Great Books to Read

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School’s out, senior year is complete, and I have 10 weeks before I attend The Ohio State University! My plan is to read ten GREAT books about the medical field, and this is my initial list. I will report on some of them as I finish reading them.

Here is my reading list of GREAT books to read the summer before starting university this fall:

# 1: The Gene – An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

To start, The Gene is a#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER, A New York Times Notable Book, A Washington Post and Seattle Times Best Book of the Year.

Some of the endorsements received by the book:

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies—a fascinating history of the gene and “a magisterial account of how human minds have laboriously, ingeniously picked apart what makes us tick” (Elle).
“Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee dazzled readers with his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Emperor of All Maladies in 2010. That achievement was evidently just a warm-up for his virtuoso performance in The Gene: An Intimate History, in which he braids science, history, and memoir into an epic with all the range and biblical thunder of Paradise Lost” (The New York Times).

In this biography Mukherjee brings to life the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates and choices.

“Mukherjee expresses abstract intellectual ideas through emotional stories… swaddles his medical rigor with rhapsodic tenderness, surprising vulnerability, and occasional flashes of pure poetry” (The Washington Post).

Throughout, the story of Mukherjee’s own family—with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness—he reminds us of the questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In riveting and dramatic prose, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation—from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Morgan to Crick, Watson and Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome.

“A fascinating and often sobering history of how humans came to understand the roles of genes in making us who we are—and what our manipulation of those genes might mean for our future” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel). The Gene is the revelatory and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master. “The Gene is a book we all should read” (USA TODAY).

#2:  I Contain Multitudes – The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, by Ed Yong

Joining the ranks of popular science classics like The Botany of Desire and The Selfish Gene, a groundbreaking, wondrously informative, and vastly entertaining examination of the most significant revolution in biology since Darwin—a “microbe’s-eye view” of the world that reveals a marvelous, radically preconceived picture of life on earth.

Every animal, whether human, squid, or wasp, is home to millions of bacteria and other microbes. Ed Yong, whose humor is as evident as his erudition, prompts us to look at ourselves and our animal companions in a new light—less as individuals and more as the interconnected, interdependent multitudes we assuredly are.

The microbes in our bodies are part of our immune systems and protect us from disease. In the deep oceans, mysterious creatures without mouths or guts depend on microbes for all their energy. Bacteria provide squid with invisibility cloaks, help beetles to bring down forests, and allow worms to cause diseases that afflict millions of people.

Many people think of microbes as germs to be eradicated, but those that live with us—the microbiome—build our bodies, protect our health, shape our identities, and grant us incredible abilities. In this astonishing book, Ed Yong takes us on a grand tour through our microbial partners, and introduces us to the scientists on the front lines of discovery. It will change both our view of nature and our sense of where we belong in it.

#3: Better – A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande wrote several books on the medical profession, and is a New York Times bestselling author. His books are captivating accounts of medical failure and triumph, how success is achieved in a complex and risk-filled profession.

The struggle to perform well is universal: each one of us faces fatigue, limited resources, and imperfect abilities in whatever we do. But nowhere is this drive to do better more important than in medicine, where lives are on the line with every decision. In his new book, Atul Gawande explores how doctors strive to close the gap between best intentions and best performance in the face of obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable.

Gawande’s gripping stories of diligence, ingenuity, and what it means to do right by people take us to battlefield surgical tents in Iraq, to labor and delivery rooms in Boston, to a polio outbreak in India, and to malpractice courtrooms around the country. He discusses the ethical dilemmas of doctors’ participation in lethal injections, examines the influence of money on modern medicine, and recounts the astoundingly contentious history of hand washing. And as in all his writing, Gawande gives us an inside look at his own life as a practicing surgeon, offering a searingly honest firsthand account of work in a field where mistakes are both unavoidable and unthinkable.

At once unflinching and compassionate, Better is an exhilarating journey narrated by “arguably the best nonfiction doctor-writer around” (Salon). Gawande’s investigation into medical professionals and how they progress from merely good to great provides rare insight into the elements of success, illuminating every area of human endeavor.

# 4: Pandemic – Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, by Sonia Shah

It’s highly likely that, in a not too distant future, a pathogen is likely to cause a global pandemic in the near future. But which one? And how?

It could be Ebola, avian flu, a drug-resistant superbug, or something completely new. While we can’t know which pathogen will cause the next pandemic, by unraveling the story of how pathogens have caused pandemics in the past, we can make predictions about the future.

Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have either newly emerged or reemerged, appearing in territories where they’ve never been seen before. Ninety percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

In Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, the prizewinning journalist Sonia Shah—whose book on malaria, The Fever, was called a “tour-de-force history” (The New York Times) and “revelatory” (The New Republic)—interweaves history, original reportage, and personal narrative to explore the origins of contagions, drawing parallels between cholera, one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing pathogens, and the new diseases that stalk humankind today.

To reveal how a new pandemic might develop, Sonia Shah tracks each stage of cholera’s dramatic journey, from its emergence in the South Asian hinterlands as a harmless microbe to its rapid dispersal across the nineteenth-century world, all the way to its latest beachhead in Haiti. Along the way she reports on the pathogens now following in cholera’s footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers coming out of China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next global contagion might look like— and what we can do to prevent it.

# 5: Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari

This is another New York Times Bestseller for my list, and not something that will be in the medical, biology or genetics section of the bookstore.

Yuval Harari is historian that narrates a groundbreaking history of humanity’s creation and evolution that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

The # 6, next on my list, is from the same author; however, he is changes the lens from a rear view mirror to a forward-looking one.

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

# 6: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Yuval Noah Harari

From the same author as my # 6, Yuval Noah Harari, this is an equally original, compelling, and provocative book, turning his focus toward humanity’s future, and our quest to upgrade humans into gods.

As a pre-med student that wants to understand where the medical profession will be in three decades from now, this is a must read which best forecasts our role in enhancing the humankind and also protecting the future.

Over the past century humankind has managed to do the impossible and rein in famine, plague, and war. This may seem hard to accept, but, as the author explains in his agile style—thorough, yet riveting—famine, plague and war have been transformed from incomprehensible and uncontrollable forces of nature into manageable challenges.

For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.

What then will replace famine, plague, and war at the top of the human agenda? As the self-made gods of planet earth, what destinies will we set ourselves, and which quests will we undertake? Homo Deus explores the projects, dreams and nightmares that will shape the twenty-first century—from overcoming death to creating artificial life. It asks the fundamental questions: Where do we go from here? And how will we protect this fragile world from our own destructive powers? This is the next stage of evolution. This is Homo Deus.

#7: Data and Goliath – The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World,  by Bruce Schneier

This is another book that does not fit right into the pre-med section of the bookstore, however one of the better books on data collection and data privacy. Our profession will hit the issues described in the book as more devices collect data, more electronic records are exchanged, and personal devices tracking medical data will need to be interlinked with “institutional” data collected.

Bruce is one of the foremost experts, well recognized for his security, privacy and cryptography work. He starts with a simple example: “Your cell phone provider tracks your location and knows who’s with you. Your online and in-store purchasing patterns are recorded, and reveal if you’re unemployed, sick, or pregnant. Your e-mails and texts expose your intimate and casual friends. Google knows what you’re thinking because it saves your private searches. Facebook can determine your sexual orientation without you ever mentioning it.”

The powers that surveil us do more than simply store this information. Corporations use surveillance to manipulate not only the news articles and advertisements we each see, but also the prices we’re offered. Governments use surveillance to discriminate, censor, chill free speech, and put people in danger worldwide. And both sides share this information with each other or, even worse, lose it to cybercriminals in huge data breaches.

Much of this is voluntary: we cooperate with corporate surveillance because it promises us convenience, and we submit to government surveillance because it promises us protection. The result is a mass surveillance society of our own making. But have we given up more than we’ve gained? In Data and Goliath, security expert Bruce Schneier offers another path, one that values both security and privacy. He brings his bestseller up-to-date with a new preface covering the latest developments, and then shows us exactly what we can do to reform government surveillance programs, shake up surveillance-based business models, and protect our individual privacy. You’ll never look at your phone, your computer, your credit cards, or even your car in the same way again.

Understanding data privacy issues will be key for our profession, and this is the better book to start the issues related to the topic.

#8: The Future of the Mind – The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, by Michio Kaku 

Continuing on the “Homo Deus” book theme from # 7, The Future of the Mind is an extraordinary exploration of the frontiers of neuroscience.

Dr. Kaku looks toward the day when we may achieve the ability to upload the human brain to a computer, neuron for neuron; project thoughts and emotions around the world on a brain-net; take a “smart pill” to enhance cognition; send our consciousness across the universe; and push the very limits of immortality.

The Future of the Mind brings a topic that once belonged solely to the province of science fiction into a startling new reality. This scientific tour de force unveils the astonishing research being done in top laboratories around the world—all based on the latest advancements in neuroscience and physics—including recent experiments in telepathy, mind control, avatars, telekinesis, and recording memories and dreams.

#9: Our Final Invention – Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era,  by James Barrat

For my no. 10 book in the list, I picked a book about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

For the purposes of creating a pre-med summer reading list, Artificial Intelligence helps choose what books you put on that list. It also helps with what movies you see, and even who you date. It puts the “smart” in your smartphone and soon it will drive your car. It makes most of the trades on Wall Street, and controls vital energy, water, and transportation infrastructure. But Artificial Intelligence can also threaten our existence.

In as little as a decade, AI could match and then surpass human intelligence. Corporations and government agencies are pouring billions into achieving AI’s Holy Grail—human-level intelligence. Once AI has attained it, scientists argue, it will have survival drives much like our own. We may be forced to compete with a rival more cunning, more powerful, and more alien than we can imagine.

Through profiles of tech visionaries, industry watchdogs, and groundbreaking AI systems, Our Final Invention explores the perils of the heedless pursuit of advanced AI. Until now, human intelligence has had no rival. Can we coexist with beings whose intelligence surpass our own? And will they allow us to?

#10: How To Be Pre-Med—A Harvard MD’s Medical School Preparation Guide for Students and Parents, by Suzanne M. Miller, M.D. 

For my last and final book, I took a book that directly outlines the path and requirements for an aspiring Pre-Med student.

This book was structured into six buckets, or requirements for graduate school, including: academics, research, community service, extracurriculars, clinical experiences and application skills. Each bucket is equally weighted and are expected to be filled before finishing undergraduate school.

There were a lot of take aways from this book that changed my perspective on the medical field. The first one is that medical school is competitive, however, there are many ways to get there. The second is to find your passion now and call your doctors to shadow and understand the diversity of medicine. Lastly, ALL experiences count, however, not all are worth noting if not much was gained.

Overall, this book was very straightforward and honest about what it takes to make it. Dr. Miller even states, “My goal is to help as many pre-meds as possible” and after reading her book, I have gained a deeper and clearer understanding of the intricate medical field.

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