Category Archives: Non-fiction

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath becomes Air


At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.

Publisher: Bodley Head;
Year: 2016
ISBN-10: 9781847923677

 (spoiler alert)

Osler, William. A Way of Life


Sir William Osler (1849 – 1919) was a Canadian physician and helped found Johns Hopkins Hospital. He has been called the “Father of Modern Medicine.” This book is his explanation of how he achieved so much in his life and his exhortation for everyone who reads it to do the same. A Way of Life has been introducing people to his philosophy of successful living by way of “day tight compartments” since he first delivered the talk at Yale that spring Sunday afternoon in 1913.

For an online version this >link< to a copy from the University of Toronto works very well (and I have some sympathy for the bit or marginalia that you’ll find on the last page!

Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage


ENDURANCE is the story of one of the most astonishing feats of exploration and human courage ever recorded. In 1914 Sir Ernest Shackleton and a crew of 27 men set sail for the South Atlantic on board a ship called the Endurance. The object of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic overland. In October 1915, still half a continent away from their intended base, the ship was trapped, then crushed in ice.

For five months Shackleton and his men, drifting on ice packs, were castaways on one of the most savage regions of the world. This utterly gripping book, based on first-hand accounts of crew members and interviews with survivors, describes how the men survived, how they lived together in camps on the ice for 17 months until they reached land, how they were attacked by sea leopards, the diseases which they developed, and the indefatigability of the men and their lasting civility towards one another in the most adverse conditions conceivable.

Publisher: W&N
Year: 2000
ISBN-10: 0753809877

Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow


The phenomenal New York Times Bestseller by Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow offers a whole new look at the way our minds work, and how we make decisions.

Why is there more chance we’ll believe something if it’s in a bold type face? Why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast, intuitive thinking, and slow, rational thinking. This book reveals how our minds are tripped up by error and prejudice (even when we think we are being logical), and gives you practical techniques for slower, smarter thinking. It will enable to you make better decisions at work, at home, and in everything you do.

Publisher: Penguin
Year: 2012
ISBN-10: 0141033576

Leighton, Ralph, Feynman, Richard. Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character as Told to Ralph Leighton


Winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965, Richard Feynman was one of the world’s greatest theoretical physicists, but he was also a man who fell, often jumped, into adventure. An artist, safecracker, practical joker and storyteller, Feynman’s life was a series of combustible combinations made possible by his unique mixture of high intelligence, unquenchable curiosity and eternal scepticism. Over a period of years, Feynman’s conversations with his friend Ralph Leighton were first taped and then set down as they appear here, little changed from their spoken form, giving a wise, funny, passionate and totally honest self-portrait of one of the greatest men of our age.

Publisher: Vintage
Year: 1992
ISBN-10: 009917331X

Macdonald, Helen. H is for Hawk


As a child, Helen Macdonald was determined to become a falconer, learning the arcane terminology and reading all the classic books. Years later, when her father died and she was struck deeply by grief, she became obsessed with the idea of training her own goshawk. She bought Mabel for £800 on a Scottish quayside and took her home to Cambridge, ready to embark on the long, strange business of trying to train this wildest of animals.

H is for Hawk is an unflinchingly honest account of Macdonald’s struggle with grief during the difficult process of the hawk’s taming and her own untaming. This is a book about memory, nature and nation, and how it might be possible to reconcile death with life and love.

Publisher: Vintage
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 0099575450


Bennett, Alan. Keeping on Keeping on

keeping keeping3d

‘I seem to have banged on this year rather more than usual. I make no apology for that, nor am I nervous that it will it make a jot of difference. I shall still be thought to be kindly, cosy and essentially harmless. I am in the pigeon-hole marked ‘no threat’ and did I stab Judi Dench with a pitchfork I should still be a teddy bear.’

Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose Keeping On Keeping On follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally successful Writing Home and Untold Stories, each published ten years apart. This latest collection contains Bennett’s peerless diaries 2005 to 2015, reflecting on a decade that saw four premieres at the National Theatre (The Habit of Art, People, Hymn and Cocktail Sticks), a West End double-bill transfer, and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van.

There’s a provocative sermon on private education given before the University at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, and ‘Baffled at a Bookcase’ offers a passionate defence of the public library. The book includes Denmark Hill, a darkly comic radio play set in suburban south London, as well as Bennett’s reflections on a quarter of a century’s collaboration with Nicholas Hytner. This is an engaging, humane, sharp, funny and unforgettable record of life according to the inimitable Alan Bennett.

Publisher: Profile Faber
Year: 2016
ISBN-10: 1781256497

O’Sullivan, Suzanne. It’s All in Your Head: Stories from the Frontline of Psychosomatic Illness

all_inhead all_inhead3d

Pauline first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then life-threatening appendicitis. After a routine operation Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly afterwards, convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal: her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

This may be an extreme case, but Pauline is not alone. As many as a third of people visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most, an emotional root is suspected which is often the last thing a patient wants to hear and a doctor to say.

We accept our hearts can flutter with excitement and our brows can sweat with nerves, but on this journey into the very real world of psychosomatic illness, Suzanne O’Sullivan finds the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves.

Publisher: Vintage
Year: 2016
ISBN-10: 0099597853


Conner, TD. Nazi Medical Experiments


Nazism cursed the European continent and tried to dominate the world. It was a racist dogma established and enforced by ruthless bullies and brutal criminals. Before Adolf Hitler was crushed, 60 million people died. Nazis murdered people around the clock on their treadmills-of-death after developing fast, modern ways to kill large masses of human beings quickly. They extended their cruelties into the realm of medicine, grinning doctors–many of them once distinguished professors with advanced degrees– torturing thousands, including children, to death in grisly ways in filthy back rooms in the many Nazi camps or in special murder “clinics.” This book discusses some of the hideous crimes against humanity they committed, all with a clear conscience and without a second thought. There is also a section on medical “experiments” and atrocities carried out, even in the days of the 21st Century, in a developed country near you.


Schmidt, Ulf. Secret Science: A Century of Poison Warfare and Human Experiments

secret_science secret_science3d

From the early 1990s, allegations that servicemen had been duped into taking part in trials with toxic agents at top-secret Allied research facilities throughout the twentieth century featured with ever greater frequency in the media. In Britain, a whole army of over 21,000 soldiers had participated in secret experiments between 1939 and 1989. Some remembered their stay as harmless, but there were many for whom the experience had been all but pleasant, sometimes harmful, and in isolated cases deadly.

Publisher: OUP Oxford
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 019929979X


Dawkins, Richard (ed). The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing

modscience    modscience3d


Selected and introduced by Richard Dawkins, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing is a celebration of the finest writing by scientists for a wider audience – revealing that many of the best scientists have displayed as much imagination and skill with the pen as they have in the laboratory.

This is a rich and vibrant collection that captures the poetry and excitement of communicating scientific understanding and scientific effort from 1900 to the present day. Professor Dawkins has included writing from a diverse range of scientists, some of whom need no introduction, and some of whose works have become modern classics, while others may be less familiar – but all convey the passion of great scientists writing about their science.

Publisher: OUP Oxford
Year: 2009
ISBN-10: 0199216819




Oppenheimer, Joshua; Anonymous (dirs). The Act of Killing


A documentary which challenges former Indonesian death-squad leaders to reenact their mass-killings in whichever cinematic genres they wish, including classic Hollywood crime scenarios and lavish musical numbers.


By director Joshua Oppenheimer

The Act of Killing reveals why violence we hope would be unimaginable is not only imagined, but also routinely performed. It is an effort to understand the moral vacuum that makes it possible for perpetrators of genocide to be celebrated on public television with cheers and smiles. It is a call to reexamine easy reassurances that we are the good guys fighting the bad guys, just because we say so.

Some viewers may desire resolution by the end of the film, a successful struggle for justice that results in changes in the balance of power, human rights tribunals, reparations, and official apologies. The film alone cannot create these changes, but this desire has been our inspiration as well, as we seek to shed light on the darkest chapters of both the local and global human story, and to express the real costs of blindness, expedience, and an inability to control greed and the hunger for power in an increasingly unified world society. This is not a story about Indonesia. This is a story about us all.

Directed: Joshua Oppenheimer
Produced:  Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cinematography: Anonymous, Carlos Arango de Montis, Lars Skree
Production company: Final Cut for Real, DK
Year: 2013


Larkin, John. Cynical Acumen: The Anarchic Guide to Clinical Medicine

cynical cynical3d


Winner of the Medical Journalists’ Association Specialist Book of the Year Award 2006 Cynical Acumen approaches medicine in the real world, dealing with issues ignored by other books. It is a unique, ‘what you really need to know’ textbook designed to help medical students and senior house officers look slick and pass their exams against all odds. The book entertainingly considers the world outside medicine with anecdotes on the important things in life such as sport, literature, Thai cooking and the dissolution of the monasteries. It has been aptly described by the author as ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Medicine’.

Publisher: CRC Press
Year: 2005
ISBN-10: 1857757874

Francis, Gavin. Adventures in Human Being

being being3d

We have a lifetime’s association with our bodies, but for many of us they remain uncharted territory. In Adventures in Human Being, Gavin Francis leads the reader on a journey through health and illness, offering insights on everything from the ribbed surface of the brain to the secret workings of the heart and the womb; from the pulse of life at the wrist to the unique engineering of the foot.

Drawing on his own experiences as a doctor and GP, he blends first-hand case studies with reflections on the way the body has been imagined and portrayed over the millennia. If the body is a foreign country, then to practise medicine is to explore new territory: Francis leads the reader on an adventure through what it means to be human.

Both a user’s guide to the body and a celebration of its elegance, this book will transform the way you think about being alive, whether in sickness or in health.

Publisher: Profile Books
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 1781253412





Murphy, Robert. The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled

silent silent

Robert Murphy was in the prime of his career as an anthropologist when he felt the first symptom of a malady that would ultimately take him on an odyssey stranger than any field trip to the Amazon: a tumor of the spinal cord that progressed slowly and irreversibly into quadriplegia. In this gripping account, Murphy explores society’s fears, myths, and misunderstandings about disability, and the damage they inflict. He reports how paralysis like all disabilities assaults people’s identity, social standing, and ties with others, while at the same time making the love of life burn even more fiercely.

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company;
Year: 2001
ISBN-10: 0393320421

(spoiler alert)

Sacks, Oliver. A Leg to Stand On

leg leg3d

When Oliver Sacks, a physician by profession, injured his leg while climbing a mountain, he found himself in an unusual position – that of patient. The injury itself was severe, but straightforward to fix; the psychological effects, however, were far less easy to predict, explain, or resolve: Sacks experienced paralysis and an inability to perceive his leg as his own, instead seeing it as some kind of alien and inanimate object, over which he had no control. A Leg to Stand On is both an account of Sacks’ ordeal and subsequent recovery, and an exploration of the ways in which mind and body are inextricably linked.

Publisher: Picador
ISBN-10: 0330507621

(spoiler alert)

Enders, Giulia. Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ

gutinside gut3d

“The key to living a happier, healthier life is inside us. Our gut is almost as important to us as our brain or our heart, yet we know very little about how it works. In Gut, Giulia Enders shows that rather than the utilitarian and let s be honest somewhat embarrassing body part we imagine it to be, it is one of the most complex, important, and even miraculous parts of our anatomy. And scientists are only just discovering quite how much it has to offer; new research shows that gut bacteria can play a role in everything from obesity and allergies to Alzheimer’s. Beginning with the personal experience of illness that inspired her research, and going on to explain everything from the basics of nutrient absorption to the latest science linking bowel bacteria with depression, Enders has written an entertaining, informative health handbook. Gut definitely shows that we can all benefit from getting to know the wondrous world of our inner workings. In this charming book, young scientist Giulia Enders takes us on a fascinating tour of our insides. Her message is simple if we treat our gut well, it will treat us well in return. But how do we do that? And why do we need to? Find out in this surprising, and surprisingly funny, exploration of the least understood of our organs.”

Publisher: Greystone Books
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 1771641495


Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine and What Matters in the End

mortal_gawande mortal

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn’t matter whether you were five or fifty – every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality – about what it’s like to get old and die, how medicine has changed this and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about death have gone wrong. With his trademark mix of perceptiveness and sensitivity, Atul Gawande outlines a story that crosses the globe, as he examines his experiences as a surgeon and those of his patients and family, and learns to accept the limits of what he can do.

Never before has aging been such an important topic. The systems that we have put in place to manage our mortality are manifestly failing; but, as Gawande reveals, it doesn’t have to be this way. The ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death, but a good life – all the way to the very end.

Publisher: Profile Books
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 1846685826

Spiegelhalter D, Blastland M. The Norm Chronicles: Stories and numbers about Danger

norm norm3d

Meet Norm. He’s 31, 5’9″, just over 13 stone, and works a 39 hour week. He likes a drink, doesn’t do enough exercise and occasionally treats himself to a bar of chocolate (milk). He’s a pretty average kind of guy. In fact, he is the average guy in this clever and unusual take on statistical risk, chance, and how these two factors affect our everyday choices. Watch as Norm (who, like all average specimens, feels himself to be uniquely special), and his friends careful Prudence and reckless Kelvin, turns to statistics to help him in life’s endless series of choices – should I fly or take the train? Have a baby? Another drink? Or another sausage? Do a charity skydive or get a lift on a motorbike?

Because chance and risk aren’t just about numbers – it’s about what we believe, who we trust and how we feel about the world around us. What we do, or don’t do, has as much do with gut instinct as hard facts, with enjoyment as understanding. If you’ve ever wondered what the statistics in tabloid scare stories really mean, how dangerous horse-riding is compared to class-A drugs, or what governs coincidence, you will find it all here.

Publisher: Profile Books
Year: 2013
ISBN-10: 1846686202

Check out the website for a feel for the book…


Holden J, Kieffer J, Newbigin J, Wright S. Where Does It Hurt? The New World of the Medical Humanities

 where hurt wherhurt4d

Where does it Hurt: The New World of Medical Humanities is a compilation of forty short essays edited by John Holden, John Kieffer, John Newbigin, and Shelagh Wright for the Wellcome Trust. It sets out to explore definitions of the medical humanities and allow people to visualise what it might entail by giving examples of practical applications of the arts and humanities to concepts of health and wellbeing.

Publisher: Wellcome Trust
Year: 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0-9570285-7-9

You can download a copy here

Czerwiec MK, Williams I, Squier SM, Green MJ, Myers KR, Smith ST. Graphic Medicine Manifesto

graphicmed graphicmed4d

This inaugural volume in the Graphic Medicine series establishes the principles of graphic medicine and begins to map the field. The volume combines scholarly essays written by the editorial team with previously unpublished visual narratives by Ian Williams and MK Czerwiec and includes comic avatars by a wide range of graphic medicine contributors—all in an arresting format. The first section comprises essays by Scott Smith and Susan Squier. It argues that as a new area of scholarship, research on graphic medicine has the potential to challenge the boundaries of conventional academic disciplines, to raise questions about their foundations, and to reinvigorate literary scholarship—and the notion of the literary text—for a broader audience. The second section, incorporating essays by Michael Green and Kimberly Myers, demonstrates that graphic medicine narratives have the potential to engage members of the health professions with literary and visual representation and symbolic practices, offering patients, family members, physicians, and other caregivers new ways to experience and work with the challenges and complexity of the medical experience. The final section, featuring essays by Ian Williams and MK Czerwiec, focuses on the practice of creating graphic narratives; iconography used in the graphic narrative; drawing as social practice; and the nature of comics as visual rhetoric. A conclusion (in comics form) testifies to the diverse and growing community that is graphic medicine. Finally, two bibliographies—one of comics and the other of scholarly references—provide a valuable resource for readers.

Publisher: Pennsylvania State University Press,
Year: 2015
ISBN-10: 0271066490

Emery, AEH, Emery MLH. Medicine and Art

med_art medart3d

Alan and Marcia Emery present a superb collection of over fifty pieces of art, reflecting the physician’s role in society and the relationship between doctor and patient.

Medicine and Art contains an international selection of artworks, tracing both the history of art and the development of medicine from the Ancient Greeks to the present day, illustrating changing perceptions and applications of medicine, through varied styles and artistic media.

Each work of art is accompanied by a short essay describing the history of the artist and the subject of the artwork. The full colour illustrations and detailed Appendix of further artworks depicting specific medical conditions make this book a unique treasure trove of information for all who share the authors’ love of art, history and medicine. This intriguing book evolved from a series of articles written and researched by Alan Emery about art and medicine in Clinical Medicine, the journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London

Publisher: Royal Society of Medicine Press
Year 2002
ISBN-10: 1853155012

Steven Oliver HYMS: This is a beautiful book, with some brilliant reproductions and a fascinating documentation and perspective on the way doctors and medicine have been represented in art over time. The image below is included in the book from the Wellcome Library collection >link<, it is called ‘Sentence of Death‘ painted in 1908 by John Collier and represents the moment a young man is told by his physician that he is going to die. We can only speculate which terminal illness it was that was being imagined, capable of killing a young Edwardian man: cancer, tuberculosis or perhaps syphilis?

V0016100 A physician telling a patient that he is going to die (?): t

Valenstein, Elliot S. The War of the Soups and the Sparks: The Discovery of Neurotransmitters and the Dispute Over How Nerves Communicate


The War of the Soups and the Sparks tells the saga of the dispute between the pharmacologists, who had uncovered the first evidence that nerves communicate by releasing chemicals, and the neurophysiologists, experts on the nervous system, who dismissed the evidence and remained committed to electrical explanations.
The War of the Soups and the Sparks reveals how science and scientists work. Valenstein describes the observations and experiments that led to the discovery of neurotransmitters and sheds light on what determines whether a novel concept will gain acceptance among the scientific community. His work also explains the immense importance of Otto Loewi, Henry Dale, and Walter B. Cannon’s achievements in our understanding of the human brain and the way mental illnesses are conceptualized and treated.

Publisher: Columbia University Press
Year: 2007
ISBN-10: 0231135890

Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures.

falldown  falldown3d

When three-month-old Lia Lee Arrived at the county hospital emergency room in Merced, California, a chain of events was set in motion from which neither she nor her parents nor her doctors would ever recover. Lia’s parents, Foua and Nao Kao, were part of a large Hmong community in Merced, refugees from the CIA-run “Quiet War” in Laos. The Hmong, traditionally a close-knit and fiercely independent people, have been less amenable to assimilation than most immigrants, adhering steadfastly to the rituals and beliefs of their ancestors. Lia’s pediatricians, Neil Ernst and his wife, Peggy Philip, cleaved just as strongly to another tradition: that of Western medicine. When Lia Lee Entered the American medical system, diagnosed as an epileptic, her story became a tragic case history of cultural miscommunication.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Year: 1997
ISBN-10: 0374525641

(spoiler alert)

Brandt, Allan. The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America

cigs cigs3d

From agriculture to big business, from medicine to politics, The Cigarette Century is the definitive account of how smoking came to be so deeply implicated in our culture, science, policy, and law. No product has been so heavily promoted or has become so deeply entrenched in American consciousness. The Cigarette Century shows in striking detail how one ephemeral (and largely useless) product came to play such a dominant role in so many aspects of our lives—and deaths.

There is a good website about the book with more background and resources >here<

Publisher: Basic Books
Year: 2009
ISBN-10: 0465070485

Marsh, H. Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery


What is it like to be a brain surgeon?
How does it feel to hold someone’s life in your hands, to cut into the stuff that creates thought, feeling and reason?
How do you live with the consequences of performing a potentially life-saving operation when it all goes wrong?
DO NO HARM is an unforgettable insight into the countless human dramas that take place in a busy modern hospital. Above all, it is a lesson in the need for hope when faced with life’s most difficult decisions.

Publisher: W&N
Year 2014
ISBN-10: 0297869876

(spoiler alert)

Prinz, Jesse. Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion

Gut Reactions is an interdisciplinary defense
of the claim that emotions are perceptions of changes in the body. This thesis, pioneered
by William James and resuscitated by Antonio Damasio, has been widely criticized for
failing to acknowledge that emotions are meaningful insofar as they represent concerns,
not respiratory function and blood pressure. Fear represents danger, sadness represents
loss. To explain this fact, many researchers conclude that emotions must involve judgments
regarding one’s relationship to the environment. Prinz offers a new unified account
of the emotions that reconciles these two theories. He argues that emotions are embodied
appraisals–they are perceptions of the body, but, through the body, they also allow
us to literally perceive danger, loss, and other matters of concern. 

Demian Whiting HYMS: An interesting
and accessible defence of a Jamesian theory of emotion.

Publisher: OUP USA
Year: 2006
ISBN-10: 0195309367


Dancy, J. Ethics without Principles

Jonathan Dancy presents a long-awaited exposition and defence of particularism in ethics, a view with which he has been associated for twenty years. He argues that the traditional link between morality and principles, or between being moral and having principles, is little more than a mistake. The possibility of moral thought and judgement does not in any way depend on an adequate supply of principles. Dancy grounds this claim on a form of reasons-holism, holding that what is a reason in one case need not be any reason in another, and maintaining that moral reasons are no different in this respect from others. He puts forward a distinctive form of value-holism to go with the holism of reasons, and he gives a detailed discussion, much needed, of the currently popular topic of ‘contributory’ reasons. Opposing positions of all sorts are summarized and criticized. Ethics Without Principles is the definitive statement of particularist ethical theory, and will be required reading for all those working on moral philosophy and ethical theory.

Demian Whiting HYMS: Deserves a mention because it outlines an alternative to a principles based approach to moral theorising! But be warned: not an easy book to read!

Publisher: Clarendon Press
Year: 2006)

(access via eBooks at York >here<)

(access via eBooks at Hull >here<)

Hahn, R. (Editor) Anthropology in Public Health: Bridging differences in culture and Society

The 15 case studies of this book illustrate anthropological concepts and methods that can help us understand and resolve diverse public health problems around the world.

Author: Hahn, Robert A. (Editor)
Title: Anthropology in Public Health: Bridging differences in culture and Society
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2009
ISBN: 0195374649

Goffman, E. Stigma

The dwarf, the disfigured, the blind man, the homosexual, the ex-mental patient and the member of a racial or religious minority all share one characteristic: they are all socially “abnormal”, and therefore in danger of being considered less then human. Whether ordinary people react by rejection, by over-hearty acceptance or by plain embarrassment, their main concern is with such an individual’s deviance, not with the whole of his personality. “Stigma” is a study of situations where normal and abnormal meet, and of the ways in which a stigmatized person can develop a more positive social and personal identity.

Author: Goffman, Ernest

Title: Stigma

ISBN: 0140124756

Glover, Jonathan. Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century

A unique and compelling study of history and morality in the twentieth century, this book examines the psychology which made possible Hiroshima, the Nazi genocide, the Gulag, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia. In modern technological war, victims are distant and responsibility is fragmented. The scientists making the atomic bomb thought they were
only providing a weapon: how it was used was the responsibility of society. The people who dropped the bomb were only obeying orders. The machinery of political decision-taking was so complex that no one among the politicians was unambiguously responsible. No one thought of themselves as causing the horrors of Hiroshima.One topic of the book is tribalism: about how, in Rwanda and in the former Yugoslavia, people who once lived together became trapped into mutual fear and hatred. Another topic is how, in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and in Cambodia, systems of belief made atrocities possible. The analysis of Nazism looks at the emotionally powerful combination of tribalism and belief which enabled people to do things otherwise unimaginable. Drawing on accounts of participants, victims and observers, Jonathan Glover shows that different atrocities have common patterns which suggest weak points in our psychology.

Publisher: Pimlico
Year: 2001
ISBN-10: 0712665412

Gawande, A. Complications: a Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science

Gently dismantling the myth of medical infallibility, Dr Atul Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science is essential reading for anyone involved in medicine–on either end of the stethoscope. Medical professionals make mistakes, learn on the job and improvise much of their technique and self-confidence. Gawande’s tales are humane and passionate reminders that doctors are people, too.

Title: Complications:a Surgeon’s notes on an imperfect science.

Author: Gawande, Atul

Publisher: Profile books

Year: 2008

ISBN: 1846681324

Kaplan J. The Dressing Station: A Surgeon’s Odyssey

Surgeon Jonathan Kaplan has flown around the world on medical assignments, but as his debut book suggests, he never feels more engaged with life than when among the dying.

Stephen Bradley HYMS: Experiences of a surgeon who worked in various conflicts and disasters including amongst the kurds during the first gulf war

Publisher: Picador
Year: 2002
ISBN-10: 0330480790

(spoiler alert)

Dawkins, R. The selfish gene

Inheriting the mantle of revolutionary biologist from Darwin, Watson, and Crick, Richard Dawkins forced an enormous change in the way we see ourselves and the world with the publication of The Selfish Gene. Suppose, instead of thinking about organisms using genes to reproduce themselves, as we had since Mendel’s work was rediscovered, we turn it around and imagine that “our” genes build and maintain us in order to make more genes. That simple reversal seems to answer many puzzlers which had stumped scientists for years, and we haven’t thought of evolution in the same way since.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 1989
ISBN: 0192177737

Sacks, O. The man who mistook his wife for a hat (and other clinical tales)

A 1985 book by neurologist Oliver Sacks describing the case histories of some of his patients. The title of the book comes from the case study of a man with visual agnosia

Author: Sacks, Oliver

Title: The man who mistook his wife for a hat (and other clinical tales)

Publisher: Chester Music

Year: 1996

ISBN: 0711960836

Wilkinson R, Pickett K. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

Large inequalities of income in a society have often been regarded as divisive and corrosive, and it is common knowledge that in rich societies the poor have shorter lives and suffer more from almost every social problem. This groundbreaking book, based on thirty years’ research, demonstrates that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them – the well-off as well as the poor.

Picardie, R. Before I say goodbye

When Ruth Picardie died from complications following the misdiagnosis of breast cancer in September 1997, leaving a young husband and two-year-old twins, thousands mourned who’d never met her. Ruth’s column in “The Observer” recorded with scalding honesty the progress of her illness and her feelings about living with terminal cancer. “Before I Say Goodbye” brings together these pieces, Ruth’s e-mail correspondence with friends, selected letters from readers, and accounts of Ruth’s last days by her sister, Justine, and husband Matt.

Author: Picardie, Ruth
Title: Before I say goodbye
Publisher: Penguin
Year: 1998
ISBN: 0140276300

Oakley, Anne. Fracture: Adventures of a Broken Body

The starting point of Ann Oakley’s fascinating new book is the fracture of her right arm in the grounds of a hotel in the USA. What begins as an accident becomes a journey into some critical themes of modern Western culture: the crisis of embodiment and the perfect self; the confusion between body and identity; the commodification of bodies and body parts; the intrusive surveillance and profiteering of medicine and the law; the problem of ageing; and the identification of women, particularly, with bodies – from the intensely ambiguous two-in-one state of pregnancy to women’s later transformation into unproductive, brittle skeletons. Fracture mixes personal experience (the author’s and other people’s) with ‘facts’ derived from other literatures, including the history of medicine, neurology, the sociology of health and illness, philosophy, and legal discourses on the right to life and people as victims of a greedy litigation system. The book’s genre spans fiction/non-fiction, autobiography and social theory.
Laura Potts HYMS: Why read this? because it’s short and beautifully written but told in a way that values anecdote and story as well as study and analysis. Hope it will inspire you to think about embodiment and ill-health in a wide social and cultural context and to be able to think and write
coherently yourselves about health and illness.

Publisher: Policy Press
Year: 2007
ISBN-10: 1861349378

McCrum, R. My Year Off: Rediscovering life after a stroke

‘When I was just forty-two I suffered a severe stroke. Paralysed on my left side and unable to walk, I was confined to hospital for three months, then spent about a year recovering, slowly getting myself back into the world. When I was seriously ill in hospital, I longed to read a book that would tell me that I might expect in convalescence and also give me something to think about. . .’

Publisher: Picador
Year: 2008
ISBN: 033045711X

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Why is the brain divided? The difference between right and left hemispheres has been puzzled over for centuries. In a book of unprecedented scope, Iain McGilchrist draws on a vast body of recent brain research, illustrated with case histories, to reveal that the difference is profound – not just this or that function, but two whole, coherent, but incompatible ways of experiencing the world.  The left hemisphere is detail-oriented, prefers mechanisms to living things, and is inclined to self-interest, where the right hemisphere has greater breadth, flexibility and generosity. This division helps explain the origins of music and language, and casts new light on the history of philosophy, as well as on some mental illnesses. In the second part of the book, he takes the reader on a journey through the history of Western culture, illustrating the tension between these two worlds as revealed in the thought and belief of thinkers and artists, from Aeschylus to Magritte. He argues that, despite its inferior grasp of reality, the left hemisphere is increasingly taking precedence in the modern world, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Yale University Press
Year: 2010
ISBN-10: 0300168926

Misselbrook, D. Thinking about patients

Written by a practising GP, the book critically examines early 21st-century NHS trends and also explores the broader scientific base underlying our ideas about health and the provision of healthcare. Drawing on his own experience, and upon case histories, contemporary literature and research reviews, the author discusses the different viewpoints of patients and doctors and gives a new slant on the sociology of medicine, urging a move from the mechanistic, to the holistic approach
in doctors’ attitudes towards their patients

Author: Misselbrook, David
Title: Thinking about patients
Publisher: Petroc Press
Year: 2001
ISBN: 1900603497

Murphy, Dervla. The Ukimwi Road: From Kenya to Zimbabwe

In January 1992, Dervla Murphy prescribed herself several carefree months and embarked on a cycle tour (pedalling and pushing) from Kenya to Zimbabwe via Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia on the cyclist’s equivalent of a Rolls Royce called Lear. Before long, she realized that for travellers who wish to remain stress-free, Africa is the wrong continent. Inevitably she was caught up in the harrowing problems of the peoples she met; the devastating effects of AIDS (ukimwi is Swahili for AIDS), drought and economic collapse; scepticism about Western “aid schemes”; and corruption and incompetence, both white and black.

Publisher: Flamingo
ISBN: 978-0006548027

Viewer Comments:


I really enjoyed this book – its a travel book with attitude! Although aspects of the AIDS epidemic and the politics of East Africa have changed in the last twenty years it is still a fascinating account – and will get you thinking. Perhaps something to read when you are dreaming about that year five elective…?

Porter, R. The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity

Stephen Bradley HYMS: A classic and very accessible history of medicine. Chapters on modern medicine (since 19th century) are particularly worth reading especially the account of the precocious discovery of sepsis by Hungarian obstetrician Semmelweis and his tragic end (he was driven to insanity by his inability to convince his colleagues to wash their hands).

Publisher: Fontana Press
Year: 1999
ISBN-10: 0006374549

Viewer Comments:


This a fascinating book – its a bit of a brick, but is does cover all of recorded history! Roy Porter was an excellent historian and a prolific writer who died tragically young – I’m sure we’ll post more of his books in future, particularly those on the history of madness. This link should take you to his Amazon page with links to other books.

Lupton, D. Medicine as Culture

The Second Edition of Medicine as Culture provides a broad overview of the way medicine is experienced, perceived and socially constructed in western societies. Drawing on the tradition of the sociology of health and illness, Deborah Lupton directs readers to an understanding of medicine, health care, illness and disease from a sociocultural perspective.

Author: Lupton, Deborah
Title: Medicine as Culture
Publisher: Sage
Year: 1994
ISBN: 0803989253

Senn, Stephen. Dicing with Death

“If you think that statistics has nothing to say about what you do or how you could do it better, then you are either wrong or in need of a more interesting job. Stephen Senn explains here how statistics determines many decisions about medical care, from allocating resources for health, to determining which drugs to license, to cause-and-effect in relation to disease.”

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2003
ISBN-10: 0521540232

Viewer Comments:


Most books about medical statistics are ‘unreadable’ – either being intended as primers to teach you, or once taught, to act as a reference and recipe book. This book is different and using only the minimum of basic mathematics takes you to fascinating corners of medical statistics – providing historical and technical insights on the way. It’s very well written, never condescends and is really engaging. Five statistical stars from me for this one.

Maskalyk, J. Six Months in Sudan: A Young Doctor in a War-torn Village

James Maskalyk set out for the contested border town of Abyei, Sudan in 2007 as Medecins Sans Frontieres’ newest medical doctor in the field. Equipped with his experience as an emergency physician in a Western hospital and his desire to understand the hardest parts of the world, Maskalyk’s days were spent treating malnourished children, fending off a measles epidemic and staying out of the soldiers’ way. Worn raw in the struggle to meet overwhelming needs with inadequate resources, he returned home six months later more affected by the experience, the people and the place than he had anticipated.

Stephen Bradley HYMS: Experiences of a MSF volunteer, not always very well written but gives some insight into humanitarian work

Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd
Year: 2009
ISBN-10: 1847672744

Richardson, R. The making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy: Bodies, books, fortune, fame.

Gray’s Anatomy is probably one of the most iconic scientific books ever published: an illustrated textbook of anatomy that is still a household name 150 years since its first edition, known for its rigorously scientific text, and masterful illustrations as beautiful as they are detailed. The Making of Mr Gray’s Anatomy tells the story of the creation of this remarkable book, and the individuals who made it happen: Henry Gray, the bright and ambitious physiologist, poised for medical fame and fortune, who was the book’s author; Carter, the brilliant young illustrator, lacking Gray’s social advantages, shy and inclined to religious introspection; and the publishers – Parkers, father and son, the father eager to employ new technology, the son part of a lively circle of intellectuals.

Publisher: OUP Oxford
Year: 2009
ISBN: 0199570280

Viewer Comments:


Have just finished reading this – really excellently written history book. Learned a lot about Victorian dissection, bookbinding, engraving…and Gray’s anatomy. Found this quote thought provoking (not sure all anatomists look away though) its in the chapter titled ‘Raw material’ which describes the routes by which anatomists aquired bodies for dissection in the post ‘grave-robber’, but  pre-donation period.

There is a silence at the centre of Gray’s, as indeed there is in all anatomy books, which relates to the unutterable: a gap which no anatomist appears to address other than by turning away. It is the gap between the ostensible subject of the book and of the discipline, and the derivation of the bodies from whom its knowledge is constituted, its illustrations made. In Gray’s, the legally sanctioned bodies of people utterly alone in the metropolis were the raw material for dissections that served as the basis for illustrations, that were rendered in print as wood engravings. As mass-produced images, they have entered the brains of generations of the living – via the eyes, the minds, and the thoughts of those who have gazed at them.

But nowhere in these books is the human predicament of those whose bodies constituted their basis addressed, or discussed. Nowhere is their native status as the defeated,dismembered, unconsidered, naked poor even mentioned. And in Gray’s Anatomy, nowhere but in Carter’s images, do they receive memorial.”


Levi, Primo. The Periodic Table

A chemist by training, Primo Levi became one of the supreme witnesses to twentieth-century atrocity. In these haunting reflections inspired by the elements of the periodic table, he ranges from young love to political savagery; from the inert gas argon – and ‘inert’ relatives like the uncle who stayed in bed for twenty-two years – to life-giving carbon. ‘Iron’ honours the mountain-climbing resistance hero who put iron in Levi’s student soul, ‘Cerium’ recalls the improvised cigarette lighters which saved his life in Auschwitz, while ‘Vanadium’ describes an eerie post-war correspondence with the man who had been his ‘boss’ there. All are written with characteristically understated eloquence and shot through with deep humanity.

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Year: 2000
ISBN: 0141185147

(afraid Hull currently only has in the original Italian
“Il sistema periodico”, but you are a cosmopolitan bunch.)

Viewer Comments:


This was the first book I read by Primo Levi, it is a real mix. Each chapter has the title of an element, and develops (loosely) round that topic. If you find one chapter ‘heavy’ (the first one can seem a bit dull on first read) try another, they are all free-standing and all very different. I just re-read the chapter on ‘carbon’ that simply tells the life-story of a carbon atom. I don’t think this is Levi’s best work – his writing on his time in Auschwitz ‘If this is a Man’ is, for me, one of
the last century’s truly great books – but, sticking to our brief of the suggestions for where art throws lights on science and medicine I think its the best fit for ‘Worth a Look?’

Richardson, R. Death, dissection and the destitute

In the early nineteenth century, body snatching was rife because the only corpses available for medical study were those of hanged murderers. With the Anatomy Act of 1832, however, the bodies of those who died destitute in workhouses were appropriated for dissection. At a time when such a procedure was regarded with fear and revulsion, the Anatomy Act effectively rendered dissection a punishment for poverty. Providing both historical and contemporary insights, Death, Dissection, and the Destitute opens rich new prospects in history and history of science. The new afterword draws important parallels between social and medical history and contemporary concerns regarding organs for transplant and human tissue for research.

Author: Richardson, Ruth
Title: Death, dissection and the destitute
Publisher: Chicago : University of Chicago Press
Year: 2001
ISBN: 0226712400

Maitreau, T. The Troubled Helix: Social and Psychological Implications of the new Human Genetics

This wide ranging and compelling account surveys the exciting opportunities and difficult problems which arise from the new human genetics. The availability of increasingly sophisticated information on our genetic make-up presents individuals, and society as a whole, with difficult decisions. Although it is hoped that these advances will ultimately lead the way to the effective treatment and screening for all diseases with a genetic component, at present many individuals are ‘condemned’ to a life sentence, in the knowledge that they, or their children, will suffer from an incurable genetic disease.

Author: Maitreau, T & Richards, M (Editors)
Title: The Troubled Helix: Social & Psychological Implications of the new Human
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 1996
ISBN: 0521586127

Levi, Primo. If this is a Man

Janine Henderson HYMS: Wonderful narrative of Levi`s time in Auschwitz which departs from what you might expect in that it is not a detailed account of his own suffering but much more a kind of anthropological observation of man`s behaviour under duress. He manages to be almost entirely non-judgmental, despite the atrocities which he is witnessing and experiencing, trying to understand the behaviours of his fellow men in the context which creates them. Despite his  apparent positivity, Levi died 40 years later in what many assume was a suicidal fall down a stairwell. Wonderful quote from fellow survivor Elie Weisel “Primo Levi died at Auschwitz forty years earlier.”

Publisher: Abacus
ISBN-10: 0349100136

Main, T. The Ailment

Psychoanalytical essays including a classic article, ‘The Ailment’ by Tom Main.  It gives an account of an investigation of the experience of nurses treating a group of patients who evoked such feelings and offers a psychoanalytic understanding of the dynamics that underlie such difficulties.

Author: Main, Tom
Title: The Ailment
Publisher: Free Association Books
Year: 1989
ISBN: 1853431044

Skloot, R. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. Born a poor black tobacco farmer, her cancer cells — taken without her knowledge — became a multimillion-dollar industry and one of the most important tools in medicine. Yet Henrietta’s family did not learn of her ‘immortality’ until more than twenty years after her death, with devastating consequences . . . Balancing the beauty and drama of scientific discovery with dark questions about who owns the stuff our bodies are made of, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an extraordinary journey in search of the soul and story of a real woman, whose cells live on today in all four corners of the world.”

Publisher: Pan
Year: 2010
ISBN-10: 0330533444

Viewer Comments:


This book won the 2010 Wellcome Trust Book Prize, and having read it I’d certainly agree with one of the judge’s comments “It has something of everything – a compelling science story, an emotional personal story and intriguing ethical dilemmas – and all woven together and written with great style.”

It made me think again about the ethics of the ‘ownership’ of our bodies – and about the changes in what is acceptable practice in science across the last half century.

It’s not the first time this story has been told – for a link to a 1997 BBC documentary that is mentioned in the book click here

Watson, J. The Double helix

A personal account of the discovery of the structure of DNA

Author: Watson, J and Bragg, L
Title: The Double helix

Viewer Comments:


The classic account.  Notable for many things but for me the moment when they walk into a Cambridge pub and announce that they had found the secret of life!

Lawrence, J. Lawrence, R. When the Fighting is Over

Andy Davidson (HYMS): Robert Lawrence, shot by a sniper in the Falklands war, sustained a severe head wound and the book details how he came to terms with his injury and its effects.

Title: When the Fighting is Over: A Personal Story of the Battle for Tumbledown Mountain and Its Aftermath
Author: Lawrence, J. Lawrence, R.
Publisher: 22 Books
Year: 1990
ISBN: 1862380015

Jamison, Kay Redfield. An Unquiet Mind

This work is a personal testimony from Kay Redfield Jamison: the revelation of her struggle with manic depression since adolescence, and how it has shaped her life. The book follows her through college, a love affair, her battle with the illness, bouts of madness, violence and attempted suicide.

Year: 1997
ISBN-10: 0330346512

Kleinman, A. The illness narratives: suffering, healing and the human condition

Based on twenty years of clinical experience studying and treating chronic illness, a Harvard psychiatrist and anthropologist argues that diagnosing illness is an art tragically neglected by modern medical training, and presents a compelling case for bridging the gap between patient and doctor.

Author: Kleinman, Arthur
Title: The illness narratives: suffering, healing and the human condition
Publisher: New York, Basic Books
Year: 1988
ISBN: 0465032044

Leudar, Ivan, Thomas, Philip. Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity: Studies of Verbal Hallucinations

Records of people experiencing verbal hallucinations or ‘hearing voices’ can be found throughout history. Voices of Reason, Voices of Insanity examines almost 2,800 years of these reports including Socrates, Schreber and Pierre Janet’s “Marcelle”, to provide a clear understanding of the experience and how it may have changed over the millenia. Through six cases of historical and contemporary voice hearers, Leudar and Thomas demonstrate how the experience has metamorphosed from being a sign of virtue to a sign of insanity, signalling such illnesses as schizophrenia or dissociation.

They argue that the experience is interpreted by the voice hearer according to social categories conveyed through language, and is therefore best studied as a matter of language use. Controversially, they conclude that ‘hearing voices’ is an ordinary human experience which is unfortunately either mystified or pathologised.

Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2000
ISBN-10: 0415147875

Goleman, D. Emotional Intelligence

There was a time when IQ was considered the leading determinant of success. In this fascinating book, based on brain and behavioural research, Daniel Goleman argues that our IQ- idolising view of intelligence is far too narrow. Instead, Goleman makes the case for “emotional intelligence” being the strongest indicator of human success.

Author: Goleman, D.
Title: Emotional Intelligence
Publisher: Bantam
Year: 1995
ISBN: 055309503X

Greenfield, S. The Human Brain – a guided tour

Susan Greenfield begins by exploring the roles of different regions of the brain. She then switches to the opposite direction and examines how certain functions, such as movement and vision, are accommodated in the brain. She describes how a brain is made from a single fertilized egg; the fate of the brain is traced through life as we see how it constantly changes as a result of experience to provide the essence of a unique individual.

Author: Greenfield, Susan
Title: The Human Brain – a guided tour
Publisher: Weidenfeld + nicholson
Year: 1997
ISBN: 0297816926

Figes, Orlando. The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia

Janine Henderson HYMS: “Very engaging account of the personal lives of Soviet citizens during the Stalin years; because it is written around snapshots of ordinary people`s lives, the immediate effects of the Stalin regime are much more apparent than a dry political account would achieve.
Another interesting back story though…google Orlando Figes, the author. He was caught in a lie, savagely criticising the works of fellow authors under a pseudonym, challenged, denied it, blamed his wife and then finally admitting it….interesting lessons inprobity!”

Publisher: Allen Lane;
Year: 2007
ISBN-10: 9780713997026


Illich, I. The limits to medicine: medical nemesis – the expropriation of health (2nd Edition)*

The medical establishment has become a major threat to health, says Ivan Illich. He outlines the causes of iatrogenic dideases, caused by medical cures, and the impotence of the medical services to extend life expectancy. If people need bureaucratic interference to mate, give birth and die, they become divorced from pain, sickness and death, and become unable to cope with life.

Author: Ivan, Illich
Title: The limits to medicine: medical nemesis – the expropriation of health (2nd Edition)
Publisher: Marion Boyars (London)
Year: 1995
ISBN: 0714529931

Viewer Comments:


According to Richard Smith as editor of the BMJ… ‘The closest I ever came to a religious experience was listening to Ivan Illich. A charismatic and passionate man surrounded by the fossils of the academic hierarchy in Edinburgh, he argued that the major threat to health in the world is modern medicine’. And Richard goes on to say every doctor should read this book!


Jamison, Kay Redfield. Touched with Fire

The anguished and volatile intensity associated with the artistic temperament was once thought to be a symptom of genius or eccentricity peculiar to artists, writers and musicians. Kay Jamison’s work, based on her study as a clinical psychologist and researcher in mood disorders, reveals that many artists subject to exalted highs and despairing lows were in fact engaged in a struggle with clinically identifiable manic-depressive illness. Jamison presents proof of the biological foundations of this disease and applies what is known about the illness to the lives and works of some of the world’s greatest artists including Byron, Van Gogh, Schumann and Woolf.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd

Shilts, R. And the band played on: politics, people and the AIDs epidemic

An exhaustive account of the early years of the AIDS  crisis, this outlines the medical, social and political forces behind the epidemic’s  origin and rapid spread

Author: Shilts, Randy
Title: And the band played on: politics, people and the AIDs epidemic
Publisher: New York : St Martin’s Griffin
Year: 2007
ISBN: 0312374631

Keynes, R. Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution

Keynes weaves an intricate tapestry as he unfolds the home life of Charles Darwin, meticulously retelling the tale of Darwin’s struggles with his thoughts on evolution, the anguish resulting from the loss of his daughter, and how her death affected his thoughts on human evolution.

Author: Keynes, Randal
Title: Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution
Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition
Year: 2002
ISBN: 1841150614