With the arrival of summer comes a chance to relax, reflect, and escape the day to day. It’s also a perfect time to dig into a new book or podcast, and we have you covered with our annual list of health, medicine, and science titles.
Read on for recommendations from the likes of WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan, author Michael Pollan, and reproductive justice scholar Monica McLemore. Plus, STAT readers from California to the U.K. share their picks, in addition to our staff. Enjoy!
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“Being You: A New Science of Consciousness”
By Anil Seth
The most exciting science book I’ve read recently is Anil Seth’s “Being You,” a fascinating look at consciousness that argues the phenomenon is a “controlled hallucination” generated by our brains. Seth is a fine writer as well as a leading consciousness researcher, and he is as clear as he is rigorous.
— Michael Pollan, author of several science books including “How to Change Your Mind” and Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley
“Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers and the Fate of Populations”
By Anthony McMichael with Alistair Woodward and Cameron Muir
This book tells the story of the historical interplay between climate change, human health, disease, and survival throughout the 200,000-year odyssey of the human species. Now that we have moved from the relative stability of the Holocene to the Anthropocene era, looking back and learning from how human societies adapted (or did not) to climatic crises could help us both anticipate likely future events and think about adaptation strategies. Building on a lifetime of research and scholarship, McMichael discusses many opportunities for individuals, communities, cities, and countries to act.
— Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist
“Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals”
By Alexis Pauline Gumbs
This book is beautifully written and has the recipe to move toward health equity. Gumbs masterfully weaves together facts about marine mammals, their adaptations due to human intervention and climate change, to teach important lessons about how to retrofit, reform, and reimagine how we engage with ourselves, each other, and the other species that inhabit Earth. She also lifts up essential (and sometimes complex) Black feminist concepts in an accessible way that elucidates multiple paths toward justice and joy.
— Monica McLemore, associate professor of family health care nursing at UCSF, reproductive justice scholar, and editor-in-chief of Health Equity Journal
“All the Light We Cannot See”
By Anthony Doerr
This book was an odd comfort in the strangeness of our post-pandemic transition. In May of this year, it was reported that over half of Covid-19 deaths after vaccines became available could have been prevented if eligible adults had only been vaccinated — a deeply distressing statistic. Unprecedented scientific advances coupled with heroic speed and care in vaccine development have not been enough. Why? I looked for answers during other historical periods of political polarization, including pre-World War II. In my search, I was reminded of this book, on my reading list since its publication in 2014. Its themes of confinement and dear ones lost, and also great courage and resilience, may have seemed remote pre-pandemic, but are once again contemporary. And it may not be seeing, but instead listening, that saves us.
— Penny Heaton, global therapeutic area head, vaccines, at Johnson & Johnson
“The Three-Body Problem”
By Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
OK, this isn’t science, it’s science fiction with an emphasis on “fiction.” But it is an illustration of how fiction can sometimes bring a period, in this case the Cultural Revolution, to life in a way that is difficult to communicate in a pure history. It’s the first, and best, of a trilogy.
— Eric Rubin, editor-in-chief, New England Journal of Medicine
By Maia Szalavitz
America is about to surpass its millionth overdose death since the turn of the century and fatality rates have continued to climb in the wake of Covid. Maia Szalavitz is one of the nation’s leading thinkers on addiction and its origins, and in “Unbroken Brain,” she provides a compelling account of why addiction is a learning disorder, rather than a moral failing or the result of an addictive personality. Szalavitz sets the narrative against her own journey to recovery, citing cutting-edge science throughout. By framing addiction as a learning disorder, the real solutions to solving the national overdose crisis — prevention, treatment, and policy — become clear.
— Scott Hadland, chief, division of adolescent and young adult medicine, Mass General for Children
“The Rise: Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food”
By Marcus Samuelsson
By Bryant Terry
Both are cookbooks but also much more than cookbooks. They feel like kaleidoscopes where we can witness over 150 Black culinary or food artisans, and read essays or poetry or see their art and recipes, learning about history and where food and culture are headed. On a personal note, I rarely cook now since the pandemic started, whereas I used to host community and make meals all the time — reading cookbooks makes me feel closer to the food culture that permeated my home pre-Covid! It also helps me envision what I will make when we can gather again like we used to.
— Priti Krishtel, co-founder and co-executive director, Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge (I-MAK)
“Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst”
By Robert Sapolsky
It’s an entertaining but also wise review of an important topic: how and why humans cooperate and compete. I especially love how Sapolsky refuses to get caught up in useless debates of nature versus nurture, but instead shows how an integrated approach is by far the most powerful way to explore how and why we behave as we do.
— Daniel Lieberman, Edwin M. Lerner Professor of Biological Sciences and professor of human evolutionary biology at Harvard
“How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence”
By Michael Pollan
Understand the complicated scientific and political history of psychedelics and how these long-prohibited agents have seen a renaissance of interest as novel therapeutics for a variety of psychiatric conditions.
— Jerry Rosenbaum, director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital
“The Mind and the Moon: My Brother’s Story, the Science of Our Brains, and the Search for Our Psyches”
By Daniel Bergner
Much has been written of late on the limitations of treatment for mental disorders and the horrendous public policies that have consigned many with severe mental illness to the streets or to prisons. In that context, Bergner’s book makes important, if not always comfortable, reading. He tells the moving story of his brother who suffers from bipolar disorder, the story of a man who struggles to decide whether his paralyzing depression and anxiety result from illness or represent protracted withdrawal symptoms from antidepressant drugs that he has eschewed, and the remarkable story of a woman with schizophrenia who stops antipsychotic drugs and develops strategies to manage the hallucinatory voices she hears. This book is not yet another tendentious critique of psychiatry, nor is it an encomium to a faddish new school of therapy. Its importance lies in its embrace of complexity — the complexity of mental illness, of its treatment, and of a research enterprise struggling uphill that has not yet succeeded in discovering objective biomarkers or devising mechanism-based treatments.
— Steve Hyman, director of the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute
“Hope Lies in Dreams”
Written and produced by Brady Huggett
The podcast has many levels: It’s the personal story of a man dedicated to the cause of saving the lives of children against all odds of his small biotech surviving. Thirty years and several financial crises (for the company) later, he succeeded. It also chronicles what it was like to survive as an independent biotech in the early days (where we may be returning).
— Laura DeFrancesco, Pasadena, Calif.
“Color Code” podcast
Hosted by STAT’s Nicholas St. Fleur
Hosted by Troy Farah, Christopher Moraff, and Zachary Seigel
“Maintenance Phase” podcast
Hosted by Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon
Oh, just one? I chose the podcasts because inequity/racism in health care, the drug war, and the overdose crisis and obesity are major public health issues.
— Deirdre Dingman, Philadelphia
Hosted by Sam Freeman
Sam is a doctor himself, very knowledgeable on the subject at hand, and the interviews themselves are humane and thought-provoking.
— Haley Edwards, Boise, Idaho
“The Candy Store”
By Jennifer Egan
An incredible view into technology and mental health. Egan’s fiction gives all readers — tech-savvy or no — a picture into how technology is changing our conception of ourselves, our bodies, and our well-being. This is a book that should be required reading for any researcher that wants to know how technology is impacting our mental health and what the future might hold.
— Zeenia Framroze, Palo Alto, Calif.
“Anxiety Rx: A New Prescription for Anxiety Relief from the Doctor Who Created It”
By Russell Kennedy, M.D.
The book discusses Dr. Kennedy’s own healing from anxiety and childhood emotional wounding in a unique way that I consider as atypical as it is genius. There is also a good deal of humor in the book and narration that makes it both entertaining and informative.
— Mark Goulston, M.D., Los Angeles
“Short Wave” podcast
Hosted by Emily Kwong
The uninhibited joy with which the female presenters present short and always interesting stories about science and the scientists doing the work is infectious. It reminds me that being a woman and unabashedly loving science is OK. It is also short, so you don’t have to have a lot of time to get through it.
— Teresa Groesch, Ph.D., Baltimore
“Hidden Brain” podcast
Hosted by Shankar Vedantam
It’s always informative and presented in a way that tells a story with lessons learned in the end. Great interviews!
— J. Henderson, Boston
“This Podcast Will Kill You”
Hosted by Erin Allmann Updyke, M.D., Ph.D., and Erin Welsh, Ph.D.
This is an easy-to-listen podcast that presents detailed but easily understandable facts on various infectious diseases. Done with humor, the “Erins,” as the two hosts are known, enlighten us with history, facts, and the biology of everything from tuberculosis to diphtheria.
— Heather Pellegrino, Dracut, Mass.
“America Dissected” podcast
Hosted by Dr. Abdul El-Sayed
“America Dissected” is a well-produced show with a knowledgeable host and a broad range of interesting guests to discuss public health and health care topics with an equity lens.
— Victoria Phifer Gyebi, Atlanta
The “ThinkResearch Podcast” has fascinating guests that talk about captivating behind-the-scenes of clinical and translational research — from engaged research, to biomedicine, to establishing career paths, and more.
— Angela Rakauskas, Boston
“Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You Alive”
By Philipp Dettmer
My 9-year-old and I have traded Harry Potter for this 315-page science textbook as our bedtime reading. The big hardcover tome might be a bit unwieldy in bed or on the beach, but it’s AMAZING, and has kept us both captivated and entertained, with its simple language, clever analogies, humour, and amazing illustrations from the folks who created the equally amazing Kurzgesagt “In a Nutshell” educational YouTube series. Sci comms at its best!
— Stacey (and Oliver) Shackford, Glasgow, U.K.
“The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York”
By Deborah Blum
Wow, there were a lot of ways to die back in the day! (Poisoning-wise, at least.) Fortunately, no one today would be so foolish as to ignore scientists’ well-grounded warnings on various toxins, poisons, environmental hazards today, so Deborah Blum’s yarns are strictly of historical interest only.
— Darius Tahir, Washington, D.C.
“Year of the Nurse: A 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic Memoir”
By Cassandra Alexander
Lest we forget, this unflinchingly honest book will remind us what it was like for nurses on the frontlines of Covid. Nurses are in the news more than ever now, and when you see us striking and speaking out, read this book and understand why.
— Sara Welle, Minneapolis
“The Health Pulse” podcast
Hosted by Alex Maiersperger
Alex is an engaging host who brings optimism to a health care and life science world that’s been pretty beaten down over the last few years. He interviews world-class guests from (literally) around the world: physicians, researchers, CEOs, even the former head of the CDC.
— Antwan Williams, Detroit
“The Wuhan Lockdown”
By Guobin Yang
The author, professor of communications and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, uses internet postings to give a detailed analysis of citizens’ responses to the pandemic and lockdown measures. He also reveals and analyzes both PRC internet censorship and the conservative (“Little Pinks”) backlash to netizens’ calls for accountability and free speech. For those interested in human behavioral aspects of catastrophe in the age of social media, this is a must-read.
— John Wycliffe, Philadelphia
“Maintenance Phase” podcast
Hosted by Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon
A cathartic balm to anyone who lived through the diet crazes of the ‘90s and aughts, “Maintenance Phase” investigates the toxic culture of dieting and body image. The hosts — journalist Michael Hobbes and author/activist Aubrey Gordon — explore dangerous trends (fen-phen) and food crazes (low fat, keto) and dissect celebrity books and shows that promote unscientific approaches to health. Hobbes and Gordon have done their homework, but also manage to keep it fun and lively as they discuss absurd (but sometimes dangerous) trends.
— Alissa Ambrose, director of photography and multimedia
“The Faraway Nearby”
By Rebecca Solnit
This book begins with Solnit caring for her mother through the losses of Alzheimer’s disease — and like the act of caregiving itself, the book isn’t just about illness but about the various overlapping stories we constantly tell ourselves. I read “The Faraway Nearby” aloud with a friend over the course of a few months, and I always came away with my sense of curiosity renewed. The delight Solnit takes in the world is intertwined with her fierce moral clarity, a combination we need now more than ever.
— Eric Boodman, general assignment reporter
“The Family Roe: An American Story”
By Joshua Prager
It’s been nearly 50 years since the legal ruling that became known as Roe v. Wade established a woman’s right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy in the U.S. — a matter of settled law recently overturned by an activist Supreme Court hand-picked for the task. At the heart of the original decision was Norma McCorvey — aka Jane Roe — a troubled woman who gave birth to, and gave up, three baby girls, one of whom was born because the precedent-setting court case was not decided in time for McCorvey to obtain an abortion. Journalist Joshua Prager spent a decade unearthing McCorvey’s story, in the process finding her daughters, including Baby Roe, and chronicling the impact the case had on their lives. There could not be a better time to read this deeply researched accounting of a critical American story.
— Helen Branswell, senior writer, infectious disease
“The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South”
By Chip Jones
Chip Jones presents a meticulously researched and compelling narrative of the first heart transplant in the American South. The book builds out important context about the deep-seated racism that underpinned medical research and training, and explores the heartbreak of a Black family whose relative was an organ donor, without consent, to a white businessman. It’s also a cautionary tale of ego, and how the competitive drive for accolades can create dangerous situations where patients’ well-being, and their rights, aren’t the top priority.
— Rachel Cohrs, Washington correspondent
Hosted by Alie Ward
This podcast scratches my every itch, with brilliant explanations of science and health, hilarious commentary by Ward, plus some serious moments in between. Each episode focuses on a different -ology (ecology, dolorology, urology, etc.) and all of them are excellent. I always learn something.
— Isabella Cueto, chronic disease reporter
“Pathological: The True Story of Six Misdiagnoses”
By Sarah Fay
Sarah Fay has been given six different mental illness diagnoses since she was a kid, but in her struggles, the labels have rarely given her solid ground to stand on. In her new investigative memoir, “Pathological,” she interrogates the very foundation of each of these diagnoses. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the psychiatric standard, but as Fay alerts her readers, it’s not necessarily based on the strictest scientific evidence. (And for my fellow English majors in the STAT community, the book includes some wonderful meditations on punctuation — something many of us know as little about as mental illness.)
— Theresa Gaffney, multimedia producer
“Sorrow and Bliss”
By Meg Mason
This is a beautiful, tender novel that explores the many challenges, realities, and occasional benefits of struggling with mental illness. Most importantly, it shows how mental illness is not an individual problem. When one person suffers, it affects a whole community and supportive family unit. A novel dealing with such heavy themes may sound depressing, but it really is incredibly moving and an engrossing, very funny read.
— Olivia Goldhill, investigative reporter
“Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care”
By Uwe Reinhardt
Famed health economist Uwe Reinhardt’s “Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care” was published in 2019, roughly two years after he died. I read it every year, if for nothing else to remind myself of the financial foundations of our health care system — and how little has changed.
— Bob Herman, business of health care reporter
“This Is Going to Hurt”
I’m cheating and picking a TV show, but you’ll need something to watch should an afternoon thunderstorm put a damper on your beach plans. This series, based on a memoir of the same name by Adam Kay, follows an OB-GYN and his colleagues on a labor ward at an NHS hospital. That means there are no plot points about access to care or shelling out thousands of dollars to have a baby (“It’s free?” a patient in the pilot asks in awe), but this is no paean to the system. The doctors and midwives are overworked, subjected to a hierarchical bureaucracy with little care for their well-being, and make do with a crumbling infrastructure. The show is both darkly hilarious and tragic, as the characters try to absorb the stress of their jobs while figuring out their outside lives, from relationships to what it’s like to perform an emergency C-section and then head straight to a friend’s bachelor party (sorry, “stag do”).
— Andrew Joseph, general assignment reporter
“Race After Technology”
By Ruha Benjamin
Everyone who builds — or uses — technology should read this book, which deftly details how the algorithms underlying the technologies that we all depend on are rarely race-neutral but instead can serve to further entrench racial inequalities. From describing machine learning judges of a beauty contest that overwhelmingly chose light-skinned contestants to search algorithms that restrict the real estate listings Black viewers see, Benjamin peers into the invisible black boxes peppered through the software we all use daily to expose what she calls “the new Jim Code” and show how whiteness became and continues to be the default setting for the development of new technology.
— Usha Lee McFarling, national science correspondent
“Klara and the Sun”
By Kazuo Ishiguro
At STAT, I spend a lot of time trying to keep track of the technological advances that are transforming medicine — genome editing, AI, automation. This spare, quiet novel allowed me to inhabit a world where those technologies have become mundane features of life, affecting how people work and who they can love. Through the many robotic eyes of the book’s narrator, Klara, an artificial being, the societal repercussions rippling through this near-future reality are assembled slowly, pixel by pixel. The picture that emerges raises unsettling questions about how humanity might endure or evolve in the face of technological progress, questions that demand to be considered in the here and now.
— Megan Molteni, science writer
By Rachel Gross
Centuries of research — and the lack thereof — have led to extreme voids in the understanding of female bodies. This we know. But with beautiful and positively bouncy writing, this book manages to weave together the scientific and societal missteps that got us here; how phallocentric science led to medical fallacies that are still perpetuated. In spite of continued misunderstanding, there’s hope in these pages, as Gross dives into the labs and minds of researchers trying to fill the gaps in our anatomical maps.
— Katie Palmer, health tech correspondent
“Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine”
By Jim Downs
It’s easy to believe that modern-day public health began with John Snow, his legendary map of London’s 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak. Not so fast, says medical historian Jim Downs. Earlier research conducted on slave ships, in plantations, and on battlefields helped lay the groundwork for understanding the spread of infectious diseases, he argues in “Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine.” If you are an aficionado of medical history, and of writers who try to set the record straight, this is a book for you.
— Patrick Skerrett, First Opinion editor
“Lost & Found”
By Kathryn Schulz
The last two years have brought so much grief. And it feels like, in the face of unfathomable loss, we are starting to talk about it more, and in a new way. I found this memoir by New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz — about the loss of her dad, and suffering, and language, and joy — moving and beautifully written.
— Megan Thielking, senior news editor