Summer is officially here, and so is STAT’s annual book list, chock full of great health, medicine, and science reads to dive into on vacation or during a relaxing time at home.
From the downfall of a buzzy biotech startup to the quest to revive the extinct woolly mammoth to explorations of the historic 1918 flu pandemic, there’s sure to be a page-turner below to capture your attention. Enjoy!
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“Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup”
By John Carreyrou
In an era of hope and hype for disruption in health care, this forensic and compelling inside story of the rise and fall of biotech startup Theranos documents a stunning lack of integrity and ethical oversight by the organization’s senior leadership. Its employees and especially the patients who counted on them deserved better.
— Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, chief executive officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
“The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History”
By John M. Barry
This fascinating book explores the impact of the historic flu pandemic of 1918, which killed at least 50 million people worldwide. It should be required reading for all people in the medical and public health fields. Really, everyone in public service should read it! We have come a long way since the great flu pandemic of 1918, but we must always stay vigilant and continue to improve pandemic flu preparedness.
— Dr. Robert R. Redfield, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director
“The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership”
By James C. Hunter
This is the story of an outwardly successful businessman whose personal and professional lives are spiraling out of control. He finds his way back to what’s really important in life after reluctantly spending a week at a Benedictine monastery. He learns that loyal followers committed to a goal aren’t gained through fear and intimidation, but through relationships built on mutual respect and service, and leaders who prioritize the real needs of those who they wish to lead. I love this book because it helped me wrap my head around something I’ve always noticed, but couldn’t put into words — my success as a leader has always been directly tied to my commitment to helping others, versus demanding that they help me.
— Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. surgeon general
“Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World”
By Rachel Ignotofsky
It has terrific vignettes of the lives of both famous and not-so-famous women scientists and the extraordinary hurdles they faced. It’s also beautifully illustrated with striking yet whimsical depictions of the scientists at work.
— Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine
“Crashing Through: A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See”
By Robert Kurson
A true story about a man, blinded at age 2, who grows up to become an accomplished entrepreneur, skier, and family man. He very accidentally learns of a new “miraculous” stem cell therapy that could potentially restore his sight. The book is about the process of decision-making he takes to decide whether to take the chance on sight, given that he has defined himself as a blind man of great accomplishment, and the impact on his life, body, and family when he makes his decision. It’s incredible and riveting.
— Lisa Suennen, senior managing director of GE Ventures and managing partner of Venture Valkyrie
“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”
By Yuval Noah Harari
The mark of a great book is one that forever changes the way you look at the world. After reading the slightly desultory “Homo Deus,” I gave Harari’s previous book, “Sapiens,” a try. I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting major milestones in human evolution, technological advances, the formation of religions, and laws that allowed civilizations to thrive, but this time through the lens of biology.
— David Sinclair, professor in the department of genetics and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School
“The Fears of the Rich, The Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC”
By William H. Foege
Bill Foege, a great storyteller, shares some of the most important stories for those in public health and all who care about the public’s health. The book is invaluable and can mentor those who have not had the privilege and good fortune of working with Dr. Foege.
— Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies, and former CDC director
“Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic”
By Sam Quinones
This book presents the true tale of America’s opioid epidemic from the eyes of the small towns of Portsmouth, Ohio, and Narayit, Mexico. A riveting read, this book illuminates through detailed storytelling how opioids rapidly became the crisis next door.
— Adm. Brett P. Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary for health
“Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”
By Hans Rosling
Is the average life expectancy of a human being today 50, 60, or 70 years? How many of the world’s 1-year-olds have been vaccinated against some disease? In the past two decades, has the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty doubled, halved, or remained the same? If you’re like most people — indeed, if you’re like most experts — you’ll do worse at these questions than a chimpanzee picking the answers at random, because you’ll be too pessimistic (the answers are 70, 80 percent, and halved). In “Factfulness,” the late doctor and TED star Hans Rosling (with his son Ola and daughter-in-law Anna) explain “ten reasons we’re wrong about the world—and why things are better than you think.”
— Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and the author of “Enlightenment Now”
“The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World”
By Andrea Wulf
The ocean current off the coast of Peru — the Humboldt Current — was the only thing I really knew Alexander von Humboldt for until Andrea Wulf’s “The Invention of Nature” was published. Expertly and passionately, Wulf introduces this incredible man of science — a resourceful, selflessly dedicated experimentalist and thinker. A multidisciplinarian, his interests included geology, botany, zoology, and ecology. As Wulf herself suggests, Humboldt was perhaps the first true environmental scientist, “the lost hero of science.” Unlike many of his age, he came to his conclusions about nature based on evidence he collected firsthand on his extensive travels. To do justice to his incredible story and to bring it better to life, Wulf literally followed in his footsteps as part of her research for the book. Reading “The invention of Nature“ is a memorable and fascinating adventure in itself.
— Magdalena Skipper, editor-in-chief of Nature
“The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds”
By Michael Lewis
Everything we do in the biotech industry is about complex, data-driven decision-making. This book helps explain many of the challenges behind human decision-making, and encourages the reader to pressure test how our natural biases and preconceived models often get in the way of making rational predictions and decisions.
— Dr. Jeffrey Leiden, CEO of Vertex Pharmaceuticals
“Fighting for Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction”
By Travis Lupick
Vancouver reporter Travis Lupick has been covering drug overdose for many years. In this book, he provides a detailed, analytical, and thoughtful account of persistent grassroots activism by the people of Vancouver to save lives of people dying from intravenous drug use. A humanizing approach to drug users and addiction using harm reduction and compassion.
— Dr. Lipi Roy, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health
“One Tiny Turtle”
By Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Chapman
“One Tiny Turtle” is a children’s book about the life cycle of a loggerhead turtle that goes way deep on the details as the turtle dives deep into the ocean. This book teaches kids about ecosystems, the food chain, and how animals grow, develop, and evolve. That doesn’t just apply to sea turtles. It applies to everything.
— Nate Butkus, 8-year-old host of “The Show About Science” podcast
“A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes”
By Adam Rutherford
In witty, trenchant prose, Rutherford lays out the complexity of the genome and the wonder of possibilities buried within it. But he has no time for the ludicrous assertions, simplified explanations, and purposefully misleading assumptions that govern much of the public discourse over genetics. Rather than running from the truth, Rutherford revels in the fact that the origins and interlocking realities of human society are messy. No matter what you think you know about genetics, anthropology, or the role of humans on this frail planet, Rutherford will make you think again. And despite current trends in American life, how can there be such a thing as too much thought?
— Michael Specter, New Yorker staff writer focusing on science, technology, and public health
“The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World”
By Simon Winchester
Ideal for all those engineering geeks out there. I can guarantee you will enjoy, to a tolerance of 0.0000001.
— Timothy Caulfield, professor of law at the University of Alberta and author of “Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?”
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”
By Rebecca Skloot
The story of medical progress is often told as a story of triumph. But along the way, many people were hurt or exploited, especially women and black Americans. This is their story and a recognition of their pain and contributions. It’s essential reading for any health care provider.
— Dr. Elisabeth Poorman, Cambridge, Mass.
“Bad Advice: Or Why Celebrities, Politicians, and Activists Aren’t Your Best Source of Health Information”
By Paul Offit
This is an informative (and funny) look at why crazy health advice and conspiracy theories are so compelling and sound (but unsexy) science has so much trouble breaking through. In a world where many people look to social media for health information, the story of Dr. Offit’s efforts to communicate science and sense to the public had me laughing out loud. I loved this book.
— Kirsten Thistle, Bethesda, Md.
“Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind Over Body”
By Jo Marchant
If you’re interested in the power of our minds, the placebo effect, or deep explorations of mind-body connections, don’t miss this one. Marchant fills her pages with the most fascinating stories and studies — I found I was unable to keep them to myself as I was reading her book, and they quickly became dinnertime conversations in my house.
— Melissa Klaeb, Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
“Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology”
By Deirdre Cooper Owens
It’s impossible to understand the problems that plague American medicine without understanding their history. This book describes how “slavery, medicine and medical publishing formed a synergistic partnership” in the emergence of gynecology as a medical specialty in the United States. It’s an important, timely read that puts contemporary issues of racism, sexism, and health disparities in historical context.
— Kathleen Bachynski, New York
“Failure: Why Science Is So Successful”
By Stuart Firestein
“Failure” delves into the history and applications of failure in science and explains why failure is an integral part of the scientific process. Written by a scientist for both scientists and nonscientists, the book will likely make your head nod more than a few times as you relate to experiences both mentioned in the book and from your own personal experience.
— Alex Birch, Boston
“Poverty and the Myths of Health Care Reform”
By Richard (Buz) Cooper
This book, written in the last two years of Dr. Cooper’s life and published just months after his death in 2016, argues that poverty, rather than waste and physician inefficiency, is the driver of runaway health care costs in the U.S. and the world. Now more than ever, we’re in critical need of health care reform in the U.S. This book brings to light the most pressing changes needed to effectively change the U.S. health care system. It will ultimately save money and, most importantly, improve patient care.
— Alyssa Chard, New York
“Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creature”
By Ben Mezrich
“Woolly” deals not only with the science of the fascinating (and all-too-often vilified) idea of de-extinction through genetic modification, but also discusses the potential effects success could have on the global warming trend, as well as related technologies in the fields of medicine.
— Bethany Geleskie, Dover, Del.
“Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher”
By Lewis Thomas
A surprisingly impactful short series of essays relating the world of biology to the broader ecosystem of humanity. Easy to understand for the layman, with enough technical comparisons for the hardcore science enthusiast to nod along to.
— Edward Marks, New York
“Proof: The Science of Booze”
By Adam Rogers
From botany to biology to chemistry and on, each chapter explains the many sciences in making alcohol. The art we make with the science of yeast, malting, distillation, aging, etc., is entertaining reading. Of course, the last chapter covers hangovers.
— Griff Neighbors, Madison, Conn.
By Christian Jungersen
This neurothriller explores how a brain tumor impacts one man’s sense of identity and hurts all the people around him. Reading the story is like watching an accident in slow motion: scary, but you can’t help looking. Also, the book asks big questions on how new brain science might change us all.
— Mette Thorsen, Copenhagen, Denmark
“If Our Bodies Could Talk: Operating and Maintaining a Human Body”
By James Hamblin
It tackles common health issues, themes, misconceptions, and conspiracies in easy-to-understand, accessible, quippy language.
— MJ Gupta, Los Angeles
“Mistreated: Why We Think We’re Getting Good Health Care—and Why We’re Usually Wrong”
By Robert Pearl
“Mistreated” will take you through Dr. Pearl’s own experience in the hospital hallways and intensive care unit, in addition to his takes on the Affordable Care Act and how the American health care system needs to evolve. As a new nurse, I found this book so important to understand the environment I am getting ready to work in from a health policy, financial, technological, and medical perspective.
— Sophia Busacca, Philadelphia
“The Winter Station”
By Jody Shields
A fiction based on a real plague breakout that occurred in Eastern Russia at the turn of the 20th century. The politics, the personalities, and the growth of the crises are actually taken from the diaries of a Russian aristocratic doctor practicing in Harbin at the time. The slow growth of the horror and helplessness of those who can really see the crises growing is beautifully drawn. And I found a great vodka referenced — delicious on ice.
— Susan P. Bachelder, South Egremont, Mass.
“Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity”
By Sharon Moalem
As a biology teacher, I have been fascinated with the fact that harmful genes (like sickle cell and cystic fibrosis) stay in populations. Why would evolution allow bad genes to persist? This book takes this idea to a whole new level! It is easy to read, informative and entertaining.
— Ruth Sweeney, Reading, Mass.
“Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History”
By Kurt Andersen
Andersen’s probing history of what he calls America’s “fantasy-industrial complex” is not only fascinating, scholarly, and brilliant. It’s also laugh-out-loud funny, and would be even more so if Americans’ habit of believing untruths weren’t so depressing. That has had horrific social and political ramifications, from the Salem witch trials to the Satanic cult panic of the 1980s. But as you read about this form of American exceptionalism — no other advanced country believes in ghosts, angels, and Satan’s physical presence on earth like we do — you’ll understand why we lead the world in anti-vaxxers, homeopathy believers, and alt-med embracers.
— Sharon Begley, senior writer, science and discovery
“Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic”
By Barry Meier
If not for the dastardly backstory, this could have been a tale of marketing genius. For decades, the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma convinced medical professionals and trusting citizens that narcotic painkillers were safe. But the marketing savvy had a shameful and horrifying result: contributing to the scourge of opioids that is only worsening today. The book quotes Raymond Sackler declaring, decades ago, that Purdue would turn OxyContin into a pharma powerhouse: “OxyContin is our ticket to the moon.” How prescient. How disturbing. Meier also traces the culpability of others, including pain management activists. This book was first published in 2003. But it didn’t get the notice it deserved and went quickly out of print. This updated edition puts the opioid epidemic in important context, and includes new details that will only add to the outrage, including the Justice Department’s role — or lack thereof.
— Rick Berke, executive editor
“Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats”
By Maryn McKenna
We think we know about how antibiotic resistance came about. But with stories of pharmaceutical byproducts being poured into animal feed and whole chickens doused in antibiotic baths to keep them “fresh,” McKenna provides a vivid and surprising explanation of how we’ve created the crisis we’re in today.
— Eric Boodman, general assignment reporter
“The Juggler’s Children: A Journey into Family, Legend and the Genes that Bind Us”
By Carolyn Abraham
Were you riveted by the capture of the alleged Golden State Killer, apprehended when police were able to use discarded DNA and a genealogy website to identify Joseph DeAngelo? Then this book is for you. Abraham, a Toronto-based author (and a personal friend, but that’s not why I’m recommending the book) grew up knowing the branches of her family tree stretched far and wide — India, England, Portugal, and maybe even China. But the origins of a key player in the family story — a great-grandfather who was a circus juggler — were a mystery. So Abraham, a first-rate science writer, set out to put the genetic advances she was chronicling to work in a bid to solve a family riddle. To tell you much more would risk disclosing spoilers, but I will say Abraham’s journey led her to unexpected places. Well worth a read, especially for would-be genealogy sleuths tempted to follow in her footsteps.
— Helen Branswell, senior writer, infectious disease
“Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street”
By Sheelah Kolhatkar
This is a book about Steven A. Cohen, the theatrically unjailable billionaire whose $15 billion hedge fund pleaded guilty to sweeping securities fraud. But its most compelling thread is a biotech story about two men and a failed Alzheimer’s drug. Mathew Martoma, a trader at Cohen’s hedge fund, wanted to know as much as he could about bapineuzumab, an Alzheimer’s treatment then in Phase 2 development by Elan and Wyeth. So he sought out Sid Gilman of the University of Michigan, a neuroscientist involved in the drug’s development — and a man in possession of that “material nonpublic information” that has a way of sending people to jail. Their relationship begins in friendship before turning disquietingly familial and ending with one man testifying against the other. Oh, and there’s a formaldehyde-leaking artwork by Damien Hirst, a doomed romance that begins at Elaine’s, and Steve Wynn jabbing a hole into a $139 million Picasso. Recommended.
— Damian Garde, national biotech reporter
“You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor’s Stories of Life, Death, and In Between”
By Daniela Lamas
Dr. Daniela Lamas is a critical care physician, but she approaches storytelling as the journalist she was in a previous life. Her medical credentials give her access to places journalists usually can’t go — such as the respiratory acute care unit, a kind of purgatory where patients exist tethered to ventilators for weeks or months on end. But once inside, she observes with the keen senses and curiosity of a reporter and asks the crucial question that all too often doctors and families fail to before performing a “trach-n-peg” or implanting a VAD: “What comes after for those who do not die, whose lives are extended … as a result of cutting-edge treatments and invasive technologies.”
— Gideon Gil, managing editor
“A Constellation of Vital Phenomena”
By Anthony Marra
This 2013 novel, set in Chechnya, is not explicitly about health or medicine. But the story begins when two characters rescue a girl whose mother is dead and whose father was taken in the night by Russian forces. Both characters are doctors: Akhmed is a bad village physician who never wanted to become one, while Sonja is a no-nonsense surgeon who has returned home after working in the West. She is the last remaining physician at a hospital in a nearby city, and the two start treating patients together while trying to protect the girl from the crumbling world around her. There are plenty of other plots and characters, but the novel details how medicine is practiced in a hospital with few staff and fewer supplies. It’s a bleak book, but also beautiful.
— Andrew Joseph, general assignment reporter
“Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World”
By Laura Spinney
Every time I look at those charts plotting world population over time, I’m always stunned by the precipitous and unprecedented dip exactly a century ago. The global flu pandemic that broke out in 1918 took an inconceivably deadly toll — the latest estimates range between 50 and 100 million people killed — but it tends to get glossed over in mainstream histories of that period. Which is why this new book, published last year by the British science journalist Laura Spinney, is such a welcome addition. Spinney tells a truly global story, looking beyond America’s metropolises to show how remote communities everywhere from Alaska to South Africa tried to cope with a killer they did not understand.
— Rebecca Robbins, reporter
“ABCs of Biology”
By Chris Ferrie and Cara Florance
Somewhere, etched into a tablet in a cave, is this saying: Nerds beget nerds. And for this nerd, the “ABCs of Biology” is the latest in a great series of science board books geared toward young children, in this case using the alphabet as a way to introduce kids to everything from bacteria to stem cells. I love them, my kid loves them, and they fit perfectly in a daypack for reading while traveling.
— Megha Satyanarayana, engagement editor
By Rachel Khong
I picked up this novel after seeing it on a bunch of “Best of 2017” book lists and absolutely loved it. It’s a sweet, funny, and poignant story about family dynamics and dementia. It’s written as a series of diary entries from the narrator, Ruth, who catalogues her dad’s ups and downs — and her own — after moving back in with her parents.
— Megan Thielking, reporter and Morning Rounds writer
Correction: An earlier version of this list misspelled the name of Hans Rosling.