publication date: Aug. 6, 2020
What are you reading?
A reading list is a glimpse into the soul of a community. A reading list is also a reflection of a time. And a projection of visions of the future.
We asked our readers: “What have you read this year that has made an impression on you?”
There was nothing scientific about our sample. There were no guidelines, no boundaries for genre, topic, or contemporary relevance.
We wanted a reading list and we got one: 67 recommendations, the books your colleagues—clinicians, basic scientists, drug developers, regulators, advocates, senior scientists, early-career researchers—have turned to as the pandemic exposed America’s deepest flaws.
Here are some admittedly unscientific observations about the list:
Fiction and nonfiction are equally represented.
At least fourteen books are explicitly about racism and race in America.
At least four books are about infectious diseases.
Here is the list, arranged by reader, in alphabetical order:
Monica M. Bertagnolli
Professor of surgery,
Harvard Medical School;
Chief, Division of Surgical Oncology,
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
I just finished reading Splendid Solution, and found it to be fascinating to consider both the similarities and differences between the search for a polio vaccine and our current struggles to overcome COVID-19.
Bruce A. Chabner
Professor of medicine,
Harvard Medical School;
Director emeritus, clinical research,
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
I have read two remarkable biographies.
Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom is an extraordinary story of a remarkably talented orator and writer whose escape for slavery led to his critical role as the most influential thinker in the post civil war period. His life experience teaches much about the failure of the war to change the racist culture that continues to surface in our country.
The second book I would highly recommend is the profoundly insightful and analytical biography of Tennessee Williams (Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh), the dominant playwright of the post World War II era, by John Lahr, the son of Burt Lahr, and for many years the primary theater critic of the New Yorker.
The book is long but worth the effort as it reveals the thought and emotion behind Williams’ extraordinary plays. The vignettes about the actors (Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Bette Davis, and Geraldine Page) and directors (Elia Kazan) are priceless. Coincidentally, I first appreciated Lahr’s talent as a critic and author when he was taken on as a freshman apprentice reporter (a healer) at the Yale Daily News, where I was a sports writer and mentor.
Nancy E. Davidson
President and executive director,
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance;
Senior vice president, director and member, Clinical Research Division,
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center;
Professor and head of medical oncology,
University of Washington
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride—story of a young slave boy who passes as a girl when he is taken up by John Brown in his antislavery crusade, which started in the Kansas Territory and ended at Harper’s Ferry. I bought the book early in the year and read it during our current period of demonstrations against racial injustice.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larsen—the story of Winston Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister of Great Britain at the beginning of World War II and the Battle of Britain and is told from personal papers and diaries of his family, friends and colleagues. It is an inspirational story about leadership during an unfathomable crisis. Another book that I bought early in the year before I understood what we would all be facing this year with COVID-19, economic decline, and public demonstration about racial injustice.
Assistant professor of medicine,
University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center
The Vagina Bible: So many important questions, so much convincing, confusing, contradictory misinformation! In this age of click bait, pseudoscience, it’s easy to be overwhelmed—whether it’s websites, advice from well-meaning friends, uneducated partners.
This book provides excellent contact about women’s health, a history behind the stigma associated with women’s sexual health, and other aspects that all women should know. The audiobook is available and is a must!
Between Grit and Grace: The Art of Being Feminine and Formidable: This is the book of female professionals who are feeling stuck or disempowered in the workplace.
The book provides exercises, realistic situations, and a wonderful sense of humor. The book breaks down the “too” bossy, colorful, and energetic issues associated with gender bias—a quick read for the weekend after a busy clinic.
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky: Let’s get real, it is not such a big deal. Be a zebra, and enjoy your life. This book provides data about stress and the consequences of our stressful behaviors.
Wafik S. El-Deiry
American Cancer Society Research Professor,
Director, Cancer Center at Brown University;
Director, Joint Program in Cancer Biology,
Brown University and Lifespan Cancer Institute;
Attending physician, hematology/oncology, LCI,
Mencoff Family University Professor, Brown University;
Associate dean, Oncologic Sciences,
Warren Alpert Medical School, Brown University;
My reading these days in 2020 involves much learning from social media, learning about advances in cancer research, and the exploding literature on COVID-19. Back in March, we created a group at Brown University called BEACON, which stands for Brown Experimentalists Against COVID-Nineteen, and we have been busy working towards learning how to suppress SARS-CoV-2 infection, boost innate immunity, and inhibit cytokines. We are working on repurposing drugs, performing novel drug screens and are moving towards a new clinical trial with a drug combination. Not fast enough, but it’s what we were moved to do and are trying to contribute. We are also back to doing our normal cancer research in the lab. But I digress.
I read some books recently that I would highly recommend to my colleagues. These are page-turners, and you can finish each quickly, because you’re gonna want to know what happens.
Chasing My Cure, by David Fajgenbaum. This book is a brilliantly written memoir. It has the author’s humanity, personal story but is much, much more. I actually think this should be required reading for all medical students, and in particular physician-scientists. There are many quotables and truisms throughout, and I think most experts will learn a few things. For anyone who is interested in innovation in medicine, making a difference and the current state of clinical research with its many obstacles, this is worth a read from that perspective. When certain barriers are lowered due to patient involvement, advocacy and the sense of urgency, any field of medicine can move forward. This book should be of high interest to those in the field of precision medicine. For me, this book was also a special treat, having spent much of my career at Penn, and seeing how the new generation is progressing since I left a few years ago. It even mentions our contemporary and long-time hero Dr. Fauci early on although this is not a Fauci story.
The Prize, by Geoffrey M. Cooper. I couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. It’s a fast-pace, high-stakes recount of the world of competitive science in Boston, with a reach to Stockholm. This book is a must-read by anyone who wants to see a glimpse of what the contemporary world of biomedical research at an epicenter might entail, although this is fiction. There is discovery, competition, jealousy, evil, and much more that I can’t give away. While a work of fiction, it is just interesting to read and would be of interest to physician-scientists and others within as well as outside academic medicine. It gives some insight into a toxic Machiavellian cut-throat biomedical research culture.
Synapse, by Steven James. I am still reading this interesting book about what life may be like 30 years from now, when robots are among us, and some are part -human and part-robot. This is a work of fiction and it gives us an opportunity to think about some of the ethical dilemmas and other scary things we might expect in a future world that might be influenced by artificial intelligence. Robots, computers are not necessarily altruistic, and so this book gives us much to think about and be careful of.
Robert Peter Gale
Visiting professor of hematology,
Imperial College London
The lockdown in California and no travel gave me time to re-read two books I think are relevant to us as oncologists: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky and The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy.
Why Crime and Punishment? Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (Rodya) is a university law student in Petersburg. His sister Dounia is to enter a loveless marriage to an older wealthy official to rescue him and their mother from poverty. He rebels against the notion. His plan: kill Alyona Ivanova, an elderly pawnbroker and steal her money and pawned items. In a frenzied state he barges into her flat killing her with several axe blows to the head.
Alyona’s sister, Lizaveta, enters the flat because Raskolnikov has accidentally left the entry door ajar and he is obliged to kill her as well. He flees. The uncertainties in the scene Dostoevsky describes, Rodya’s impulsiveness, the unplanned entry of Lizaveta remind me of the stochastic nature of cancer, especially the randomness of mutations that underlie it. Had Raskolnikov met someone on the stairwell to the flat, had Alyona Ivanova not opened the door (she hesitated several minutes), had Lizverta not entered (she was meant to be elsewhere) Crime and Punishment would be a very different story—or perhaps no story at all. But these events happened and we are left with two murders, or perhaps a cancer of a different sort.
Why The Death of Ivan Ilyich? Ivan Ilyich Golovin is an unhappily married magistrate in Petersburg. One day he falls from a ladder hurting his side. His condition worsens, no one knows what it is, but everyone agrees he will die a painful death. (My diagnosis is plasma cell myeloma. Today he might be cured by high-dose chemotherapy, an autotransplant and new drugs—but then we wouldn’t have a novel.)
Initially, he is visited by colleagues who come out of a sense of duty. However, as Ivan lingers, they become resentful of his disrupting their lives. He is dying too slowly. During the long, painful process of dying Ivan realizes he doesn’t deserve his fate, concluding pain and death must be arbitrary and senseless—and he begins to hate his family for avoiding the subject of his death. In his last days he realizes he has led a superficial life, which is why he fears death. He is overwhelmed with compassion and sympathy, forgives his family, his fear of death leaves him, and he dies peacefully.
Having finished both novels the choice is clear: Vodka, caviar and blini or War and Peace, depending on how the SARS-CoV-2 lockdown plays out.
Chief medical officer,
I bought Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton right after I was lucky enough to see the Broadway show in early 2016. Given the amount of time I spend on airplanes, I thought I’d get some reading done in my travels. Unfortunately, I actually bought the book, not an electronic version, and it’s huge… so it wasn’t really amenable to taking on airplanes.
When my travel stopped abruptly back in March, I finally started reading it and I’m about halfway through. It’s a wonderful window into the world of our founding fathers, and obviously gives insight into the founding father most of us knew little about before Lin Manuel-Miranda.
What I’ve really been struck with however is how relevant so much of it is today, specifically the debate around the role of the federal government versus the states. Hamilton, as now most of us know, was an advocate for a strong federal government and executive leadership. And as we have seen in the past four months with the current pandemic—we need this now more than ever.
Fred R. Hirsch
Executive director, Center for Thoracic Oncology,
Mount Sinai Cancer, Mount Sinai Health System;
Professor of medicine and pathology,
Icahn School of Medicine;
Joe Lowe and Louis Price Professor of Medicine; associate director,
Tisch Cancer Institute
My most recent reading was Chris Wallace’s (with Mitch Weiss), Countdown 1945. Chris Wallace, who is the anchor of Fox News Sunday, is telling an extraordinary story about the atomic bomb and the 116 days that changed the world. He describes the global political situation, which necessitated the use of an atomic bomb, but the book describes all the internal considerations leading to President Truman’s sanction to use the bomb. There were certainly good arguments for and against the use of such a destructive weapon, which the world never had seen, and which would change the world within a moment.
It is also a story about an untested new President Harry Truman, who as Vice President, was kept out of war planning and knew nothing about the top-secret Manhattan Project and the development of the world’s first atomic bomb, and shockingly learned about the project after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He also got very conflicting advice from generals like Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Marshall. The book takes us through details in the planning, both from a scientific perspective and from a national and international political perspective, and leads us through all the last detailed preparations for getting the bomb ready for use. Very fascinating read about a U.S. and global historical landmark, which changed the world and the future perspectives.
I have read a few other books, too, among them the Rise and Kill First about the secret history of the Israeli intelligence community and the history of Israel’s targeted assassinations, its successes and failures.
Founder and president,
I’ve been a big fan of Erik Larson’s works since reading The Devil in the White City while sitting in Jackson Park when I was an undergraduate at University of Chicago.
Larson’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile, is a perfectly-timed lesson in leadership during a time of acute, and potentially catastrophic, crisis.
Larson focuses on the pivotal time period of May 1940 through May 1941, and describes how Churchill successfully rallied Britain against the Axis powers through an exploration of his interactions with his family and colleagues. Larson adds novel and important dimensions to this well-studied time in history by weaving together deeply personal and private accounts from the diaries of those closest to Churchill. His relationship with Lord Beaverbrook highlights his merging of the personal and the political.
Churchill appoints a trusted friend, highly successful businessman, and a bit of a gadfly with no manufacturing experience as the Minister of Aircraft Production, charged with solving the key problem facing Britain: a lack of fighter planes. Churchill and Beaverbrook constantly debate with and antagonize one another, and it is through this process that Churchill is able to receive honest assessments of the state of British defenses, and determine how to rally the government and people to take action. Churchill, in private and public, showed that transparently acknowledging problems is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. I was struck by the deep empathy that Churchill had for the plight of the British people impacted by the Blitz, and how he channeled this empathy into symbolic actions that boosted the morale of the public, and their willingness to make sacrifices to defeat their enemy.
Clifford A. Hudis
Chief executive officer,
American Society of Clinical Oncology
I read three books in the past six months that turned out to be of-the-moment for different reasons. Two that address racism in America through different perspectives, and one that I read late in 2019 that imagines a dystopian post-pandemic America.
I just this past week re-read Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys for my book club, having read it initially about a year ago. I’m not always so ahead of the curve—but since I read it it has won a slew of awards including the Pulitzer for its simple and engrossing description of a fictionalized version of a real place of horror. Everything you might imagine when picturing a racist, evil reform school happened here—both in reality and in this fictionalized telling.
I had heard of the great migration but never really dove in. The Warmth of Other Suns was recommended to me because it tells the story through the lives of several people and families over decades. In the process it also illuminates the transforming impact of the railroad on America, although that is far from the main point!
It illustrates that upward mobility may be an aspiration and even a possibility for everyone in America, but both the starting line and the obstacles are not evenly distributed.
Years ago I loved Peter Heller’s account of a year spent learning to surf (Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life and Catching the Perfect Wave). The Dog Stars is so-called postapocalit—a story of a few survivors of a global pandemic. When I read it I found it to be ultimately a moving exploration of the need for human connection (both emotional and physical) and the will to survive. But now, looking back after 120 days of COVID-19 lockdown, it is even more moving and real.
You didn’t ask, but for fun I will share that I am now re-reading Jose Saramago’s Blindness. It was a fantastic novel when first translated from Portuguese around 1995 (I think) but the story of a society’s response to a transmitted form of sudden vision loss is of course scary and relevant.
Newman Family Professor,
Deputy chair, Department of Radiation Oncology,
Director, Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine,
University of Michigan
Lately, I have been seeking refuge from reality in novels that immerse me in a completely different time and place.
One favorite I pulled out recently is Cutting for Stone. There are ties to medicine, but the primary focus of the story is on the bonds and relationships that form between human beings. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to be transported completely to another world and to recognize what is beautiful about what we do in our lives.
Karen E. Knudsen
Executive vice president of oncology services, Jefferson Health;
Enterprise director, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center
Hillary Koprowski Professor and Chair, Department of Cancer Biology,
Chair, cancer biology,
Thomas Jefferson University
Over the last month I’ve been digging into three different genres. You can take your pick:
I finished Eric Topol’s Deep Medicine, which inspired new thinking on my part with regard to opportunities for refining cancer care in the post-pandemic world.
I’ve also been reading more deeply into a collection of later year poetry from Robert Frost, which I find mentally soothing.
Finally, I have a great love of using timeless British comedy for escapism and will re-read favorites. While I often turn to PG Wodehouse, I am in the midst of re-enjoying Cold Comfort Farm from Stella Gibbons, which I frankly find laugh-out-loud hilarious even on the fifth or sixth read.
Our heroine, Flora Poste, is creative, witty, and a woman before her time. I love this character, but let’s also not forget the unforgettable character of Ada Doom, who famously coined the phrase “I saw something nasty in the woodshed!” as the response to any situation in which she finds herself in a pickle. I’m laughing even as I write this….and that’s good medicine.
Danielle N. Krol
Medical officer, breast oncology,
Center of Drug Evaluation and Research,
Office of Oncologic Diseases,
Division of Oncology 1, FDA
I was the social butterfly of my medical school class, which continued through residency and fellowship. I was someone who needed continuous stimulation from people, so I became class president of my med school class and put my high energy to use. After going through four years of med school, three years of residency and another three years of hematology oncology fellowship, I found myself ready to enter that next phase: attending life.
I’ve been fortunate to be mentored by amazing women physician mentors, however I’ve also witnessed women physicians being held back from leadership positions. I decided to start a Book Club at FDA with women physicians, and our first book would be How Women Rise.
One day in the mail I received a package, with a book inside called How Women Rise. It was mailed to be by my longtime mentor, Dr. Darilyn Moyer, CEO of the American College of Physicians, with a little note inside saying—“Start a book club.” Darilyn was a mother figure to me, and never stopped mentoring and inspiring me to be the best I could be after I lost my mother to breast cancer many years ago. I took her advice yet again, because Darilyn was never wrong, and I started a book club in February 2020.
How Women Rise is a masterclass in personal development. The authors did a paramount job of identifying the roadblocks that women face as they advance in the workplace, and explaining various habits that hold women back as they seek to advance. Instead of focusing on external corporate cultures, the authors focused on the personal thought processes and behaviors women can control, adjust and even replace as they move up in their careers. For men and women alike, who want to take the next step in your career, this book is for you.
After the success from the inaugural book club where we read How Women Rise, I decided that there was no better time than during a Pandemic to hold book club number 2. At the same time of deciding my new read, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racial Ideas in America, the video of George Floy’s death at the hands of the police in Minneapolis triggered protest around the world and brought renewed attention to the ongoing concerns about racism in the criminal justice system.
Because Americans like to insist they are living in a post-racial society, seeing the news broke my heart that racist ideas have a long and lingering history. Stamped for the Beginning would soon become my new book club read. It provides one of the most thought provoking accounts of American racial history. Kendi uses five influential characters in American history from the colonial era to the present age as tour guides to explore the landscapes of the evolution of racial ideas. To improve conversations about race, racism and racial justice, this book ambitiously taught so much on American history and also served as an opportunity to have an open discussion about race.
Michelle M. Le Beau
University of Chicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center
Sellers’ engaging memoir is timely, and sheds light on the critical issues of the day. His honest and moving portrayal of the systemic racism that represses the black population is both eye-opening, and a testimony to the courage and strength of individuals, families, and communities. One cannot help but reflect upon the contemporary issues of social justice, and the toll of current and impending legislation on people of color, without developing the conviction that we must do better.
Founder and chair,
ACT for NIH
Better Angels was written by 12 year old Sadie Keller, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 7 years old. In the last five years while battling cancer, she has become a YouTube sensation with her instructional video diary about her treatments, has created a foundation for cancer research, and another foundation called Sadie’s Sleigh which has donated 58,000 toys to children with cancer, and she worked with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) to help pass the most important childhood cancer legislation in history.
Better Angels is the story of Sadie’s personal two and a half year battle with cancer, including emergency room visits, surgeries and side effects, such as experiencing stroke-like symptoms and losing her hair eight times. It is also a story of hope, inspiration, and how a selfless little girl has brought meaning to her life by helping others.
I asked Sadie if she wishes she never had cancer, and why she wrote Better Angels, and this was her response: “My life has changed, it’s totally different, and I love helping kids and spreading awareness. It was meant to happen so I could help other kids like me. Help them to get through a hard time, provide hope, and that angels are all around you and you just have to open your eyes—some are here and some are in heaven.” Sadie has lost five of her closest friends to cancer.
Better Angels was written to help other children with cancer, and all profits are directed to charities for childhood research. Sixteen thousand children are diagnosed with cancer each year, and Sadie’s hope is to provide a free copy of her book to all of them.
Sadie’s legislative agenda is to increase the NCI budget allocation for childhood cancer research which is at 4%. It is not just the number of lives lost, it is the number of years lost. An adult who dies from cancer may have lost 10 years from their lifespan, a child 60-70 years. Childhood cancer survivors have over a 65% chance of having long term side effects during their life. In Sadie’s case, she is susceptible to heart ailments, bone density, neuropathy, and learning disabilities. Sadie is a positive energy and force for good on a mission to improve humanity. She is an angel, and I know you will enjoy Better Angels!
Shelley Fuld Nasso
Chief executive officer,
National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship
I tend to read fiction, rather than cancer-related books, in my spare time. A few recent reads:
Rodham, by Curtis Sittenfeld, re-imagines Hillary Clinton’s life if she had chosen NOT to marry Bill Clinton in the early 1970s. I previously read and enjoyed Sittenfeld’s American Wife, a thinly veiled fictionalization of Laura Bush’s life, so I was eager to read Rodham.
Rodham is a portrait of the Clintons’ early relationship and intense connection. Early on, Hillary learns of Bill’s infidelities. When faced with the decision whether to accept his womanizing and give up her own career ambitions in exchange for their deep love, she walks away. The thought experiment about how their lives and political careers would have been different continues through the 2016 election. The portrait of the powerful woman behind the scenes, including the indignities and double standards she faces, is interesting. And the twists and turns on historical events are entertaining.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. This summer, as the Black Lives Matter protests have captured the attention of the country and heightened understanding of systemic racism, I, like many others, wanted to learn more about what I could do. Oluo offers straight talk about white privilege, implicit biases, microaggressions, intersectionality, and more, as well as real instruction about how to talk about race and really listen to others’ lived experiences with racism. Talking is only a starting point, but we have to start somewhere. She also offers plenty of suggestions for action.
A Long Petal of the Sea, by Isabel Allende, tells the story of two people who fled Spain under Franco in the 1930s to Chile, where they built a new life for themselves. It’s a story of love and honor, changing relationships over time, refugees and immigrants, and what home really means.
I have to throw in one more, this time an audiobook. Before the pandemic, I listened to many audiobooks during my commute time, but I still make some time for audiobooks. Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is a delicious and fun story of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the 1970s, and how an iconic band came together and fell apart. The story is told in a documentary style, and so I highly recommend the audio version, with a host of actors, Jennifer Beals and Benjamin Bratt, playing the roles of band members, journalists, and family/friends of the band.
Lori J. Pierce
President, American Society of Clinical Oncology;
Academic and Faculty Affairs,
Professor of radiation oncology,
University of Michigan
I am currently reading Stamped from the Beginning, the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. It is a New York Times bestseller written by Ibram X. Kendi, a professor of history and international relations who I believe just recently went to Boston University to become the director of their Center of Antiracist Research. Kendi looks at the evolution of racism in this country through the eyes of five influential individuals spanning the period of colonialism through recent years.
The range allows the reader to contrast segregationist, assimilationist, and antiracist ideologies, their impact on their respective societies at the time, and their subsequent collective impact on race relations in this country. My hope, after I finish reading the book, is to have a greater understanding of the background behind the racial divisions within our country right now and to reflect upon some of my own experiences and feelings as a person of color.
Peter WT Pisters
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Me and White Supremacy provides a thoughtful and engaging approach to an important issue for society and for all leaders. I consider it an imperative for all leaders to explore this topic, to learn about their own prejudices and to expand their thinking in order to create the greatest impact possible during their tenure. The practical tools to enable self-change that are shared in the book are extremely valuable and provide a useful first step in this exploration.
Reading this book quite possibly was the most useful thing I have ever done to examine my own prejudices and relationship to race. It was uncomfortable to confront the impact of white skin and how that affords me certain privilege and how I may have inadvertently used that privilege at different phases of my career, but it gave me the tools to fully examine myself and to move forward in the most positive and inclusive way possible.
I highly recommend this book and the process you undergo to anyone interested in combating racism and wanting to understand what they can do to make society more equal and socially just from an individual level. I learned about myself and about the ways in which white supremacy makes the world toxic for all of us.
We all know Disney based on our own personal experiences with its movies, amusement parks and more, but The Ride of a Lifetime truly takes you inside of The Walt Disney Company—a massive media company— from the perspective of Bob Iger, executive chairman and former CEO.
Iger does a terrific job of outlining how he thought through building on the company’s strengths and confronting its weaknesses. He also does an excellent job of explaining what it is like to be a CEO and the fact that you always are thinking about and reflecting on this question: “Which thing am I not spending enough time on?”
As Iger writes, “You go from plotting growth strategy with investors, to looking at the design of a giant new theme-park attraction with Imagineers, to giving notes on the rough cut of a film, to discussing security measures and board governance and ticket pricing and pay scale…there are also, always, crises and failures for which you can never be fully prepared.”
Based on my own experiences, the overall picture he creates of the challenges of being a CEO is quite accurate.
When I last met Iger, we had a detailed conversation on the topic of brand protection, something that is a top priority for me at MD Anderson and, interestingly, also for him at Disney. Many of the topics we discussed—including his insights on how to approach the rigor around brand protection—are outlined in detail in this book.
Tatiana M. Prowell
Associate professor of oncology,
Breast Cancer Program,
The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins,
Under Armour Breast Health Innovation Center
The Plague, by Albert Camus,
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman,
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett,
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins,
Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World, Jacqueline Novogratz,
Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson,
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John Barry
The Plague by Albert Camus is a well-known novel from the 1940s about a mysterious plague in the French Algerian town of Oran that feels remarkably modern and relevant. My favorite quote of the book: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.” So, please wear a mask, ok?
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, by Fredrik Backman is a novella written from the perspective of a grandfather with progressive dementia. This will be a familiar and cathartic work of fiction for anyone who has ever witnessed a loved one’s memory unravel.
The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, is a novel about Black identical twin sisters who run away from home at age 16, one ultimately living her life as a Black woman back in the south where she grew up and one passing for a white woman, with very different experiences. Their divergent, but interconnected, lives hold the mirror up to American society.
It’s a beautifully told story about the construct of race, who defines it, and how it shapes individual and collective destiny over generations.
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins, is a novel about a woman and her son who are unexpectedly and suddenly forced out of their ordinary life to become migrants. The story speaks to me at a moment when the world has been upended by the pandemic and we realize that all of the things we took for granted were never guaranteed to us.
Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World, by Jacqueline Novogratz, is a non-fiction book about leadership that relies on storytelling. Its central thesis is that ordinary people empowered to believe in their own personal agency change the world, and I am here for that message!
Just Mercy is a true story by Bryan Stevenson, a defense attorney, about his work as the founder of Equal Justice Initiative. The heart of the book is his defense of Walter McMillian, a Black man from Alabama who was sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. It’s a book about forgiveness, justice, and our shared humanity. My favorite quote from the book: “We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity…Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, by John Barry, is a brilliant and comprehensive book about the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Anyone who is a fan of the history of medicine genre will love it. From it, I’ve concluded that humans are hard-wired to make a limited number of predictable mistakes over and over across centuries. How we identify and correct our own poor decisions in real time to alter our fate is one of my current obsessions.
Professor of medicine, professor of surgery, professor of molecular and medical pharmacology,
University of California Los Angeles;
Director, Tumor Immunology Program,
Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center;
Chair, Melanoma Committee, SWOG
Indeed, I have been catching up on reading in the past months. In other times, I found myself reading research articles as opposed to books, so the pandemic allowed me to go back to enjoy reading books.
There is a thread on my Spanish background, as I read two of Javier Marías novels (A Heart so White, The Man of Feeling) and Dan Brown’s Origin, which mostly happens in my hometown, Barcelona.
Now I am on the last chapter of The Gene: An Intimate Story, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, bringing me back to the biomedicine field—and next, I will be starting The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.
Mace L. Rothenberg
Chief medical officer,
I’m reading Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump. Curious to know more about the back-story of our 45th president.
The book I just finished was The Last Flight by Julie Clark. A well written tale about 2 women who switch airline tickets at the airport … and what happens when one of their flights crashes.
The book before that was The Splendid and the Vile—A detailed account of Winston Churchill’s courage, leadership, sprinkled with eccentricities during the Nazi Blitz of London in 1940-1941.
Charles L. Sawyers
Howard Hughes Medical Institute;
Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Chair in Human Oncology and Pathogenesis,
Chair, Human Oncology and Pathogenesis Program,
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Spying on the South is a timely perspective on the US North/South divide by retracing the late 1850s journey of Fredrick Olmsted (later famous for designing NYC’s Central Park) through the American south and southwest pre-Civil War, now in modern times. Enormous implications vis a vis the current political climate and anti-racism. (I also highly recommend his earlier book Confederates in the Attic). Full disclosure: I grew up in Nashville.
Code Blue is a fascinating account of the current medical industrial complex—how it has developed and evolved after WWII and why the current ecosystem is a barrier to universal health care in the United States. The author has a compelling perspective—as a practicing urologist, then vice president of medical affairs at Pfizer, and now medical historian.
A Passage to India is a classic novel on racial tension and prejudice in India during the British colonial period, centered around the trial of an Indian doctor falsely accused of assault by a British school mistress. Published in 1924, but the themes remain highly relevant today
I assume everyone knows about this important book, White Fragility, on racism, from the perspective of a white woman who facilitates racial and social justice conversations in the workplace. If you have not already read it, you should.
Ellen V. Sigal
Chair and founder,
Friends of Cancer Research
These are truly terrific books that I loved:
Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje,
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett,
Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo,
Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry,
Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Steven R. Singer
Senior vice president,
Chief communications officer,
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
A Doubter’s Almanac, by Ethan Canin,
The Overstory, by Richard Powers,
Dept. of Speculation, By Jenny Offill,
Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, by Jill Jonnes
I’m surely not the only person who’ll say that working insane hours during our first COVID-19 surge this spring really put a damper on available time and energy. That said, I’ve resolved to cut back on doom scrolling and Netflix and just this weekend started the latest (OK, it was published a few years ago) by a favorite writer—Ethan Canin, who also was a physician earlier in his career. A Doubter’s Almanac tells the story of a truly gifted mathematician who emerges from the backwoods of Michigan to heights of the profession, even as we watch the dissolution of his life and character.
Earlier this year, I was truly absorbed by Richard Powers’ The Overstory, a big, deep and affecting novel that has stayed with me far more than most. Powers weaves the generational stories of several characters together across decades to a climax in the ecological movement in the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of the rare books that works both as a polemic and as high art. No one who reads it will ever think of a forest the same way.
Dept. of Speculation is also powerful but quite different in style and scope…extremely economical and concise, it tells the story of the life and death of a marriage through an accumulation of short observations, musings, and memories.
Lastly, I greatly enjoyed Empires of Light, which tells of the great competition between these geniuses. Jonnes does a wonderful job setting the development of the electric age in the context of the times, and the relevance to the huge tech battles of the internet age are both unsaid and clear.
Charles R. Thomas Jr.
Professor and chair, radiation medicine,
School of Medicine, Biomedical Informatics Graduate Program,
Oregon Health & Science University
Toxic Ivory Towers is of interest since it attempts to describe experiences of URM faculty throughout academia. Most importantly, there are tools that may partially mitigate work-related stress. The author has studied this topic and seems to be speaking to me directly, during certain portions of the book.
Mind and Matter is of interest since it serves as an autobiography of a student-athlete who continues to excel in the classroom. I’m always keen to learn more about focused student-athletes, accent on student; especially those from the Black diaspora. I wonder how many more John Urschel’s there are out there.
Robert A. Winn
Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center
The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant is a must read for all Americans. His impact on the U.S. has been equal to that of President Abraham Lincoln, and yet his accomplishments have been frequently overlooked in the canon of American history. It is worth getting reconnected to one of the U.S. greatest unsung heroes.
Begin Again is a wonderful book that reminds us of the importance of the body of work created by James Baldwin. Glaude’s book deals directly with the hope and wonderful aspirations of the promise of America and the stark reality of how it often falls short.
The Plot Against America is a powerful book and warning to America of the cost of being overly complacent about our freedom of speech. The book drives home the need for all of us to be vigilant in protecting the sanctity of the vote and actively ensuring that the freedoms in the U.S. are enjoyed by all of its citizens. It’s a book that demands your full attention.
Jedd D. Wolchok
Lloyd J. Old/Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Chair,
Chief, Immuno-Oncology Service,
Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy,
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center;
Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy
I must admit that the past three months have been an arid period for reading anything except grant applications and manuscripts (oh yeah, and The Cancer Letter). Once I complete our U54 COVID serology grant submission at the end of this week, I hope to pick up White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo as my next reading assignment.
Here’s what I know in advance.