ASPPH logo




Summer of Public Health: Reading Recommendations

Representatives from ASPPH member institutions have put together a recommended Summer of Public Health reading list. The list will help those looking to enrich their minds while enjoying the summer months.


Dr. Harrison Spencer, President and CEO, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health recommends Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. In this short, entertaining, and mind-bending introduction to modern physics, Rovelli explains Einstein’s theory of general relativity, quantum mechanics, black holes, the complex architecture of the universe, elementary particles, gravity, and the nature of the mind. In under one hundred pages, readers will understand the most transformative scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

Dean Sandro Galea, Boston University School of Public Health, recommends two books. The first is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Ms. Rebecca Sloot, which explores issues of race, poverty, and medical ethics as it details the story of Henrietta Lacks, a 31-year-old Black woman in Baltimore who died of cervical cancer in 1951. Doctors at Johns Hopkins took tissue samples from her cervix without her knowledge to produce the first cell line known as HeLa; that line went on to aid in groundbreaking medical discoveries from the polio vaccine to AIDS treatments. Ms. Skloot delves into the impact Henrietta’s death had on her family, her daughter Deborah in particular, and tells the life story of a previously anonymous woman whose harvested cells live on in perpetuity. This fall, the book will be read by the entire BUSPH community as part of a new school-wide reading initiative. The second book is Random Family by Ms. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, an extraordinarily evocative exploration into how cycles of disadvantage influence everything about lives, across generations, and the ineluctable role of social determinants if we want to improve health.

To understand how our history is embodied and contributes to health disparities, Dean Michelle A. Williams of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends reading two books. The first, My Own Country: A Doctor’s Story of a Town and Its People in the Age of AIDS (published in 1994) by Dr. Abraham Verghese, eloquently tells the story of the difficult and often lonely journeys that a generation of young gay men took upon leaving their rural homes to live in urban centers that were more complicated than they imagined, and that were far more dangerous than anyone could have known. Dr. Verghese eloquently describes the clinical, epidemiological and human dimensions of the unfolding HIV/AID epidemic in rural America. The second recommended book is Between the World and Me (published in 2016), a profoundly moving essay by Mr. Ta-Nehisi Coates. This highly acclaimed book focuses on the fear of violence and humiliation experienced by the author as a young man in West Baltimore. Mr. Coates describes how historical forces in American society (e.g., slavery, discriminatory racial policies and interpersonal violence) are embodied by black men and women across generations. These noteworthy books help to illustrate how we live our history, and how that history contributes to persistent health inequalities, inequalities brought on by social and historical forces.

Dr. Shawn Gibbs, Executive Associate Dean, Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington recommends Bossypants by Tiny Fey. “I recently completed reading Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, which I found to be funny, of course, but also touched on gender issues in a unique way.  Also, on a flight I re-read Life Studies/For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell — I’ve read this book several times and always find something new and the imagery powerful.”

Dr. John Schrader, assistant dean for student academic affairs, Indiana University School of Public Health – Bloomington, recommends two of his favorite books, which he recently re-read: The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization by Peter M. Senge, which discusses organizational leadership and systems thinking and Principle Centered Leadership by Steven Covey, which focuses on organizational leadership beginning personally from the “inside”.

Interim Dean Cristine D. Delnevo, Rutgers School of Public Health, recommends the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver for a summer read. This engaging tale tells the story of a missionary’s family’s undoing and reconstruction over three decades in postcolonial Africa — the dominant themes of culture and ethnocentrism provide food for thought for today’s global public health initiatives. Associate Dean Marian R. Passannante, Rutgers School of Public Health, recommends In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume as a fun summer read.

Dean Collins O. Airhihenbuwa, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice, recommends Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and RedemptionIn this powerful memoir, author Bryan Stevenson recounts his personal and professional journey as an activist lawyer helping those who have been abandoned at the margin of society: death-row inmates particularly those who are there for crimes they did not commit, children sentenced to harsher prison terms than adults committing the same crime, young women and men with intellectual disabilities, among others.

A compelling illumination of racial injustice and related inequities in the U.S. justice system, find out why Bryan Stevenson is considered the Nelson Mandela of our time. Just Mercy was chosen as the summer reading for the fall 2016 incoming freshmen class at Saint Louis University. This book should be considered a ‘must read’ for all public health students and scholars, and it resonates with the social justice mission of SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice.

Dean Laura A. Siminoff, Temple University College of Public Health, recommends Sweetness #9 by Stephan Erik Clark. It is a comic novel that depicts the confessional narrative of a food scientist complicit in the development of a chemical additive that has played a sneaky role in America’s obesity epidemic.

Dean Jay Maddock, Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health is reading The Son by Philipp Meyer. Synopsis: the acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son: an epic, multi-generational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century. Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power, The Son is an utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West through the lives of the McCulloughs, an ambitious family as resilient and dangerous as the land they claim.

Dean Michael G. Perri of the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions recommends A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction by Mr. Patrick Kennedy and Mr. Stephen Fried. Mr. Kennedy, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and son of the late Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy, recounts his personal struggle with addiction, depression and bipolar disorder in the larger context of his family’s mental health issues. He also details national efforts by lawmakers and advocates to address intellectual, developmental and mental health issues, including the long road to passage of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

Dean Paul Brandt-Rauf, University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, recommends several books for this summer. At the top of his list is The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert Gordon. “It discusses the history of the U.S. standard of living since the Civil War,” says Dean Brant-Rauf.

Another history book on his list is Pacific by Simon Winchester because it talks about the history of the largest ocean and “why it matters for the future,” he said.

Rounding out the rest of his summer reading recommendations are: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Ebony and Ivy by Craig Steven Wilder, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, The World To Come by Dara Horn, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, Our Kids by Robert Putnam, Earth’s Deep History by Martin Rudwick, The Edge of the World by Michael Pye, Shadows in the Vineyard by Maximillian Potter, Find Me Unafraid by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner, Let There Be Water by Seth Siegel, The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson, The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris, and County by UIC SPH alum, David A. Ansell, who talks about life, death and politics at Chicago’s public hospital.

Dr. W. Paul McKinney, associate dean for research, University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences recommends Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012, non-fiction) by David Quammen. Dr. McKinney said of this nonfiction book that it was a “well-written and compelling narrative about how zoonotic infections translate into human outbreaks and epidemics.” Dr. Peter L. Walton, associate dean for undergraduate affairs, University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, recommends three works of fiction: Zero K by Don DLillo, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines by Janna Levin, and the classic, The Count of Monte-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Dean Jane Clark, University of Maryland School of Public Health, recommends Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Dean Clark says “We read this in my women’s book club this year and were all very affected by it. Given the important conversations we are having on our campus about race and racism in the context of the Maryland Diversity Dialogues, Coates provides a critical perspective on just how intractable and systemic racism is in American culture and how much work remains ahead to create racial justice. Written as a letter to his teenage son, Coates confronts racial history and policies that underlie the bleak realities that many communities of color face and walks us through the course of his life, including his upbringing in West Baltimore and the everyday violence he witnessed, which was brought to the world’s attention through the death of Freddie Gray in 2015.”

Dean Martin Philbert, University of Michigan School of Public Health, recommends:
Zero K by Don De Lillo. The wisest, richest, funniest, and most moving novel in years from Don DeLillo, one of the great American novelists of our time—an ode to language, at the heart of our humanity, a meditation on death, and an embrace of life.

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

Dean Philibert also recommends Thinking Forward by University of Michigan SPH Professor Emeritus John R. Griffith and Kenneth R. White with Patricia Cahill. [Health Administration Press]

Quoting U-M SPH graduate and Professor Dr. Gail Warden, FACHE, former president and CEO of the Henry Ford Health System, “Thinking Forward provides wisdom and case histories to demonstrate how one system is successfully responding to the challenges of today and preparing for tomorrow.  This book is recommended reading for board members, CEOs and other professional leaders who wish to position themselves for success.”

Dean Barbara K. Rimer, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health recommends three books. High-Hanging Fruit: Build Something Great by Going Where No One Else Will, by Mr. Mark Rampolla, is an inspiration for young entrepreneurs who want to lead businesses that are socially responsible. Mr. Rampolla, along with his wife, Ms. Maura Rampolla, a Gillings School alumna, founded ZICO coconut water, and now they’re working on a number of healthy food projects.

“We’re proud of Mark and Maura – and all the social entrepreneurs who’ve gotten their start at the Gillings School,” Dr. Rimer said. “Mark’s book is an inspiration to those who want the businesses they build to have meaning beyond the bottom line.”

Ms. Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth tells the story of a 50-year relationship between two families whose shared experiences bind them together. “I was drawn to the beautiful writing, and I love the notion that our personal and family histories are such a powerful part of who we are,” Dr. Rimer said.

Ms. Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl is an ingenious and fast-paced retelling of Taming of the Shrew, Dean Rimer said. “Protagonist Kate Battista is a clever, independent daughter who negotiates relationships with her clueless father and opportunistic suitor. It’s light-hearted, laugh-filled summer reading! It includes a scientist in the mix, always an attraction for me.”

Dean Howard Frumkin of the University of Washington School of Public Health found 2016 to be a great year for reading fiction, as many of his favorite writers have new books out. Geraldine Brooks published The Secret Chord late last year. “It’s a beautifully imagined and written recreation of the life of the Biblical King David,” Dr. Frumkin says. “He emerges as deeply gifted and deeply flawed, and the voice of the narrator, David’s advisor, seer, and conscience, is unforgettable.” Dean Frumkin is halfway through Annie Proulx’s new novel, Barkskins, an epic that begins in 17th century French Canada and continues, through twists and turns of history, down to the present.  Also on his fiction list is The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and For a Little While, a collection of environmentally themed short stories by Rick Bass. Check out Dean Frumkin’s longer, nonfiction list, ranging from hunger and climate change to sustainability and national parks: