A friend asked for suggestions for a booklist, so I figured I’d craft one here. This particular list focuses on historically contextualized texts and artistic representations.
Books for History of Medicine Enthusiasts:
1. The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, Siddhartha Mukherjee
A comprehensive documentation of Cancer’s transformation over the years. Mukherjee skillfully weaves the narratives of patients, physicians, and researchers with the political, social, and scientific evolution of the disease.
2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
A canonical work about the famous HeLa cells. Skloot digs deeper into the woman behind these immortal cervical cancer cells: Henrietta Lacks, who never knew that her cells were taken, grown, and sold without her consent. This book explores the racial inequities of health care in the US, and tells the story of the Lacks family and how they have been impacted by this experience.
3. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman
Another canonical book in Medical Anthropology, one that provides a more cultural spin on health disparities. Fadiman tells the story of Lia Lee, a Hmong child in California, whose severe epilepsy illuminates the cultural clashes between her Hmong family and Western doctors.
4. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
A gripping piece of fiction that follows the story of the Stone family over the years. With a cultural backdrop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and a focus on the art of surgery,the reader is immersed into a different realm of medicine.
Books for Art of Medicine Enthusiasts:
5. Stitches, David Small
A potent graphic novel set in Detroit about how cancer physically stripped Small of his voice and its psychological effects. As a talented artist himself, Small uses imagery to fill in the spaces where language falls short.
6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (literature and film)
These works coupled together provide a good portrayal of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s experience with full body paralysis. I suggest reading the book before viewing the film to approach the viewing experience with a more authentic perspective.