Doc in the D’s favorite health care-inspired books

So you want some recommendations about books to read, but you’re not interested in the business books that I recommended in a prior blog?


I hear you and thought I would keep some of the books in the realm of medicine and health care. I may eventually provide you with a list of my casual reading. But I’m afraid this might provide too much insight into my psyche than I am comfortable to reveal.

But seriously, the books below are some of the most insightful, most inspiring, and most poignant of my collection. I hope you’re as touched by these books as I was.

1. “When Breathe Becomes Air” (2016) by Paul Kalanithi

This book is an incredible memoir of a young neurosurgeon who faces his death from an incurable disease. Moving, memorable, and inspiring. A book that made me smile, made me cry, and made me think about the meaning of life as well as death. This book is a gift to all of us, a true affirmation of life and a work of profound insight.

2. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (2014) by Atul Gawande

Dr. Gawande is a remarkable writer and has significant influence in shaping views on medicine based on his narratives. He describes something that we face every day: the diametric contrasts of the miracles that modern American medicine creates and the inexorable results of advancing age and death. Medicine, as powerful as it has become, has its limits in what it can do in combating the inevitable, but quality of life remains the goal and can produce a “good end.”

3. “The Gene: An Intimate History” (2016) by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The search for understanding biology at the fundamental genetic level has been explored over the history of man. Mukherjee brings this to life in an interesting and entertaining book, detailing the initial concepts of inheritance and the genetic code to the more recent developments that affect personalized medicine and genetic engineering. He describes his personal family history of mental history to elaborate on how the science of genetics and the realities of clinical conditions cannot fully be understood at this time. A truly wonderful writer who makes a subject of this nature come alive to all audiences.

4. “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer” (2010) by Siddhartha Mukherjee

This Pulitzer Prize winning book is essentially the story of cancer, from early evidence of the disease in ancient times to modern and future cancer care and therapies. This book is remarkably entertaining, largely due to the style and stories that Mukherjee weaves in this “biography” of cancer and the stories of those afflicted with and fighting against this disease.

5. “How Doctors Think” (2007) by Jerome Groopman

This was actually a suggestion from my wife and daughters, who thought they could answer the difficult question, “How John Thinks.” But seriously, this book explores the way in which doctors interact and think in interviewing patients and arrive at diagnostic conclusions, some of which lead to erroneous conclusions. I listed this for our physicians and faculty, to address many of the communication challenges and pitfalls that occur with these thought processes.

6. “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science” (2002) by Atul Gawande

A remarkably frank and insightful book about surgeons, and a reminder that they are human, do remarkable works, but also make mistakes. The descriptive psychology of this work and the inherent pressures of the profession are unique. Gawande’s narrative story telling is captivating.

7. “Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation” (2009) by Sandeep Jauhar

Beautifully written description of the internship and the road to disillusion that can occur in this year. Jauhar describes his recovery of confidence in medicine as a humane practice occurring when he himself became a patient. He has continued provocative writing in a subsequent book, “Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician” (2014), challenging the current state of American medicine.

8. “My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story” (1995) by Abraham Verghese

When the first AIDS patient is treated in Johnson City, Tenn., a small town in the Smoky Mountains, a young doctor becomes the local AIDS expert by necessity. The stories of patients returning home after being inflicted by this “urban” disease detail the transformation of the doctor and the community. It is a tremendously elegant tribute to all and a look into the early days of the AIDS epidemic. It is also a celebration of the goodness in people when faced with confusing challenges.

I had the pleasure to serve with Dr. Verghese on a national board. He was as eloquent in his speech as he is in his writings.

9. “Critical Care: A New Nurse Faces Death, Life, and Everything in Between” (2011) by Theresa Brown

Written by an English teacher turned nurse, this book describes the first year of her nursing career starting on an oncology unit. Her stories describe the anxieties and needs of patients as well as the care providers, and the devotion to their profession that keeps them going. A great read and tribute to the profession.

10. “Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids” (2009) by Julie Salamon

A remarkably revealing book about Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. This reveals the good, bad, and the ugly of American medicine and hospitals in a narrative that reads like a novel. What is interesting about the book is it describes a bit more about the issues facing hospital administration. Not quite “The Hospital” (1971), the satire written by Paddy Chayefsky, who received an Academy Award for this screenplay, but a definitive non-fiction insight.

Bonus Read: “City Primeval:(High Noon in Detroit” (1980) by Elmore Leonard

Okay, this is not a medically-related book, but it is by one of my favorite authors. I could have picked any book by this author, probably the greatest crime writer of our time. Detroit was his home and all of his early books all had some Detroit scene. Elmore died a few years ago, but he will live on in both his books and the movies that were made from those books, like “Get Shorty” (1990).

I had the pleasure of meeting Elmore and went with him into his study where he wrote his books long hand on yellow paper. His process: start with characters, put them in situations, and then work the story and the speaking style. No one did it better capturing the patois of cops and bad guys. Unfortunately, he never wrote about doctors. Found them boring. He didn’t read my top ten.

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10 thoughts on “Doc in the D’s favorite health care-inspired books

  1. Dr Popovich,
    I greatly appreciate your love of books and your reading suggestions.
    May I add another great book: “Sapiens: a brief history of humankind” by Yuval Harari?
    Warmest regards,
    Vera Khasileva, MD

  2. I’ll add these to my reading list – I also enjoyed “Becoming Dr. Q” – an interesting take on the potential of an illegal immigrant. I recommended it to several folks and they all enjoyed reading it.

  3. Thank you for posting this list. The Sladen Library has a copy of the following titles: “When Breath Becomes Air”, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”, “The Gene: An Intimate History” and “The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer”. Both HF Macomb and HF Wyandotte libraries own “How Doctors Think”. “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science” is owned by HF Macomb. All are available for checkout across the system.

  4. Thank you for the recommendation, Dr. Khasileva. Sapiens seems like a fascinating book about our evolution both socially and creatively.

  5. Great books. “Good to great” is a fantastic book and “The Checklist Manifesto” was one of my favorites. Thank you for sharing yours.

  6. Speaking of good books…
    By coincidence I just finished reading “Accountable — The Baylor Scott & White Quality Alliance Accountable Care Journey” published this year. The book made me think of the HFHS and hence my visit to your blog. I would recommend this book to physicians (or any Health System Transformation Leaders) that are seeking a good example of a health system transformation process (approach) that achieved excellent results (financial and outcomes). The Baylor HS is not the HFHS, but there are certainly similarities and lessons to be gleaned from their experience in transforming from a virtually “no limits” to a post-2010 accountable care environment.
    David Goldbaum
    Director, Center for Community Health Research, Detroit

  7. Thank you, David, both for the blog visit and the comment. Many of us at HFHS know the Scott White Baylor journey quite well. This looks like an interesting read.

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