Off the Shelf: 7 Books Doctors Should Read

Because they’ve read more than enough books while still in medical college, reading might not be an obvious hobby choice within doctors. But, learning is a life-long process and often, text books are not sufficient. We present to you a list of books that are a must-read for members of your profession (and which are not textbooks). In what little leisure time you find in your busy  day, feel free to pick one or more of these medical and literary books:

1. Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong by Angela Saini
Sexism in the medical field has cost women their lives. With great care, Angela Saini has ruffled pages with decades of research that tried to downplay women compared to men in several areas. The majority of these apparent “sex differences” were actually the product of biased researchers or flawed studies. Inferior provides impetus to the discourse surrounding gender discrimination in science in meaningful ways. A timely and worthy read!

2. Second Suns by David Oliver Relin
In this transporting book, David Oliver Relin brings our attention to the work of Geoffrey Tabin and Sanduk Ruit, two ophthalmologists who have dedicated their lives to restoring sight to some of the world’s most isolated, impoverished people through their very own Himalayan Cataract Project. The book is a perfect culmination of the raw emotions behind restoring sight and lives of thousands of patients and the tactical steps taken by the medical industry to find the right balance between making money and helping others.

3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Henrietta Lacks, a thirty-one-year-old black woman, died after a gruesome battle with cancer but not before the doctors at Johns Hopkins took some cells from her failing body. These cells were used for research without her or her family’s consent. Labeled “HeLa”, Henrietta’s cells were reproduced by the billions over the following sixty years and have been instrumental in experiments across a wide range of biological science. Rebecca Skloot brilliantly shows the story of the Lacks family, its connection to the dark history of experimentation on African Americans and the resulting birth of bioethics and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

4. Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes On An Imperfect Science by Dr. Atul Gawande
Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon by profession, explores the power and limits of medicine in this gripping account of true cases. Complications lay bare a science, not in its idealized form but as it actually is — uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human. The writing is eloquent with a clear love for surgery. Most of the stories are detailed in a simple language, making it an interesting read for medical professionals and laymen alike.

5. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee 
In this book, Siddhartha Mukherjee examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s passion. The result is an astonishingly lucid and eloquent chronicle of a disease humans have lived with—and perished from—for more than five thousand years. Mukherjee, with the insights of his predecessors and peers, highlights our physical and intellectual struggle with overcoming cancer, who has proved to be an infinitely resourceful adversary.

6. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari
In Sapiens, Dr. Yuval Noah Harari spans the whole of human history, from the very first humans to walk the earth to the radical breakthroughs of the Cognitive, Agricultural and Scientific Revolutions. He takes us on a journey of how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. Sapiens challenges everything we thought we knew about being human: our thoughts, our actions, our power … and our future. 

7. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next day he was a patient struggling to live. Paul Kalanithi was a lover of literature, a neurosurgeon, a scientist, a son and brother, a husband and father, who got diagnosed with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. Read this autobiographical memoir with a side of tissues as it takes you through the journey of a doctor transitioning into a patient, trying to find every piece of normalcy he could for his wife and upcoming child and understanding the meaning of life while in the hands of death.