• Books: Gray's Illustrator, Doyle's Inspiration and Medicine at a Charity Hospital


    This new column is devoted to book reviews and recommendations that members of the SO committee have enjoyed as well as some of our readers.  Please enjoy and engage with us by submitting your ideas to scope@aao.org

    Duty, by Robert Gates, chronicles his time as secretary of defense for both Presidents Bush and Obama. You will understand current events in the Middle East much better after reading this book and will appreciate the difficulty of being an effective civil servant, especially when Congress gets involved.

    A Passion for Leadership, by Robert Gates, gives his prescriptions for leading organizations, and he has led many, including the CIA, the Defense Department and a major university. Good lessons for all of us.

    -Thomas A. Harbin, MD

    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick. Through the lives of six main characters, the award-winning author describes the ultra-harsh living conditions in North Korea during the reign of the father and grandfather of the current dictator, Kim Jong-un.  The lack of food, electricity, health care etc., is startling and nearly defies imagination.  At one point, one of the characters comes to realize that dogs in China fare better than doctors in North Korea.  The book brings insight to this clandestine and totalitarian state. Given current “saber rattling,” it’s a fascinating and must read.

    -Samuel Masket, MD

    Hemingway at War, by Terry Mort. Anyone surviving World War II was forever changed by the experience. Ernest Hemingway was no exception. Mort's book explores the time Hemingway spent as a correspondent during the final liberation of Europe. He paints a vivid picture of the author at his masculine and courageous best and his boorish and drunken worst. Readers interested in the history of World War II and its impact upon the character of one of America's legendary writers should enjoy this book.     

    Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes, by Michael Sims. The author unravels the mystery of how the most enduring fictional detective sprang from the imagination of a young Scottish physician, and failed ophthalmologist, in Victorian England. Arthur Conan Doyle's favorite professor at Edinburgh University, Dr. Joseph Bell, was renowned for his use of scientific observation to predict a patient's occupation and personal habits as well as his medical diagnosis. Bell became the inspiration for Doyle's famous sleuth.

    -J. Kemper Campbell, MD

    The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States, 1783-1789, by Edward Larson. In this best-selling recent biography on George Washington, Larson makes the case that Washington made his most important contribution not as the commanding general who led us in victory, nor as our first president. He instead did so during the time in between. Washing was surrounded by brilliant luminaries who became our founding fathers (such men as Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton and Madison), but it was Washington who best envisioned our country's destiny. Less flamboyant than the others, Washington held his own intellectually. Yet he was as grounded as well as philosophical. Washington walked the walk and talked the talk. 

    Washington's greatest contribution was that of voluntarily relinquishing power at the end of the war and in incurring such trust that the people, and even bickering partisan politicians, came together to allow for the establishment of our constitution in the summer of 1787.  And so, in addition to getting our country started, Washington proved King George wrong when the latter insisted, at the end of the war, that Washington was destined to become our first king.

    -Alfredo Sadun, MD, PhD

    God’s Hotel, by Victoria Sweet, MD. This story of a grand charity hospital, its patients, doctors and its struggles against the changing environment of our health care system is a must-read for all physicians. This warm, insightful, moving story reminds all of the truth that we are physicians, not health providers, and the practice of medicine is not only science, but an art.

    You can learn many lessons in this beautifully written story. This one is not to be missed.

    -Charles E. Afeman, MD

    The Anatomist, by Bill Hayes. This is the story of Henry Gray’s lifetime study of anatomy, but much, much more. In order to better understand the task that Henry Gray had to undertake to publish his book, Hayes enrolls as a first-year anatomy student. I found his story fascinating, considering that Gray’s Anatomy has never been out of print. Another lesser-known fact is that most of the original illustrations were actually done not by Gray, but by Henry Vandyke Carter, his younger associate at St. George’s Hospital in London. The Anatomist is almost a story more about Carter than Gray. I hope you will find it a worthwhile read.

    -Gregory P. Kwasny, MD

    The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, by Thomas Hager. This is a well written and entertaining history of the struggle to feed an increasing world population and some unintended consequences. It starts with significant concerns about the future of the world in the 17th and 18th centuries because of the depletion of nitrogen sources for fertilization of crops, how the problem was solved initially and the unintended consequences of the ultimate solution in the 20th century.

    -George E. Garcia, MD

    All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This is one of the most compelling World War II novels I have read. In a Nazi-occupied, walled citadel by the sea, a young French girl, who lost her sight at age six, meets a young German soldier, who was drawn into the Hitler Youth because of his interest in and ability with radios. Through a series of intense (and often heart-stopping) scenarios, the two young people finally come face to face, and we are left with the time-honored truth that, despite our physical and cultural differences, we are really all the same.

    -M. Bruce Shields, MD