Public Health Summer Reading List

One of my goals this summer—in addition to writing more, finding a beach I actually like, and keeping squirrels out of my garden—is to read as many books as I can. My first year of working toward my MPH is wrapping up, and while I learned a ton this year, I’m ready to choose which hundreds of pages I read each week. I asked for book suggestions from fellow students, Twitter connections, and friends. With the additional help of Goodreads, APHA’s Pinterest, and trusty Amazon, I compiled the list below. There were so many titles that intrigued me, I couldn’t narrow it down! I’ve already been reading When Prayer Fails, and The Purity Myth is next on the docket. You can look forward to reviews on each book as I finish it.


And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts

The book that framed how we talk about AIDS.


A Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader by Paul Farmer

Three decades of writings by the patron saint of MPH students. A portion of the sales of the book go to Partners in Health, so don’t be cheap—buy from the publisher, okay?


Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life by Mary Jane Nealon

The story of a nurse learning about life, death, and poetry.


Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide by Andrea Lee Smith

American Indian women have the highest rates of poverty-related illness, domestic abuse, and rape of all groups of women in the country—and there are solutions to these problems.


Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters

Great. Now America is exporting neuroses, too.


Heart of Power by David Blumenthal and James Morone

The history of how well (or poorly) presidents handled health reform efforts.


Poisoned: The True Story of a Deadly E. coli Outbreak that Changed the Way Americans Eat by Jeff Benedict

The legal history of the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E. coli outbreak


Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasick and Monica Murphy

The terrifying history of rabies can teach us how to deal with emerging infectious diseases.


Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure by Dan Baum

The War on Drugs has disastrous consequences, and 175 interviews with the people intimately involved in it explain exactly what the problems are and what should be done next.


Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna

Get ready to be terrified by the strength and impact of MRSA (drug-resistant staph infections).


The Bernard Turnock Reading Room

Read the greatest hits from Bernard Turnock by downloading the (free!) PDFs he provides online.


The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Follow the lead of pilots and simply make and follow a checklist to improve outcomes.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The story of the exploitation of Henrietta Lacks and its impact on modern medical research.


The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women by Jessica Valenti

Linking virginity and purity with women’s value damages women’s self-worth as it permeates popular culture, abstinence-only education, and cultural stereotypes.


The Quest for Health Reform: A Satirical History by Georges C. Benjamin and Theodore M. Brown

The history of health reform as told by political cartoons. If you remember how to interpret political cartoons from your high school AP US History class, this is the book for you.


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

The ultimate story of cultural incompetence.


When Prayer Fails: Faith Healing, Children, and the Law by Shawn Francis Peters

Tackling the difficult issue of parents who refuse medical treatment for their children while respecting religious liberty and public health concerns has been an issue for more than 100 years.


While We Were Sleeping: Success Stories in Injury and Violence Prevention by David Hemenway

Public health often does its work behind the scenes, so this book illuminates 60+ successful initiatives in the field of injury and violence prevention.


Wiped: The Curious History of Toilet Paper by Ronald H. Blumer



Are there any must-reads I missed? Have you read any of these books?


Thank you to Leah, Alisen, Amanda, Genna, Emily, the APHA Pinterest account, and various Goodreads contributors for their help creating the intellectual part of my summer.