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Johns Hopkins 2018 Summer Reading Recommendations

For this year’s Summer Reading roundup, we reached out to deans, department chair persons and colleagues across the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for recommendations. The resulting compilation is replete with evidenced-based nonfiction titles. Also included are several public health-focused histories and a children’s book. (Note: We largely drew the following summaries from the book publisher’s listings.)

One new book that kept coming up in the “highly recommend” category is “The Public Health Crisis Survival Guide: Leadership and Management in Trying Times” [Oxford University Press, May 2018] by Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who happens to be the vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Bloomberg School. Dr. Sharfstein has witnessed public health challenges first-hand, having served as both health commissioner of the City of Baltimore and Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. At a federal level, Dr. Sharfstein also served as deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. The book is a blueprint for public health officials that emphasizes preparation for crises at every level to assist practitioners in these challenging times.

Another favorite pick is: “The Fears of the Rich, the Needs of the Poor: My Years at the CDC,” [Johns Hopkins University Press, March 2018] by Dr. William F. Foege. The book is a compelling account of the Center for Disease Control’s development by its former director. Dr. Foege, an epidemiologist who helmed the CDC from 1977 to 1983, recounts pivotal moments in public health, including the eradication of smallpox (attributed in part to Dr. Foege’s research) and the discovery of Legionnaires’ disease, Reye syndrome, toxic shock syndrome and HIV/AIDS. 

Journalist Ms. Mary Beth Pfeiffer’s “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change” [Island Press, April 2018] is also making the summer reading rounds. Lyme disease is spreading rapidly around the U.S. and globally, as ticks move into places they could not survive before. Ticks now infect half a million people in the U.S. and Europe each year, and untold multitudes in Canada, China, Russia, and Australia. Ms. Pfeiffer explores how modern medicine has underestimated the danger of Lyme disease, and warns of the emergence of other tick-borne illnesses that make Lyme more difficult to treat and pose their own grave risks.

Readers looking to gain insights into the U.S. opioid crisis can turn to Mr. Sam Quinones’ “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” [Bloomsbury Press, April 2015] which chronicles the economic decline of Portsmouth, Ohio and the ensuing opioid epidemic that has touch towns like it across the country. “Dreamland” weaves together two classic tales: The unfettered prescribing of pain medications during the 1990s that reached its peak in Purdue Pharma’s campaign to market OxyContin, its new, expensive — extremely addictive — miracle painkiller. Meanwhile, there was also a massive influx of black tar heroin — cheap, potent, and originating from one small county on Mexico’s west coast.

Historian Nancy Tomes’ “Remaking the American Patient: How Madison Avenue and Modern Medicine Turned Patients into Consumers” [UNC Press, January 2016] examines the age of patient consumerism, which holds that patients shop around for health care. The book explores where the shopping model came from, why it was so long resisted in medicine, and why it finally triumphed in the late twentieth century helps explain why, despite striking changes that seem to empower patients, so many Americans remain unhappy and confused about their status as patients today.

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” [Sarah Crichton Books, February 2016] by journalist Ms. Sonia Shah draws parallels between cholera — one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing pathogens — and the new diseases that threaten us today. Ms. Shah traces each stage of cholera’s journey from harmless microbe to world-changing pandemic, and reports on the pathogens that have followed cholera’s footsteps — including the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to never-before-seen killers emerging from the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

The history of the Bloomberg School was also suggested, “Health and Humanity: A History of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 1935–1985” [Johns Hopkins University Press, May 2016]. Written by School historian Dr. Karen Kruse Thomas, “Health and Humanity,” is an account of the growth of academic public health in the U.S. through the prism of the oldest and largest independent school of public health in the world. Dr. Thomas follows the transformation of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, now known as the Bloomberg School of Public Health, from a small, private institute devoted to doctoral training and tropical disease research into a leading global educator and innovator in fields from biostatistics to mental health to pathobiology.

Finally, an unexpected but fun and worthwhile recommendation. “The Lorax” [Random House, August 1971], one of Dr. Seuss’ lesser known books but reportedly his personal favorite, is a terrific fable aimed at young readers (and the adults who read it to them) about the harms that corporate greed can bring to the environment.