Recommended Reading from SPH Community

Posted on: February 23, 2017 Topics: SPH Narrative Month

Book Recs 400x241As part of Narrative Month this March, members of the SPH community shared their favorite public health-related reads. From nonfiction books on specific health issues, to novels that show the ways inequality shapes health and wellbeing, these titles have influenced the working and thinking of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA by Joshua Kurlantzick

George Annas, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of health law, policy & management: “A compelling, if depressing read, centering on the birth of a militarized CIA in fighting in Laos during the Vietnam war, the book has immediate application to today’s CIA, and our current immigration policy. It also helps us understand the Hmong people, and is a terrific book to supplement the classic The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”


Black Rage by William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs

Fatimah Dainkeh, MPH student: “This is one of the first books that truly dissects the experience of Black America through psychiatry. I’ve read several articles and books that cover a wide range of topics about race in relation to health, but this writing gives a perspective from a point in time that many of us are not necessarily familiar with, especially when discussing mental illness. It is absolutely a brilliant piece of work!”


Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa by Katherine A. Dettwyler

Monica Onyango, clinical assistant professor of global health: “It speaks to the importance of understanding and respecting the cultures of populations we work with in all aspects of public health, and especially while conducting research. It was highly recommended to me as a book that public heath students and practitioners should read.”


Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer

Sandro Galea, Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor: “Over the past several decades a systematic, organized effort has been underway to promote libertarian notions of the role of government in the US. This book makes the case, compellingly, that this effort represented an organized agenda to promote governmental policies that promoted particular corporate interests under the guise of ideology. Apart from the book’s value as a superb documentary summary of some of the strongest forces that have shaped our political present, it serves as a primer of sorts for how to create social momentum to promote ideas. We would be well served indeed to learn from this towards the end of promoting population health.”


Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America edited by Taylor Brorby and Stefanie Brook Trout

Madeleine Scammell, assistant professor of environmental health: “As the title indicates, this is a compilation of approaches and experiences, including brief and informative histories of hydraulic fracturing, the technology, industry, workers, and communities engaged—with consent or exposed by no choice of their own—to this form of oil and gas extraction. The book includes many first person accounts, and has something for everyone. The public health concerns of fracking are vast, and anyone who cares about clean air and water, and who relies on fossil fuels, may find this book is worth picking up.”


Gardens of Water by Alan Drew

Kate Petcosky-Kulkarni, alumna (’16): “This novel depicts the story of a Kurdish family during and after the 1999 Marmara earthquake in Turkey.  While one may argue that the novel’s true depth lies in its exploration of human relationships when a time of crisis merges radically different religious and cultures, the narrative also evaluates public health response in a disaster setting.”


The Ghost Map

Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

Lois McCloskey, associate professor of community health sciences: “Johnson weaves a fascinating, many-layered tale about John Snow’s determination and tactics to prove scientific orthodoxy of his time (1850’s London) wrong. Cholera was a water-borne disease, not the inevitable result of urban air pollution or ‘miasma’. I loved this book—a must for understanding the history of public health and reminding us of how and why cities formed and became the hub of disease, as well as prevention and cure. We should all be mapping our theories and everyday evidence!”


Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein

Emily Rothman, associate professor of community health sciences: “A look at the new sexual landscape girls (ages high school through college) are facing, what kinds of sexual experiences they’re having, and how they are negotiating it.”


Girls & SexHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

George Annas, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of health law, policy & management: “A follow-up to his challenging Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, this book suggests how the next generation of ‘big data,’ when ‘the data religion’ which he calls ‘dataism’ will transform our species by, among other things, having all our major decisions made for us by algorithms.”


Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Lois McCloskey, associate professor of community health sciences: “Krakauer lays out the intricacies of campus rape and its (mis)handling through the stories of five female students at the University of Montana. I’m not a foreigner to the topic, but I found the stories as he documents them, eye-opening—good and bad cops, rogue prosecutors, conflicted campus administrators, campus culture(s), privileged athletes, and women torn apart. It’s a must read to get ‘under the surface’ of campus rape.”



Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Chase Crossno, Learning & Development program manager: “I hardly think the importance of this novel needs explaining. It is a beautifully written exploration in gender identity and place.”


Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Ann Aschengrau, professor of epidemiology: “This nonfiction account of life in a poor neighborhood of the Bronx describes the struggles of two women and their families as they deal with sub-standard housing, addiction, teen pregnancy, and prison time. It’s a difficult but riveting story that puts real faces in front of our public health statistics.”

Sandro Galea, Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor: “A richly woven saga about one family in the Bronx drifting in and out of extreme poverty, drug use, prison, and a social service-industrial complex that struggles to provide a patchwork of services woefully inadequate for the challenges the family faces. A more compelling description of the foundational challenges that characterize the lives of the poor in the United States than any I have read, highlighting how the core task of public health is very much to address these challenges if we want to improve the health of all populations.”


Random Family

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Sandro Galea, Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor: “An illuminating read about the challenges facing rural America, and how notions of individualism have resulted in a drift to the political right despite the challenge that Republican policies pose to the wellbeing of these same communities. A well-crafted set of insights into understanding parts of the country quite different from Massachusetts, towards understanding how we can create a broader conversation towards promoting the health of all.”


The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Catherine Ettman, chief of staff and director of strategic initiatives in the Office of the Dean: “I think Toni Morrison does the most incredible job of narrating the lived experiences of African Americans, particularly women. The story is heartbreaking, showing how childhood experiences, how cultural assumptions, how the infrastructure around us, really shape how we live, who we are, what we want to be, and how we’re treated. For me, any book of hers shows the experiences of women and how living conditions impact their health, but more so how they live in the world.”

The-Bluest-EyeChase Crossno, Learning & Development program manager: “Perhaps the most insidious form of prejudice is one that is internalized and self-directed. This novel is a brilliant and devastating reflection on pervasive measures of worth and beauty and the intersection of racism and poverty. Toni Morrison says it best herself, ‘…this is a terrible story about things one would rather not know anything about.’ Which is precisely why we need read it.”


The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Chase Crossno, Learning & Development program manager: “This may seem an odd recommendation for a public health-related book, but the connection is clear enough to me! This novel does not revolve around plot, but is a meditation on life, chance, self, and place. It is an exercise in empathic imagination in the development of identity and passion.”


The Spirit Catches YouThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

Chelsea Lennox, MPH student: “I remember reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman as a first-year in college, before I knew what public health really was. In retrospect, I think is deserves a more critical eye than I gave it in 2010. I’d recommend anyone who reads it to keep racism, colonialism, and medical paternalism in mind.”

Jesse Walsh, MPH student and Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights coordinator: “This was the book that got me interested in public health in the first place because I was coming from a philosophy of ethics and science background and was instantly hooked on the book’s overarching questions about the nature of disease, health, illness, medicine, treatment and Eastern vs. Western traditions. I actually came to public health school because I wanted to learn the answers to the questions raised in Fadiman’s book—that’s really how compelling it was for me.”


The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground RailroadSandro Galea, Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor: “A moving, affecting story about one of the foundational historical challenges that has shaped America over the centuries: slavery. The unobtrusive use of magical realism heightens the sadness that underpins the story. It is hard to grapple with racial inequities in health today without coming to terms with the history of American slavery. This story does more than any other I have recently read to highlight the horrors of an institution that shaped America.”

Sophie Godley, clinical assistant professor of community health sciences: “Winner of the 2016 National Book Award, an unflinching look at the abhorrent reality of slavery and the quest for freedom. A must read for all Americans.”


The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

George Annas, William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of health law, policy & management: “The story behind the friendship—and its ultimate unwinding—between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky and how their work helped destroy the premise that humans make decisions based on reason, and produced the incredible book (which you don’t have to read first) Thinking Fast and Slow.”


Tom’s River: A Story of Science & Salvation, by Dan Fagin

Tom's RiverKate Petcosky-Kulkarni, alumna (’16): “This is a work of narrative nonfiction that is an incredible primer for environmental health.  Fagin tells the story of a cancer cluster in Tom’s River, New Jersey, where environmental health researchers and epidemiologists researched the connections between long-term industrial pollution and childhood cancers.”


Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Kirsten Minor, MPH student: “I just recently purchased the memoir, as I was frustrated that there are little to no books pertaining to mental health and personal experiences battling the unique stigma that surrounds mental health in communities of color, which can present an additional barrier to healing and recovery. Therefore, I recommend the book as the book incorporates intersectionality, and may be empowering in the hostile political climate that we are in.”




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