Is your New Year’s resolution to read more? We here at STAT have you covered.
This year saw the publication of some page-turning memoirs, deeply researched works of nonfiction, and fascinating stories of the history of science — among many others.
So as we turn the page on 2017, we asked our readers and staff for their picks of the best health and science books that came out this year. Tuck these titles into your library hold list or Amazon cart and keep that 2018 promise.
“Admissions: Life as a Brain Surgeon”
By Henry Marsh
Henry Marsh is a superb surgeon and writer, but what drove me to instantly reading his second book, following the stellar “Do No Harm,” is the fact that he admits to being as human as the rest of us. Maybe it is the fact that he is in the twilight of his career and can get away with it, or his forthright Englishness, but he puts onto paper what medicine is truly like from the inside, warts and all.
— Martin Kaminski, Boston
“The Cell: Discovering the Microscopic World that Determines Our Health, Our Consciousness, and Our Future”
By Joshua Z. Rappoport
Rappoport’s writing is exceptionally concise and exciting to read. He effectively and accessibly communicates the cutting-edge understandings underpinning cell biology, peppering in the highlights in its history of ideological and technological development. Using vivid imagery and poignant analogy, he elevates the discipline in a poetic and important way.
— Ron Yadin, Berkeley, Calif.
“In Shock: My Journey from Death to Recovery and the Redemptive Power of Hope”
By Rana Awdish
Rana Awdish, a physician, had the chance to die. Luckily for us, she did not. Her book, “In Shock,” a must-read for patients and doctors alike, is a tour de force in championing a shift in culture for helping health professionals talk more effectively with their patients, and for patients voices to have primacy within the health system.
— Madhukar Pai, Montreal
“The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market”
By Joseph F. Coughlin
This is a powerful perspective on the importance of an aging population. It provides a strong business imperative, demonstrates the important role women provide, and is a humorous and well-written book. Fantastic read!
— Vicki Shepard, Nashville
“Patent Politics: Life Forms, Markets, and the Public Interest in the United States and Europe”
By Shobita Parthasarathy
This is a brilliant, deeply researched book that gets to the heart of how and why the public has been shut out of ethical and political debates about the life sciences in the U.S., but not in Europe. Patents are treated as technical issues in the U.S., and as ethical and political issues in Europe, as a result of laws and long-term political cultures. The result: The U.S. patents far more life forms than in the EU, turning life into money by bypassing public input.
— Kelly Moore, Chicago
“The Family Imprint: A Daughter’s Portrait of Love and Loss”
By Nancy Borowick
A book about love, family, and joy as much as it is about grief and loss. In “The Family Imprint,” photojournalist Nancy Borowick documents her mother and father’s simultaneous battles with stage 4 cancer. Her photographs of her family’s everyday life depict moments of pure joy and pure grief — and everything in between. Presented along with family snapshots and ephemera, Borowick’s collection is an intimate tribute and a comfort to anyone who has dealt with the death of a loved one.
— Alissa Ambrose, senior photo editor
“Drug Wars: How Big Pharma Raises Prices and Keeps Generics off the Market”
By Robin Feldman and Evan Frondorf
It’s a compelling read. The authors explore the various ways that pharmaceutical companies try to reduce competition from generic drugs and twist health policy to achieve goals contrary to the public interest. The Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Act, often called the Hatch-Waxman Act, went into effect in 1984 to stimulate the generic drug market. It was designed to strike a balance between an inventor’s profit and the common good. But pharmaceutical companies and their lawyers found ways to extend their periods of exclusivity and slow down generic approvals taking up valuable time, at taxpayer and patient expense. Before I read the book I was a happier person, and after I read the book I realized that the actual world is more depressing than I thought — it reminded me of Kafka’s world (“The Trial” or, on even more abstract level, “The Metamorphosis”).
— Talia Bronshtein, interactives editor
“Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats”
By Maryn McKenna
Journalist and author Maryn McKenna was smart enough to fear — and write about — drug-resistant staph infections long before most of the rest of us took the threat of MRSA seriously. In her new book, “Big Chicken,” McKenna exposes how the overuse of antibiotics has transformed the humble chicken, once a rare and expensive treat, into a cheap, international commodity and propelled the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases. McKenna describes how 34 million pounds of antibiotics — four times the amount used by humans — go into animal feed, none of it to cure infections. Chicken is the most commonly consumed meat in the United States; after this book, you’ll never look at your chicken nuggets the same way again.
— Usha Lee McFarling, West Coast correspondent
“The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying”
By Nina Riggs
Written from stage 1 to stage 4, Nina Riggs brings you into her life with breast cancer — from dealing with her mother’s own death from cancer, to snuggling with her young two sons, to scouring the internet for the perfect couch, to a late-night exchange with her husband, who confesses, “I’m so afraid I can’t breathe.” Riggs, who died while the book was in production, is wickedly funny but doesn’t spare the reader her deepest frustrations and fears, weaving together a masterful tale.
— Sarah Mupo, multiplatform editor
“The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine”
By Lindsey Fitzharris
This book combines a few of my favorite things — history, biography and medical science. The story it tells is both gross and fascinating. It was a time when surgeons inherited the gowns of their mentors, complete with remnants of various medical procedures. When they didn’t bother to wash their hands after that autopsy, because they would just get messy again anyway when they delivered a baby. Into this disgusting fray walks Dr. Joseph Lister, a Quaker-born Englishman who spends years trying to convince his colleagues of the benefits of antiseptic surgery. It ultimately caught on, but progress was slow and, for Lister, painful in some ways. And, yes, his name is where we got the brand Listerine, which came during a time when “lister-” became the go-to prefix for all things sterile or germicidal. But it was an association Lister himself barely lived to see.
— Leah Samuel, general assignment reporter