It may seem odd for a hypochondriac to enjoy reading medical books, but it’s one of my favorite subgenres of historical nonfiction. From horrifying and deadly epidemics to the illuminating breakthroughs that have saved countless lives, I can’t get enough of the doctors, nurses, scientists, patients, and ordinary people who have played integral parts in the long and storied history of medicine. These ten books are compelling and well-written. You’ll want to get reading, STAT!
Few ideas have irrevocably and crucially changed humanity like Joseph Lister’s antiseptic surgery. In Lindsey Fitzharris’s illuminating and well-researched book, the horrors of nineteenth century surgery are expertly explored—often in visceral detail—along with the young surgeon who quite literally brought medicine out of the dark ages. An atmospheric and engaging read.
A vital and electrifying work, HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE illustrates the evolution of AIDS diagnosis from a certain death sentence to a manageable disease, due in large part to the work of tireless activists. With eye-opening research and interviews with those who lived through the AIDS epidemic, this is a crucial book that will move, anger, and ultimately inspire you.
The American healthcare system has become a controversial topic among politicians, business leaders, medical professionals, and of course, patients. But how did we get to this crucial point in time? This comprehensive history of American public health attempts to understand its evolution, from its primitive beginnings to today. This superbly definitive work is essential reading.
In this blend of family history and medical mystery, Luke Dittrich reveals the shocking story of a young man who suffered from chronic amnesia after being lobotomized. This tragedy would unveil mysteries of memory—but at what cost? Weaving in issues of ethics, human hubris, and mental health, PATIENT H.M. is a compelling and complicated tale.
A nonfiction book as terrifying as a horror novel, THE GHOST MAP is a suspenseful look at one of the deadliest outbreaks in recent history and how it directly led to our modern cities. This vividly written and thought-provoking work combines science and sociology with human interest, and makes you fully appreciate the necessity of clean water.
This epic work of research won the Pulitzer Prize—and for good reason. It expertly examines not just the biological side of cancer but its history and tense relationship with humanity—a relationship that has lasted more than 5,000 years. Electrifying and urgent, THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES is a skillful blend of history and medicine, that also lays out hope for the future.
For fans of “Radiolab”
Radiolab is an in-depth podcast about curiosity that breaks down topics as diverse as end-of-life care, collegiate debating, snapping shrimp, and ice-skating controversies—and leaves you with newfound knowledge and an eagerness to learn more. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s bestselling, Pulitzer Prize–winning THE EMPEROR OF ALL MALADIES has that same effect. This incredibly readable and epic “biography” of cancer illuminates and dissects the disease like never before.
This in-depth and well-researched history of medical experimentation on (often unwilling or unaware) African Americans is an eye-opening look at the dark side of medicine. With new details on infamous and lesser-known atrocities, MEDICAL APARTHEID illustrates the overwhelming power of racism in public health and how its effects are still being felt today.
Candice Millard weaves a moving and evocative tale that is all the more heartbreaking because it’s true. When President Garfield was shot, it wasn’t the bullets that killed him but the infections that set in from the unsanitary methods of his doctors. With beautiful prose and with in-depth characterizations of the players in this tragedy, DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC will stay with you long after you finish.
One of the most beautifully written, heartbreaking, and haunting books about a president, DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC follows the senseless assassination of President Garfield, the unstable man who committed the crime, and the efforts of Alexander Graham Bell to save the dying president.
Ever wondered what the world looks like from the perspective of a microbe? I CONTAIN MULTITUDES explores this question with engaging and accessible writing. From protecting us from disease to allowing certain sea creatures to exist, microbes are crucial to this world and now you can finally appreciate these invisible parts that make us who we are.
Few, if any, places are as engrained in the public consciousness as New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. Now, with David Oshinsky’s expert and page-turning writing, you can go behind the scenes of this facility that has been the source of some of the most important changes in medicine, along with scandalous tragedies and incredible triumphs. It’s an unputdowable history that jumps off the pages.
On Kerry’s wish list
Few things interest me as much as New York City’s history and with a nurse for a sister, it’s only natural that I would be intrigued by New York City’s iconic hospital. From being the home of the nation’s first nursing school to becoming a metonym for all psychiatric hospitals, Bellevue obviously has a storied history—and it’s one that I have little knowledge of, even though it remains an essential place for patients in New York City today. David Oshinsky won a Pulitzer Prize for his last non-fiction work, POLIO, and I have no doubt that BELLEVUE will be fascinating, evocative, and beautifully written.