Your Winter Reading List: 9 Books for the Public Health Bookworm

As 2016 winds down and we settle into the cold weather months here in Wisconsin, those of us in the learning community thought now would be a nice time to share some suggestions for your winter reading lists. Whether you find yourself wanting to curl up next to the fire or you’re looking for a good read during those holiday travels, read on for recommendations of books that have inspired, informed, and challenged thoughts on public health issues ranging from housing, to data, to bias.$2.00 a day: Living on Almost Nothing in America
by Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer                                
Recommended by Fiona Weeks, First Year Fellow 

I wouldn't say I "love" this book because it does inspire some serious discomfort around the realities of poverty in the United States. I also wouldn't say I love it because I don't necessarily agree with all of the interpretations or recommendations of the book. On the other hand, you could say I love it for these very same reasons. It sparks critical thinking and debate about the very essence of poverty and what it would mean to win the war on poverty. You should read this book if you think you know what poverty looks like; if you care about each person having the opportunity to live her life with dignity; or if you have any interaction with or work related to SNAP, WIC, TANF or other anti-poverty programs. This book opened me up to the importance of individual autonomy for family well-being and the real significance of sending the message through public policy that we trust individuals and parents to make smart decisions for their families. Poverty is perhaps THE most important social determinant of health. If you don't believe me, read the book.

Recommended by Stephanie Richards, Fellowship Program Lead

I couldn't put it down-- it was such an engaging read and also incredibly informative. If you're interested in housing policy, you should read this book. It helped me understand more about all that is working against poor, African American, people with disabilities, and other oppressed groups, particularly housing and law enforcement policies. This book was the UW Go Big Read book and I'm pretty sure I gave everyone in the learning community a free copy!

by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Recommended by Stevie Burrows, First Year Fellow

This book is phenomenal because it gives the reader a vivid look into the oppression and de-humanization of women in the developing world; however, it does so while simultaneously highlighting the women's intelligence, resilience, and determination to change their communities. In our world today--with constant media coverage-- it is easy to become desensitized to the suffering of others, but this book opened my eyes. It fostered in me a deep respect for these brave women and made me want to effect change in my own community. This book truly transcends a multitude of public health topics, but you should really read this book if you care about women's health, rural health, and global health. It also contains great illustrations of how social and economic factors, such as education, can improve the health of individuals and communities.

by Bryan Stevenson
Recommended by Salma Abadin, Second Year Fellow

This book personalizes the difficulties of inequities through storytelling - both from the perspective of being the one who experiences them and then from the side of the person attempting to dismantle them. While you quickly realize how disheartening this work can be, Stevenson creates hope and resilience in the midst of adversity. The quote from this book, or maybe it's from when I've seen Stevenson speak, that has stuck with me is "Each of us is more than the worst thing we've done." Imagine what that would look like if we all believed this? It's made me think more about respect, dignity, and what a fair and inclusive society actually looks like. Throughout this book, there is a clear call to action that the evolution of our criminal justice system to its present state affects all of us and it will take all of us to overcome it. Public health has the opportunity to provide a framework, lens, or even a goal for what we'd like the criminal justice system to be. It moves away from individual culpability to community action.

by Nate Silver
Recommended by Nick Zupan, Second Year Fellow

This is a book on using data to make decisions and predictions. I think it’s great because it goes into using stats and analytics to make predictions, but also breaks down a number of fallacies in relying too heavily on data. If you’re a data geek like me and want to learn more about modeling, forecasting, and probability, you should check out this book. After reading it, I think I have a better understanding of how to utilize data for public health practice. I also learned some of the pitfalls of over-analyzing data. A data-informed or evidence-based approach is crucial to providing high quality public health programming and services. This book sheds light on how to extract the “story” in the data.

by Anne Fadiman
Recommended by Britt Nigon, First Year Fellow

If you’ve ever wondered about how the US medical system is perceived by those who are not familiar with it, or if you’re interested in thinking about bias in healthcare, this book is worth a read. It got me thinking more about historical trauma, medical anthropology, and the value of culturally-informed practice. It also opened my eyes to the realities of resettled populations and offered different ways of thinking about what happens when two cultures meet. To quote the author, “Our view of reality is only a view, not reality itself.”

by Elizabeth Pisani
Recommended by Leslie Tou, Second Year Fellow

You should read this book if you like reading nonfiction! Because even though it's from an epidemiologist and about public health- it's a fascinating read. It opened me up to how murky data is in reality and what the world is like for a sex worker.

by Daniel Kahneman
Recommended by Geof Swain, Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer, City of Milwaukee Health Department (MHD), site preceptor and MHD liaison

You should read this book if you care about human behavior and decision-making. To quote a review by Larry Swedroe of CBS News: Kahneman “clearly shows that while we like to think of ourselves as rational in our decision making, the truth is we are subject to many biases. At least being aware of them will give you a better chance of avoiding them, or at least making fewer of them.” A colleague of mine characterized it as "the most important book in the last decade, maybe more.”

by Dan Fagin
Recommended by Maria Mora, Preventive Medicine Resident

This book is very engaging and describes a world before the EPA and environmental regulations. You should pick it up if you would like to discover how corporations affect the environment, and how those regulations benefit you even if you don’t know it. It made me care more about risk communication and covered policy implications as well as the role of public health and the government in healthcare. It also contains a lot of history about epidemiology and public health – John Snow and more!

Note: This post is comprised of recommendations based on personal opinions and is not endorsed by any of the authors, publishers, or distributors referenced here. These thoughts are those of our learning community and do not represent the institutions or organizations associated with the fellowship. The views or opinions expressed in this post are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, organization, or individual.