It’s the first day of summer! Hopefully you have time carved out for some rest and relaxation, but whatever will you read? We here at STAT have assembled a prime list of choices, with picks from notable figures, our readers, and our staff.
Hope you find a title that will be the perfect compliment to kicking back with a cold beverage.
SEE SUGGESTIONS FROM: NOTABLE FIGURES | OUR READERS | STAT STAFF
“Ada Twist, Scientist”
By Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts
“Ada Twist, Scientist” tells the story of Ada, an indomitably curious girl. Her first words were “why,” “how,” and “when” — words that are essential to Ada’s, and to anyone’s, curiosity. Ada’s tenacity matches her inquisitiveness, and the story is a delightful read, and a reminder of what’s possible when we support children in pursuing their creativity — joy, discovery, and innovation. Watching my 2-year-old daughter Charlotte’s delight in listening to Ada’s story every time we read it is a reminder of why we need stories of girl scientists, including those still in elementary school like Ada!
— Chelsea Clinton, Clinton Foundation vice chair
“Adventures of a Female Medical Detective: In Pursuit of Smallpox and AIDS”
By Mary Guinan
These stories from the public health frontline capture what has and hasn’t changed for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s disease detectives in the decades since Mary Guinan arrived at the CDC as the only female officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service. CDC’s 2017 EIS class is 70 percent female. Smallpox has been eradicated and AIDS is no longer the newest mystery disease, but the 24/7 commitment to protect people from threats at home and abroad remains.
— Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me”
By Bill Hayes
Hayes’s loving tribute to my hero Oliver Sacks and New York has been hailed as poetic, profound, direct, and exuberant. He starts with a quote from Sacks — “I don’t so much fear death as I do wasting life” — and I can’t wait to dive in.
— Dr. Atul Gawande, surgeon and author of “Being Mortal”
“To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation”
By Paul Farmer
This compilation of some of Paul Farmer’s most inspiring (and often funny) speeches reminds us that with sufficient vision, commitment, and tenacity we can provide first-rate medical care to even our poorest brothers and sisters throughout the world.
— Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
“Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”
By Robert M. Sapolsky
Though the length may seem daunting for a beach read, this is an amazingly easy to read and informative book that blends history, science, and humor as it conveys a deep understanding of human behavior. The biology of behavior in some 700 mind-blowing pages! I strongly recommend it.
— Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner
“King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery”
By G. Wayne Miller
The story of C. Walton Lillehei is very inspiring, and the book shows the courage he demonstrated as a pioneer of early heart surgery. My mentor Norman Shumway was an early trainee of Walt’s in Minnesota, and when you think back then, all these children were dying from heart diseases we can treat successfully today, like ventricular septal defects (VSDs) and Tetralogy of Fallot. Walt Lillehei had the courage and tenacity to operate on these children. In the book, he describes his first “cross circulation” for open heart surgery on a child. That’s when mom or dad lay on one table, are hooked up to their child on another table, and then the child’s blood would be routed into the parent, who served as the heart-lung machine and provided oxygenated blood back to the child. Then Walt could stop the child’s heart to do the surgery, with the parent serving as the pump. That was incredible. Out of this came the derivation of the pacemaker. One of the complications Walt had while surgically closing VSDs was heart block. Back then if you had heart block, you died. Walt had an engineer working with him that came up with the idea of how to do a powered pacemaker system in an operating room. That engineer, Earl Bakken, went on to develop Medtronic.
— Dr. Vaughn A. Starnes, cardiothoracic surgeon, director of the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Heart Institute, and one of the doctors who recently treated Jimmy Kimmel’s newborn son
“Mend the Living”
By Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
A beautifully written, tough, poignant book that gets to the heart of what it means to be human, explored through each of the characters involved. Deeply moving.
— Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust
“Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right”
By Arlie Russell Hochschild
It’s an insightful journey by a Berkeley sociologist into the beliefs of people on the right in Louisiana. It’s important for anyone looking to bridge the political divide in this country.
— Dr. Richard Besser, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
“The Gene: An Intimate History”
By Siddhartha Mukherjee
Dr. Mukherjee deftly weaves his patients’ stories into a comprehensive explanation of modern genetics, creating a narrative that feels both personal and relevant. The book also explores the dark history of mid-20th-century eugenics programs and argues for universal guidelines around genetic engineering — especially as the locus of control shifts from governments to individual researchers.
— Steve Davis, president and CEO of PATH, a global nonprofit working on medical innovations
“What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine”
By Danielle Ofri
Dr. Ofri is an excellent writer whose anecdotes made me laugh and cry at times. This book humanizes physicians and explains both the difficulty and necessity of emotional responses in the medical field.
— Samantha Collins, Norfolk, Va.
“My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s”
By Peter Dunlap-Shohl
A one-of-a kind graphic novel by a former political cartoonist living with Parkinson’s. Graphics, humor, wisdom, honesty, and a load of the science behind the disease make this book a fascinating read for doctors and patients (of any disease) alike.
— Catherine Armsden, San Francisco
“Teeth: The Story of Beauty, Inequality, and the Struggle for Oral Health in America”
By Mary Otto
As a resident dentist in Boston, I stumbled upon an article in the Atlantic titled, “Why Dentistry is Separate from Medicine.” The article was a discussion with a health care journalist, Mary Otto, who had recently published a book detailing the history of the American dental profession and how its historical separation from medicine has resulted in a modern crisis in oral health. Though I was previously familiar with data concerning oral health disparities, the book’s thorough historical scholarship, combined with vivid modern anecdotes and statistics, really helps to give a more complete picture of a modern crisis with concrete, historic origins.
— Zak James, Boston
“Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style”
By Randy Olson
Now, more than ever, it’s critical for scientists to get the public excited and engaged in science. The problem is, most of them suck at it. Using lessons from Hollywood, this funny book helps researchers learn to become good science storytellers.
— Carole Weaver Clements, Memphis, Tenn.
“Opium Eater: The New Confessions”
By Carlyn Zwarenstein
This is that rare beast — an informed, informative, gripping, first-person account of pain, painkillers, and dependence. The paucity of nuanced human stories of opioids in the midst of a global crisis makes “Opium Eater” an especially vital read right now.
— Anna Mehler Paperny, Toronto
“Carrier: Untangling the Danger in My DNA”
By Bonnie J. Rough
This is a wonderful nonfiction book on how genetic testing can affect a family; it also covers many issues that occur post-testing and how to deal with said issues. Bonnie Rough clearly explains the thoughts and feelings she has as she works her way through her diagnosis and what this means for her and her husband as they move forward with family planning. The added history of her grandfather’s life creates a vivid story with which many patients and providers will be able to identify.
— Adelyn Beil, Ann Arbor, Mich.
“A Brain Wider Than the Sky: A Migraine Diary”
By Andrew Levy
This year we’re seeing exciting trial outcomes for new migraine drugs that target CGRP. However, as someone with chronic migraines, very few stories have been able to truly capture the devastation of a common, yet highly misunderstood and stigmatized, disorder. Andrew Levy is able to find the perfect words to describe migraines, while pulling back the beloved blackout curtains to reveal migraine’s influential place in history, art, music, philosophy, and medicine.
— Amy Wheeler, New York
“I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life”
By Ed Yong
Microbiome research has been in the limelight recently, but this is the book that will get you hooked. Ed Yong takes his readers on a fascinating journey through the intricate symbioses and dysbioses that shape the natural world, ranging from the versatile, sex-altering Wolbachia’s parasitic presence in hundreds of insects to the way in which microbes help infants digest their mothers’ milk. Though he touches on the gut microbiome findings that have featured heavily in the popular science realm as of late, it is his in-depth exploration of the way in which organisms have grown together and influenced each other at various different scales that will blow you away.
— Eric Kofman, San Francisco
“The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease”
By Meredith Wadman
This meticulously researched and carefully crafted book is an enlightening telling of the development of vaccines in the mid-20th century. Wadman draws from firsthand interviews, personal correspondence, journal articles, and governmental archival documents to relate the work of the brilliant scientists — most notably, Leonard Hayflick — who toiled for years to develop vaccines against diseases including polio, rubella, and rabies. The reader also learns of the experiences of the vulnerable individuals who were unwittingly enrolled in vaccine trials, as well as the suffering of families and individuals devastated by diseases that have since been nearly eradicated by vaccination.
— Erica Jonlin, Seattle
“The Case Against Sugar”
By Gary Taubes
This book illuminates the harm sugar can do to our bodies. And it details some of the misguided socioeconomic manipulation behind our public health push to lower dietary fat while ignoring the negative health consequences of increased simple carbohydrate intake.
— Karen Calhoun, Columbus, Ohio
“Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age”
By Luke Timmerman
It’s a compelling, deeply human read about one of our country’s most inventive scientists — and an unobstructed view into the egos and drama of modern high-stakes research.
— David Shaywitz, Mountain View, Calif.
“Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients”
By Ben Goldacre
There is a complex interplay between the inherent riskiness of drug discovery, the behavioral economics of physician behavior, and the blind spots of science, which everyone involved in health care should understand. Ben Goldacre has created the map, the compass, and the sextant by which to navigate these treacherous waters. Required reading.
— Paul Wicks, Lichfield, England
By Philip Roth
“Nemesis” begins as an excavation of our mortal fear of infectious disease, set in New Jersey during mid-20th century polio scare — and how people cope amid epidemics. For all the suffering caused by polio, the author strikes on a far more debilitating aspect of human nature. This isn’t a new book, but it’s so relevant because of the hubris involved in the vaccine debate and politics in general.
— Ryan McBride, Cambridge, Mass.
By Mary Beth Keane
This engaging historical novel immerses you in the world of the scrappy Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who works her way up the servant hierarchy to become a cook for wealthy families. Then a canny health official notices that the people she cooks for keep dying. He suspects that she’s an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever, and has her quarantined for years on an island off the New York shore. But that’s just the start of Typhoid Mary’s story.
— Stephanie Simon, managing editor
“The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying”
By Nina Riggs
Nina Riggs opens her book with a passage written by her great-great-great grandfather Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That is morning; to cease for a bright hour to be a prisoner of this sickly body and to become as large as the World.” While living with terminal breast cancer, Riggs’s love of language allowed her to do exactly that — write with a stunning clarity about the meaning of life when confronted with your own death. In my first year as a doctor, I’ve seen a number of people die. Exhausted by my training and burdened by grief, I catch myself wondering, what’s the point of it all? Riggs artfully taps into this universal curiosity, and her insights are a rare, precious gift. The end of life is a chapter we will all face, and Riggs proves that it can be written beautifully.
— Jennifer Adaeze Okwerekwu, Off the Charts columnist
“Can’t Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions”
By Sharon Begley
We’re all too familiar these days with the idea of someone who can’t help but tweet — even in the dark of the night. While this prescient book isn’t about the White House or its occupant, it helpfully and entertainingly delves into why we tweet, why we hoard, and why we steer clear of cracks in sidewalks. STAT’s Sharon Begley draws on her authority as a science journalist to parse what can be surprisingly healthy behavior and what can be signs of mental disorder.
— Rick Berke, executive editor
“The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women”
By Kate Moore
This nonfiction narrative has it all: the excitement in the factories where young, working-class women were lit aglow by the thrilling new element of radium; the shameless callousness of the corporations that dodged responsibility as the chemical started killing their workers; and the dogged determination of the women who fought for recognition from their deathbeds. While other authors have written about this defining chapter in the history of occupational safety from a legal or scientific perspective, Moore’s excellent new book is the first to put the women themselves at the center of the story. Their history is unforgettable.
— Rebecca Robbins, reporter
“Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs”
By Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker
We’re hearing a lot these days about looming disease threats and the need to be prepared. What are the threats and how well-prepared is the world to address them? The answers are “myriad” and “no where near well enough,” Osterholm and Olshaker explain.
— Helen Branswell, senior writer
“Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx”
By Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
This book is not officially about science or medicine. But we know that poverty, incarceration, gun violence, and addiction are some of the greatest health risks in the U.S., and Adrian Nicole LeBlanc dives deeply into those issues by chronicling the lives of families involved in the drug trade in the Bronx. It’s some of the best reporting I’ve ever read, and it’s riveting.
— Eric Boodman, reporter
“The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care”
By T.R. Reid
Health care systems can be really, really confusing, but “The Healing of America” makes understanding them much easier. Author T.R. Reid hauls himself and his injured shoulder to visit doctors in five countries with different health systems to see how they’d each care for the same condition. His travels give readers a good idea of the factors at play in setting up a health care system, along with a better grasp of how those systems actually work for patients and providers.
— Megan Thielking, reporter and Morning Rounds writer
“Cutting for Stone”
By Abraham Verghese
I’m about a decade behind in finally reading this novel, a coming-of-age tale about a boy who grows up on the grounds of a hospital in Ethiopia. But I found it to be unexpectedly relevant for today, especially for a book set mostly in the 1950s through 1980s. It made me think about how clinics in developing countries often scrape by on philanthropic funding, and what could happen to global health care if the United States pulls back its funding. And it highlights the role physicians born abroad play in our health care system, particularly in underserved areas — an issue that flared with President Trump’s proposed immigration policies.
— Andrew Joseph, reporter
“Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic”
By Sam Quinones
The book details the explosion in heroin use and how one small Mexican town changed how heroin was produced and sold in America, which in turn became entangled with the growth in the use of painkillers as recreational drugs.
— Talia Bronshtein, interactives editor
“The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement”
By David Brooks
An examination of social, psychological, and biological factors that influence human relationships. I consider this essential reading for anyone looking to make sense of the emotions of themselves and others.
— Taylyn Washington-Harmon, social media editor
“An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back”
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
I have a couple quibbles here and there — for example, medical devices have not been a promising field for venture capital investment in recent years — but “An American Sickness” is an impressive act of synthesis, and a damning indictment of the utter dysfunction in our health care system. By taking the long view of history, this book provides invaluable perspective on how we got into this mess in the U.S., where we spend so much on health care without getting better results.
— Luke Timmerman, “Signal” cohost
“You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know: A True Story of Family, Face Blindness, and Forgiveness”
By Heather Sellers
Sellers has prosopagnosia — she cannot recognize faces. This memoir of her life is fascinating; she learns to compensate via visual and aural cues to make up for the fact that she cannot reliably put faces to names. It’s a rare affliction, but one that can have significant impact on a person’s quality of life. And in Sellers’s case, with a mother who is suffering from mental illness and a father with his own issues, the lack of stability could have been damning. And for Sellers, in this memoir, life has been tumultuous, but it’s also been good.
— Megha Satyanarayana, news editor
“The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story”
By Douglas Preston
Part “Indiana Jones” and part “The Hot Zone,” this real-life mystery story will keep you riveted and leave you thinking. National Geographic and New Yorker writer Douglas Preston reanimates the explorers and hucksters who for more than a century have chased rumors of a long-lost pre-Columbian civilization that prospered in the rugged mountains of Honduras — and suddenly disappeared. He accompanies a team of filmmakers, archeologists, and others who mounted an expedition into a dense rainforest crawling with fearsome fer-de-lance snakes, jaguars, and cockroaches by the millions, but it’s an unseen parasite that proves most dangerous. In the end, Preston’s apocalyptic suggestion that our civilization may share the same fate as the lost city may be overwrought — or is it?
— Gideon Gil, managing editor