My five favorite books

My wife and two daughters are avid readers. They love to bury themselves in books, and they’re always swapping the latest great titles with one another. While keeping up with them isn’t easy these days, good writing is something I definitely appreciate thanks to their influence.

As a physician, I’m especially intrigued by doctors who write. It’s fascinating to me whenever anyone has both the scientific mind needed for medical school and the creative mind needed for storytelling. The combination has produced some really great contributions to American literature.

At town halls and forums, a few caregivers have asked me what I like to read for fun. So, since the summer reading season is upon us, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books (in no particular order). Not surprisingly, most of them happen to be by physicians.

1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, M.D., an internist who was born in Afghanistan, and grew up and went to medical school in California.


2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, M.D., another internist, who trained at my alma mater, Boston University, and now teaches at the medical school at Stanford.


3. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., an oncologist who actually spoke at Providence a couple of years ago.


4. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder. Though not written by a physician, it’s a biography about one I really admire, infectious disease specialist Paul Farmer, M.D. His efforts to bring health care to the poorest parts of Haiti have been an inspiration to myself and my wife, Nancy, a physical therapist, to the point where we often talk about volunteering in a developing nation when we retire. We’re both joining a mission in Guatemala this fall as part of Providence Health International. You’ll hear more about that trip in future blog posts.


5. Various titles by Atul Gawande, M.D., a general surgeon and probably the best known author in the “physician-writer genre”.  While I’ve been following his work for years, he didn’t seem to explode onto the public scene until 2009 with his now famous New Yorker article, “The Cost Conundrum”. His ideas are nothing new to those of us who have been pushing the quality agenda in health care, but he has a knack for explaining complex topics, and his work has been instrumental in driving change and helping the public understand the challenges facing health care.


Ira Byock: A physician writer to call our own
Ira Byock, M.D., one of the country’s foremost experts in palliative care joined Providence last week by way of Dartmouth. I’m very excited to have him on board because of his expertise and vision. As you might have guessed, I’m also impressed with his writing portfolio. This year, Simon & Schuster is celebrating the 10th anniversary of his seminal book, The Four Things that Matter, and we’re making his latest title, The Best Care Possible, required reading for all our system board members.

Enter to win a copy of Dr. Byock’s latest and Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto
To encourage more caregivers to subscribe to this blog, the communication team had an idea to enter all our blog subscribers into a drawing to win an autographed copy of Atul Gawande’s most recent book The Checklist Manifesto. We also have a copy of Dr. Byock’s The Best Care Possible. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please enter your Providence or affiliate email address in the box to the right. We’ll hold the drawing later this month.


Enter to win this autographed copy of Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto by subscribing to this blog.

Now, it’s your turn. What’s on your reading list? 
Have you read any of the books above? If so, I’d love to hear what you think about them. And if you have have any good recommendations, share them in the comments below. They’ll come in handy as I prepare to load up my Kindle for the summer.




  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is the fascinating story about early cellular research and the medical ethics challenges of the 50’s. I agree that anything by Atul Gawande is timely, relevant and well-written. Our own Sid Schwabb frequently submits articles to the Everett Herald – it’s nice to read someone I know personally.

  2. The best book I have read in the last year is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Great advice on how to simplify life, work and thinking and focus on what is most important. (“Achieve more by doing less.”)

  3. If you like books of medicine and faith, I would like to recommend In Love with Bangladesh; The Heart of a Missionary. It is a modern story of missions and Christ moving in the Muslim world and among the poorest of the poor. I wrote it about my years as a missionary nurse there. I started 3 medical clinics in Bangladesh and lived at two different orphanages taking care of more than 300 children. Many of them still call me mom/ amma or Auntie. This book is written to encourage, to challenge, and to bless.

    In Love With Bangladesh; The Heart of a Missionary
    By Jill Hanson Flatt

  4. Signature in the Cell by Stephen Meyer.
    I couldn’t put this book down. It was so informative and a real eye opener as to the creation of life and the universe designed by an intelligent designer.

  5. The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted And the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, And Long-term Health — by T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and Thomas M. Campbell II, MD. I was turned on to this book by one of our endocrinologists at Providence, who said she wishes all of her patients would read this.

    Also, Overdiagnosed: Making people sick in the pursuit of health, by Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, Dr. Lisa M. Schwartz and Dr. Steven Woloshin. Welsh is a nationally recognized expert on the effects of medical screening who has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, NPR, and in the New York Times and Washington Post. He and his coauthors are professors at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

    • One more! A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community by Sister Simone Campbell. Very relevant to our Mission.

  6. “Mountains beyond Mountains” by Tracey Kidder was required reading for my public health and community nursing class at WSU. While I really enjoyed the book I appreciate it more as a gateway to learn about Paul Farmer, MD and the work he continues to do. His unrelenting drive to provide quality healthcare everywhere is inspiring. A couple of books I would recommend are:

    1. Atul Gawande’s – BETTER: A surgeon’s notes on performance
    2. Charles Kenney’s – Transforming Health Care VMMC’s pursuit of the perfect patient experience
    3. Simon Anholt’s – Places: Identity, Image and Reputation (Simon advises countries on how to improve their images and has a wonderful TED talk about it. The recommendations he has can be used on a corporate level)
    4. Fritz S. Perls – Ego, Hunger and Aggression (My personal favorite)

  7. One of the most memorable books I have read is Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. The story of a pediatric neurosurgeon. It was inspiring and instilled hope. I gave a copy to my son in college.

  8. Rod,
    My Dad was a huge patient safety advocate and a fan of John Nance, Dr. Gawande, and Sorel King. He had a signed copy of the “Checklist Manifesto”, “Why Hospitals Should Fly” and “Josie’s Story”. Despite living in Boston, and never having met my Providence co-workers, he influenced our safety work, provided a never-ending amount of internet patient safety information, and inspired us. Dad died several months ago. His life was shortened as the result of a medical error. Father’s Day was a difficult day.
    I am a Nance-Gawande-King ‘groupie’. I have my signed copies of their books as well. I recommend adding Nance’s book(s) to your list.
    Best regards,

  9. Rod-
    Why not buy copies of these books and make them available in our individual libraries? As a member of the green team, it makes more sense to share and reuse 🙂 rp

  10. “Cutting for Stone” is one of my all time favorite books – who can ever forget “what treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?” “words of comfort” – also loved his other book, “The Tennis Player” – and of course The Kite Runner is also a favorite!!

  11. Hi Rod!

    My son, an Afghanistan veteran aspires to medical school, and specifically to a life’s work with “Doctors without Borders” after his training is completed. Paul Farmer is one of his heroes, and he fell in love with “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder. I recommended it to him from your list, and he was reading within 24 hours.

    Thank You!

    Carolyn Dalen
    Senior Project Manager
    Reporting & Analytics
    Healthcare Intelligence
    Renton, WA

  12. I don’t read as much as I would like, so have not read any of these, however, I heard Dr. Gawande speak at the Press Ganey National Conference last year and enjoyed his way of telling a story and driving his point across.

  13. I recommend 5 Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink. It details the deteriorating situation at Memorial Hospital after Hurricane Katrina. While it’s clear nobody walked into that situation intending to do harm, certain lines were crossed that never should be by caregivers who were under stress and outside of their usual realm. Very thought-provoking.

  14. One Doctor: Close Calls, Cold Cases & the Mysteries of Medicine…this is great non-fiction read!

    I can never turn down a Robin Cook novel!

    Thanks for all the great book suggestions.

  15. Rod, Nice selections. Kite Runner is a wonderful book. Thanks for doing this blog. Michael

  16. Mountains Beyond Mountains touches Providence.

    Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, was the inspiration behind my husband and I supporting an orphanage in Haiti. During the devistating 2010 Haiti earthquate, one of the volunteers serving at the orphanage, Molly Hightower,sadly died. Molly’s friends from the University of Portland developed a scholarship fund in her name to help bring children from the Haiti orphanage to University of Portland to obtain a degree.
    Jean Francois, who grew up in the Haiti orphanage, was the recipients of the scholarship and is currently studying at the University of Portland. When Jean needed medical help, I reached out to my Providence colleages and their response was incredible as they provided him with the medical care he needed, free of charge. Jean Francois is 1/2 way through with his degree and is looking forward to returning to the poorest of poor coutries to work in the orphanage he grew up in.
    I beleive this illustrates the promptings an inspirational book has on lives that may have not met otherwise. Appreciate the opportunity to share.

  17. Khaled Hosseini, M.D., is one of my favorite authors. Everything he writes is good – this one is excellent. Although rarely a fan of movies made from books, The Kite Runner is an exception. A great way to capture the story if you can’t find time to read the book.

  18. Khaled Hosseini, M.D., is one of my favorite authors. Everything he has written is good – The Kite Runner is great. Although I’m rarely a fan of movies made from books this is an exception — a great way to capture the story if you can’t find time to read the book.

  19. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell–makes you think about what we consider advantages and disadvantages. Some pertinent wisdom for a large healthcare organization like ours.

    Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Explores spirituality for the second have of life (50 and beyond). I am there!!!

    Selected Letters of A.M.A. Blanchet, Bishop of Walla Walla and Nesqualy. Here’s one that probably won’t make it to the NYT best seller list, but is a fascinating book that gives you the back story of the Sisters of Providence and their relationship with the bishop that brought them to the West.

  20. Joining the many book lovers at Providence, I recommend The Gift of Pain by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey. It’s at least 20 years old but in my mind it’s a classic, covering the remarkable life of Dr. Brand and his pioneering work caring for those suffering with leprosy. His compassion for a group of mostly forgotten people is deeply inspiring. His book caused me to completely rethink the pain response and was a help in the ensuing years when serious illnesses arrived.

  21. I recommend The Great Influenza by John M Barry. A very readable account of the possible origins, impact, and factors that helped spread the Spanish Flu.

  22. Thank you for all the wonderful suggestions. I read Mountains beyond Mountains and loved it. I just finished The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. It’s a story that follows a Cambodian family that lives at and makes their living from Stung Meanchey, the largest municipal waste dump in all of Cambodia. Excellent.

  23. I like the surgery classic “Surgery: Orthodox and Heterodox” by Sir William Heneage Ogilvie. I used the last chapter – “Truth” in a reflection on ‘Justice: One of our core values’ at one of our department meetings. I and my fellow caregivers realized that this still was applicable even sixty years after it was written. We can see why Sir William was recognized in four continents for his thoughtful and concise views. The quotation “A misleading symptom is misleading only to one able to be misled.” still has impact to this date.

  24. Anything by Oliver Sacks…I like reading him and listening to him tell stories about patients.

  25. Dear Rod,
    Thank you for this forum. I love reading – especially about places I’ve traveled to. I’ve read the first two on your list and loved both of them. I look forward to exploring the others. I did a mission trip in Haiti about a year after the earthquake. I’m currently seeking opportunities to go to Jordan to help the Syrian refugees. I’d like to do something with PHI but how do I find out about the opportunities. Do they need pharmacists? I speak some Spanish.
    A couple of recommendations:
    1) “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” by Anne Fadiman (a must read)
    2) “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” by Mary Roche (funny)
    3) “A Long Way Gone: memoirs of a boy soldier” by Ishmael Beah

    • Nancy
      The international work is really interesting and rewarding. We are looking at ways to expand our international in Guatemala and there should be more opportunities in the future. Thanks for the great book suggestions. Rod

      • Hello Rod,

        I would like to also add a recommendation for the book “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” by Anne Fadiman

        The there is a large Hmong Population in some of our services areas. I feel this book can provide some great insight into a part of the alternative/multi-cultural population which we serve.

        It has some quirky moments, and some shocking moments (yes doo-doo soup is real, and yes it is something that is ate on sepcial occasions; it is not a joke). But ultimatley it is about how a Hmong family combines the traditional medicines that they know and trust, with the western medicine approaches.

        Unfortunatley it is not written by a Doctor. But it is our mission in 352 pages: Know me, Care for me, Ease my Way.

        Sue Her

  26. Thank you for the great suggestions!

    I recently read God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine, by Victoria Sweet. She is a doctor writing about her experiences at Laguna Honda, a health care facility in San Francisco, from the tradition of almshouses. At the same time, she is exploring the history of Western Medicine, and is particularly interested in St. Hildegard of Bingen’s experiences providing and writing about medical care. Fascinating book about some of the pitfalls of modernization, and the heart of compassionate care.

    • Susan
      We are thinking a lot about compassionate care and it is the cornerstone of our mission statement. Your suggestions help support and provide examples of how we do compassionate care. Rod

  27. I always enjoy reading your blog, although it seems Friday is about the only day that I remain consistent.

    Thank you for sharing your book list. I have read “The Kite Runner” and really enjoyed the heart renching story of the many challenges the young man overcame through this journey.

    My reading for enjoyment often revolves around work related topics. As a development officer there are many resources available to learn and better understand why people choose to give back. I find the topic fasinating, as my nightstand is piled with reading material.

    • Dawn
      Working in development does provide an opportunity to work with those that want to give back. The work that you do is very important to non profit organizations and is more critical in the era of healthcare reform. Rod

  28. Thank you for the suggestions. Right now, I have a few books on my reading list (I’m not saying they are all-time favorites, they’re just on my list to finish this year):
    “How We Do Harm” by Otis Webb Brawley, MD
    “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg

    I’m also working my way through Jane Austen’s novels again. Next year, I’m planning to work my way back through the works of the Bronte sisters.

    • Samantha
      I like your choices and “Lean In” has created some controversy but has gotten people thinking. It’s great to go back and read the classics that never disappoint. Rod

    • The Bronte sisters are brilliant. Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorites. You just reminded me to break out my copy and read it again this summer!

  29. I love the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon, one of the main characters is a nurse turned surgeon during the Revolutionary War. Its fiction but it is interesting to learn how they treated health issues then and compare it with today’s treatments.

    • Tami
      The Civil War was a turning point for some of our medical care particularly around trauma. It makes us think about what the future for medical care will bring. Rod

  30. Rod-

    Thank you for sharing these! Very excited to add some of these to my summer reading list as well. Thank you for hosting this blog-very neat way to step away from the daily grind and experience what others have to offer- Always up for a new challenge and a chance to broaden my horizons.

    • Katlyn
      Thanks for your comments. I hope some of the suggestions make your reading list. Rod

  31. Loved the Atul Gawande books. Also liked My Stroke of Insight that another responder recommended. And . . . I am Malala, When the Air Hits Your Brain (written by MD), January First, How We Do Harm (written by MD), A Lethal Inheritance, In the Land of Invisible Women (written by MD), Waiting to be Heard, My Brain on Fire, Finding Fish, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So (written by MD), Steve Jobs, Breaking Night, Overdiagnosed (written by MD), Brain Surgeon (written by MD). Love seeing all the non-fiction suggestions from others on this string. Happy reading!

    • Renee
      Thanks for the great suggestions that I can add to my list. Rod

  32. Rod,

    I’ve read all but one of the titles you listed, and would suggest you consider picking up The Chaos Imperative by Ori Brafman. It’s a thought-provoking quick read discussing the conditions under which disruptive innovation arises.

    One other thought. The Kindle is nice, ever so convenient (especially when travelling), but don’t give up on the simple pleasures of turning the pages and holding a writer’s works solidly, marvelling at the power of the written word on paper. Nothing beats handing someone a great book that’s got a few dog-eared pages…

    • Katherine
      I agree with your sentiments on the feel and joy of holding and reading a “real book”. I have a copy of a book on Thomas Jefferson that I read from on a regular basis.

  33. Rod, thank you for sharing! I’ve read several of your favorites and they are all excellent reading so I’m really happy to have a few new titles to add to my summer reading list!

    Although not written by a Doctor, one of my favorite books is Human Goodness by Yi-Fu Tuan, really gets you thinking!


    • Stacie
      Thanks for the suggestion. Some of the best books are outside of healthcare. Rod

  34. One of my favorites is, “When the Air Hits Your Brain: Tales from Neurosurgery,” by Frank Vertosick, 2008. Very good read. Now I have new ones to add to my list.

    • Beverly
      Thanks for your suggestion. Neurosurgeons can make interesting authors. Rod

  35. Good choices all! I would recommend “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor PhD. This book should be required reading for anyone who cares for, treats or interacts with folks who have had strokes/brain injuries. Just started ‘Second Suns”: all about Cataract Surgery in Nepal. So far very good.

    • Joan
      Thanks for the suggestion. The viewpoint of the patient is paramount in giving clinical care. Experiencing care has made physicians better care givers. Rod

  36. Khaled Hosseini, M.D., was my grandmother’s internist in Oakland, Calif. and she loved him, not only as an author, but as a doctor. It’s wonderful when a physician can be so many things to so many people.

    • Kate
      I agree completely. Some physicians have the ability to be great doctors and incredibly great authors. Rod

  37. Thanks for the recommendations! I enjoyed The Kite Runner and will look up the others. As for my summer reading list, I am in the process of proof reading my mother’s latest book that is due to be published later in the summer. It is a Pride and Prejudice variation and I’m very proud of her for following her dream as a writer. Since I’ve been working on her book, I decided this summer will be classics: Rebecca, Jane Eyre and possibly one other. I also plan on reading Prey again by Michael Crichton as well.

    • Kimberly
      Wow. What an honor to be a able to proof your mothers book. Rod

    • Michael Crichton attended Harvard Medical School, although he never practiced after graduation to my knowledge.

      It is fun to re-read “Andromeda Strain” and “Terminal Man” in the light of modern technology and healthcare. He also gives us a history of healthcare, and modern (1970!) examples in “Five Patients”.

  38. Rod,

    One physician-written book I’d add to the list would be Unaccountable by Dr. Marty Makary. It’s about the imperative for transparency in the health care system so patients can make more informed choices. Dr. Makary collaborated with Atul Gawande on the Checklist Manifesto, so that gives you an idea of his philosophy.

    I’m also a fan of anything written by Oliver Sacks. He just published A Man Without Words — and it’s definitely going on the summer reading list.


    • Larry
      Its interesting that you raise the issue of transparency. I think the digital and transparency changes are going to continue to dramatically change healthcare. Rod

  39. Rod,

    Thanks for these recommendations. One of my favorites is Cutting for Stone as well. I am also a huge fan of Atul Gawande’s but haven’t read Checklist Manifesto as of yet. Currently I am reading Crucial Conversations and just finished The Energy Bus.
    I will add a few of your suggestions to my Kindle Wish List in hopes of reading them this summer.

    • Shannon
      Thanks for your comments. You have some good suggestions to the reading list. Rod

  40. I checked with my wife and she has read the first four titles
    and suggests I read them as well.
    I like non-fiction and highly recommend
    The New Digital Age by Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, for a non-technical sweeping look at the dramatic social changes ahead driven by
    computer networks and their impact on society. Google arguably has the most informed futuristic view of what’s ahead.
    The book is a bit wonky but anyone who analyzes data, and like me feels frustrated by how little useful information we have to help our patients will love the hope of dramatic opportunity coming soon to healthcare.
    Google just hired Ray Kurzweil, reknown inventor, who is predicting man and machine will physically merge within a generation. Watching a demo of a physician wearing google glasses beaming the audio-video real time to
    a team documenting in the medical record and assisting
    in the care of the patient was eye-opening, no pun intended!

    • Ralph
      You have a real exciting vision for the future of technology and it human interaction. Sounds like we should get you to write a book and/or give a talk on this topic. Rod

  41. I prefer non-fiction, and the two most meaningful books I have read in recent years are “Why Hospitals Should Fly” by John Nance, and “Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. Both are fast reads and will teach you everything that you can practically use in real life about 1. hospital quality improvement and 2. how food gets to your table.

    • Jimmy
      I have read both and agree with your assessment. John Nance has a great perspective on airline safety and the lessons for healthcare. Rod

  42. Hello Mr. Rod,
    Kite Runner is one of my favorite books too!!
    Currently I am reading MindSet by Carol Dweck and Brain Rules by John Medina. Both are fascinating books.
    Thanks for blogging.

  43. Thank you for the recommendations!! You are the second person in recent days to recommend the first two! I’ll definitely look at the rest of your suggestions as well. Happy reading 🙂

  44. I’m reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak right now and it’s excellent!

  45. Rod –
    Good selections! I loved Cutting for Stone and Mountains Beyond Mountains … both of which would be great reads for anyone considering involvement in international service opportunities with Providence Health International or other medical missions. I’m glad to hear you’re going to Guatemala this fall; I just returned from a PHI trip there and it was absolutely amazing. There is great work occurring in our world and it’s wonderful to be part of it.

    • Kate
      Thanks for your thoughts on our international mission program. I am looking forward to visiting Guatemala and understanding how we can expand our presence. Rod

  46. Rod,
    Thanks for these great additions to my reading list! Two of my physician-written favorites are The Medusa and and Snail (1969) and Lives of a Cell (1978), both written by Lewis Thomas. Insights into how to live your life, as well as medicine and biology.

    • Chris
      I have read the Lives of a Cell and agree that is definitely a keeper. Rod