Recommended reading

Friday, 19th July, 2024

Really, this section is just an excuse to showcase books that I’ve enjoyed, whether fiction or non-fiction, which have some interesting or useful insights into health-related matters.


The Spare Room
Helen Garner (

Suffering and death, the privileges and burdens of the nurse, shonky medicine, and the coping mechanisms of the terminally ill. These are just some of the themes that arise in this book, which is far more enjoyable than that morbid catalogue suggests. It’s called a novel but reads more like a private journal.
Text Publishing, 2008

Conversations with the Mob
Megan Lewis (

Photographer Megan Lewis spent some years living with the Martu people in remote WA desert. The result is this most beautiful work of art and soul. “It is my wish that my photographs and the mob’s stories will allow hearts to open – that this book will serve as a bridge across a great cultural divide.” Read it - and weep, laugh, marvel and learn.
University of Western Australia Press, 2008

Public Health Advocacy and Tobacco Control: Making Smoking History
Simon Chapman (

Essential reading for anyone interested in tobacco control, public health and/or media advocacy.
Blackwell Publishing, 2007

Dying: A Memoir
Donald Horne
( & Myfanwy Horne

It takes a particular type of courage to not only observe death and dying up close, but then to also carefully document what it means to lose your very life’s breath. This is really three books in one: Donald Horne’s observations of his own dying from lung disease; Myfanwy Horne’s own account of her husband and his death; and a collection of Horne’s last essays and thoughts, on everything from culture and politics to the importance and pleasure of lunching.
Viking, 2007

How Doctors Think
Dr Jerome Groopman
Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a staff writer at the New Yorker.

Groopman weaves the stories of patients and doctors to illustrate the complexities and frailties of medical decision making. You can’t read this book without realising the importance of patients playing a more active role in their own health care. If Groopman is half as good at doctoring as he is at writing, then his patients are fortunate.
Scribe Publications, 2007

Terra Nullius: A Journey through No One’s Land
Sven Lindqvist

I learnt much about my country and its history through reading this book. It’s telling that it took a Swede to provide such a perspective. Phillip Knightley describes it as ‘the most original work on Australia and its treatment of Aboriginals I have ever read’. Some of the territory it covers should be of interest to medical ethicists and historians.
Granta Books, 2007

Safety and Ethics in Healthcare: A Guide to Getting it Right (
Bill Runciman, Alan Merry, Merrilyn Walton

These authors have been at the forefront of efforts to improve the safety and quality of health care. For my money, what makes this book stand out is the integration of patients’ stories. They are often a poignant reminder of why this issue is so important; quality and safety can sound such a dry theoretical subject until you remember that it is peoples’ lives that are at stake.
Ashgate, 2007

Acting from the heart: Australian advocates for asylum seekers tell their stories (
Edited by psychiatrists Sarah Mares and Louise Newman

Is it possible to read this book without weeping? Or without being overwhelmed by a sense of great shame?
Finch Publishing, Sydney, 2007

The Year of Magical Thinking (
Joan Didion

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be,” writes Didion, after the sudden death of her husband John Dunne. Different people may experience grief differently, but Didion’s compelling personal account, informed by the professional literature, will speak to many. “Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it,” she says.
Alfred A Knopf, 2005

Tiger’s Eye: A memoir (
Inga Clendinnen

An insightful and beautifully written examination of self and illness. And an illustration of the virtues of the outsider’s eye, that some of the best insights into health and health care come from outside the industry.
The Text Publishing Company, 2000

Why Warriors lie down and die (
Richard Trugden

From reading about the past, we can get a better understanding of the present. This adage is illuminated by Trugden’s stories from Arnhem Land, where he worked for many years. It should be essential reading for health professionals, or anyone else, with an interest in Indigenous culture and history. Fixing some of the problems of the present requires an understanding of the past.
Aboriginal Resource and Development Services, 2000

A selection of books for anyone with an interest in war-related trauma, war journalism and Vietnamese history

  • The Girl in the Picture: the story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph and the Vietnam War, by Denise Chong (a Canadian journalist). Kim Phuc is the young girl who was photographed running down a road naked during napalm bombing. It was very powerful reading this after going to the War Remnants Museum in Saigon which has a section devoted to war photographers.

  • The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh, a novel by a former North Vietnamese soldier, which gives a moving account of the after effects of war, including post traumatic stress disorder

  • Where the Sea Takes us: A Vietnamese-Australian story, by Kim Huynh, (Fourth Estate, 2007). Huynh is a Canberra academic who arrived in Australia as a young boy, one of the 'boat people'. His family's story also tells some of the history of Vietnam's traumas.

  • The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate. I'm not someone who usually enjoys 'war books' but this is gripping, about the amazing network of tunnels where the Viet Cong fought and lived for years.