he wrote with Stephan Lesher, a journalist. It is an account of a heart attack Lesher had and how Dr. Halberstam treated it. Lesher kept asking, "Why?" The doctor kept trying for answers.
In 1972, he published "The Pills in Your Life," a book about the 200 drugs most commonly prescribed by American physicians. Among other things, he said some of his colleagues were overly cautious in prescribing antibiotics. The colleagues and many others disagreed.
Dr. Halberstam's novel. "The Wanting of Levine" (1978), may have been as prescient as it is fanciful. The country is falling apart. There is a deep and permanent energy shortage. Air conditioning is limited to two or three hours a day. The stealing of firewood has become a major form of crime. The states are attempting to erect tariff barriers against each other and a federal police force has been formed to take up where the FBI left off in its bad old days.
Enter A. L. Levine, millionaire, philanderer, family man and virtually unknown power in the Democratic Party. Through the misreading of a memo by Levine -- through a typographical error of the eye, so to speak -- Levine emerges as far and away his party's strongest candidate. And thereby hangs the tale.
Les Whitten, who reviewed the book in The Washington Post, called it "a happy vision of America for those of us tired of the hornswoggling we've gotten from presidents" and a "delightful novel."
Although hardly a self-effacing man, Dr. Halberstam had a saving skepticism about himself, which was evident in a review he published in The Washington Post about two books on marijuana, and which also illustrates his literary style:
"The marijuana industry continues to gain momentum, producing not only buyers, sellers, users and abusers, but also authors (and reviewers)." n
Michael Joseph Halberstam was born in The Bronx , N.Y. His parents were Dr. Charles abraham and Blanche Halberstam. (An uncle, Dr. Aaron Halberstam, also is a physician). The elder Halberstam served as a medic in World War I and as a combat surgeon in World War II. He was an enormous influence on Michael and on his second son, David, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and an author.
Michael Halberstam was educated at Harvard College, where he took honors in history, and at Boston University, where he earned his medical degree in 1957. He served in the U.S. Public Health Service in Alaska and New Mexico. He completed his internship and residency in New York City and Burlington, Vt. He moved to Washington in 1962 to become a fellow in cardiology at George Washington University Hospital and later taught at the GW medical school. He established his own practice in 1964.
His marriage to the former Linda Brackett ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife, the former Elliott jones, of Washington, and two sons adopted during his first marriage, Charles and Eben, also of Washington, and his mother, of Bal Harbour, Fla.
In a tribute to his brother, David Halberstam said, "Everything he did was passionate, down to spearing the last shrimp of a Vietnamese meal, dancing the last dance at a disco party, or believing always that there was just one more bluefish just beneath the surface of the ocean."
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Department of Medicine, Section on Cardiology, George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.
Services were scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, Massachusetts Avenue and Macomb Street NW.