A poor Southern farmer whose cells have been used around the world to treat diseases. An autistic boy who explains his odd behaviors. An American President who had cancer surgery on a ship, at sea, in secret.
These stories and two more make up my list of five favorite non-fiction books for health care professionals.
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
By Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD
This Pulitzer Prize winning bio from oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee tells the story of cancer from its earliest victims to today. Written in an engaging style, Mukherjee takes us through our darkest days of dealing with this beast, from our treatment of “bad humours” to modern chemotherapy, and helps us understand the many facets of a disease that touches us all.
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
By Naoki Higashida, K.A. Yoshida (Translator), David Mitchell (Translator)
This is must-read for anyone in health care, education, or child care. The Reason I Jump is a collection of stories, sort of, about what it’s like living with autism, and it’s written by a boy with autism. I can’t describe this book any better than Whoopi Goldberg, who called it “Amazing times a million.”
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
By Rebecca Skloot
This one is a must-read. Henrietta Lacks farmed tobacco in Georgia and raised a family under horrendous conditions. Her cells, taken from her without her knowledge when she was treated for cancer, and without compensation of any kind, became universally known as HeLa cells and are still being used today for scientific research. HeLa cells were used to develop the polio vaccine and numerous cancers. Author Rebecca Skloot spent years researching and, most important, getting to know and gaining the trust of the Lacks family, and her story of Henrietta and her cells is mesmerizing and unforgettable.
Even with its absurdly long subtitle, this is a fascinating book. Unbeknownst to pretty much everyone at the time, President Stephen Grover Cleveland had a huge, cancerous lesion from his hard palate removed in a makeshift operating room on a ship anchored in Long Island Sound. No reporter ever picked up on it, save one — E. J. Edwards. When he reported the news, the White House denied it, not wanting to alarm the country, and proceeded to vilify a courageous journalist. The story of the surgery and the physicians who carried it out is worth enough to check this bio out.
The House of God
By Samuel Shem
An oldie but a greatie, House of God has become a cult favorite for health care professionals. I first read this raging, brilliant satire as a nurse in, probably, 1979 or 1980, and I continue to quote from it today. “Gomers never die,” and Gomers go to ground,” are my two favorite “rules,” as Shem called them. His book prompted outrage from older physicians and censure by medical school deans. The funny thing is, much of what he says in the book, published in 1978, remains true today, a truly unfortunate circumstance.
Let us know in the comments if we missed any of YOUR favorite non-fiction reads!