The best books about how medicine should be

Who am I?

I’ve been researching treatment harms for 3 decades and founded RxISK.org in 2012, now an important site for people to report these harms. They’ve been reporting in their thousands often in personal accounts that feature health service gaslighting. During these years, our treatments have become a leading cause of mortality and morbidity, the time it takes to recognize harms has been getting longer, and our medication burdens heavier. We have a health crisis that parallels the climate crisis. Both Green parties and Greta Thunberg’s generation are turning a blind eye to the health chemicals central to this. We need to understand what is going wrong and turn it around.   


I wrote...

Children of the Cure: Missing Data, Lost Lives and Antidepressants

By David Healy, Joanna Le Noury, Julie Wood

Book cover of Children of the Cure: Missing Data, Lost Lives and Antidepressants

What is my book about?

Study 329, a trial of paroxetine in depressed teenagers, led to a fraud charge and a $3 billion fine against GlaxoSmithKline for reporting a negative trial as showing paroxetine worked wonderfully well and was safe. Nearly one in five teens on paroxetine had serious behavioural problems. The ‘fraudulent’ report was ghostwritten, as it appears were other trials of antidepressants in depressed teens, all negative but published as safe and effective with FDA turning a blind eye and willing to approve drugs that didn’t work. Children of the Cure gives you the insight into who was sleeping with who story behind a trial that despite the fraud charge and billon dollar fines is now standard practice for all trials of all drugs you or those you know may be taking. 

The books I picked & why

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The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice

By Annemarie Mol,

Book cover of The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient Choice

Why this book?

Every book by Annemarie Mol is good but The Logic of Care is simply the best book on what medicine should be. It is short, deceptively simple but leaves no hiding places. Everyone will be able to understand it in the same way from a teenager up through a Professor of Medicine to a Minister for Health but don’t expect any Ministers to admit to reading it any time soon. Mol outlines a relationship-based rather than technology-based medicine. How do we ensure medical techniques help us to live the lives we want to live rather than force us to live lives that suit the companies that make the technologies want us to live? How do we care for people rather than service them?


Fighting for Life

By S. Josephine Baker,

Book cover of Fighting for Life

Why this book?

Medicine loves stories about heroic men who made breakthroughs that have saved lives and given us the life expectancies we have today. It has never celebrated women and yet it was a woman, Josephine Baker, who in two decades starting in 1908, by focusing on antenatal and postnatal care, laid a basis for saving lives that has given us the life expectancies we have today. She did so against fierce opposition from doctors who argued that creating conditions that make infants and children healthy would be bad for medical business. Now that life expectancies are falling, and were falling before Covid, we desperately need to recover Baker and her insights. Her book written in 1939 gives clear hints of how unimpressed she would likely be with today’s medical business.


The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years

By Philippe Aries,

Book cover of The Hour of Our Death: The Classic History of Western Attitudes Toward Death Over the Last One Thousand Years

Why this book?

Modern medicine has dramatically extended life expectancies. But as our life spans extend, our fear of death grows. As our hope of living a long life and seeing our children survive grew, we became more rather than less anxious about losing out. We might have expected the opposite. Aries vividly illustrates how people viewed death as a part of life before the nineteenth century and how they reconciled themselves to it. He picks out 1886 as the point where Tolstoy in The Death of Ivan Illych recognized that medical advances were creating anxiety rather than hope. This book may make you less fearful of death. It will ask you whether you can now achieve serenity half as well as those before us did and whether medicine is bad for our sanity? 


A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America

By Martin S. Pernick,

Book cover of A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America

Why this book?

Most of us figure doing evil, even if good results, is not ethical but without this, there would be no medicine. Martin Pernick covers the discovery of anesthesia and the ethical dilemmas this new ability to save lives by poisoning people posed. Anesthesia is a technique and techniques are amoral. How do we ensure they enhance rather than diminish us? How do we avoid seduction into a sleep during which we can be cosmetically enhanced? Is there a limit to how many drugs we give children to manage their behaviour – just because we can? Treating and stopping are not the same as not treating. Pernick doesn’t tell us how to manage this calculus, but he makes us aware modern life involves more of a calculus than we might have thought.   


Impure Science: Aids, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

By Steven Epstein,

Book cover of Impure Science: Aids, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

Why this book?

AIDS was the pandemic before Covid. Unlike Covid, it mobilized people to take the science and efforts to find a cure into their own hands – especially people on the fringes of society. Nothing like this had ever happened before. It appeared to mark a watershed where medicine would become a servant of the people rather than people being enslaved to its commercial priorities. Sadly this is not how things worked out. The discovery of Triple Therapy was a high point of modern medicine but we have gone downhill since then with few if any drugs saving lives the way Triple Therapy did. Impure Science shows you vividly what we are up against.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and New York State?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and New York State.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bodies Politic: Disease, Death, and Doctors in Britain, 1650-1900, Christodora, and How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter if you like this list.