The best books on medical treatments gone wrong

Why am I passionate about this?

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...

Shipwreck of the Singular: Healthcare's Castaways

By David Healy,

Book cover of Shipwreck of the Singular: Healthcare's Castaways

What is my book about?

Shipwreck is about a transformation of healthcare, which aimed to help us live the lives we want to live, into health services, which sell us disorders and pills to go with them and condition us to live the lives that the major pharmaceutical companies want us and our families to live. It outlines how companies have hidden clinical trial data, ghostwrite all articles on medicines in leading journals, and stack the deck so that if you are injured by a drug your chances of getting the harm recognized are getting ever more remote.  

If we wish to set things right, we need to build a new Caring Economy and it may be women rather than men that make this happen.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dear Luise: A Story of Power and Powerlessness in Denmark's Psychiatric Care System

David Healy Why did I love this book?

In focusing on her daughter, Luise, a mother, Dorrit Cato, in this extraordinary book captures all that is going wrong and getting worse in medical care today. Very early on you know what is going to happen and feel powerless to stop it. Maybe I feel this way so much because I see it happening every day. I’ve bought lots of copies and given Dear Luise to many working in healthcare, who have found it equally raw. If you only have minimal encounters with healthcare or encounters where things have gone well, you may find this story sad but think it a rare exception. Trust me, in mental healthcare today Dear Luise is the norm, and tomorrow it will be the norm for all of health.   

By Dorrit Cato Christensen, Peter Stansill (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dear Luise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

‘An unintended event.’ This was the bland phrase used to describe Luise’s sudden death in the psychiatric ward at Amager Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was 32.

Dear Luise is a mother’s deeply personal account of her struggle to ensure her daughter’s survival through 20 years of treatment in the Danish mental health system. It is an alarming – and thoroughly documented – exposé of the abject failure of the medication-based treatment regimen routinely imposed on vulnerable psychiatric patients. This book is also a poignant tale of love and hope, brimming with tender memories of the creativity, originality and wry…


Book cover of The Pill That Steals Lives: One Woman's Terrifying Journey to Discover the Truth about Antidepressants

David Healy Why did I love this book?

Every so often, a masterpiece tumbles out of someone who has never written anything before and thinks they can’t write. Katinka Newman clearly didn’t stop to think whether she should include this trivial detail or leave in what she had just written about that person – the result is a book that hangs together perfectly. You know this is exactly what happened. You witness the extraordinary downward spiral of someone getting supposedly the best mental healthcare there is. What you don’t expect is how she escapes from near-certain death. Newman doesn’t quote any antipsychiatry people telling us how bad psychiatry is but her account of what happened to her is all the more devastating for sticking just to her story.

By Katinka Blackford Newman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pill That Steals Lives as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While going through a divorce, documentary filmmaker Katinka Blackford Newman took an antidepressant. Not unusual - except that things didn't turn out quite as she expected. She went into a four-day toxic psychosis with violent hallucinations, imagining she had killed her children, and in fact attacking herself with a knife. Caught up in a real-life nightmare when doctors didn't realise she was suffering side effects of more pills, she went into a year-long decline. Soon she was wandering around in an old dressing gown, unable to care for herself, and dribbling. She nearly lost everything, but luck stepped in; treated…


Book cover of Adverse Reactions

David Healy Why did I love this book?

Adverse Reactions opens with a grim story about a medical father who has given chloramphenicol, an apparently safe drug, to his son and watches him die a slow and agonizing death. The father's efforts to make sure this cannot happen again are extraordinary. Almost single-handedly he lays the basis for the drug safety systems we now have. At the same time, the drug company that made chloramphenicol invented the playbook which means these safety systems don’t work and prescription drug-induced death may now be the commonest form of death there is.    

By Thomas Maeder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adverse Reactions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author of Children of Psychiatrists recreates one of the largest and most controversial investigations in medical history, presenting the story behind Cholramphenicol, a widely-used antibiotic that resulted in hundreds of deaths, innumerable lawsuits, and countless FDA actions.


Book cover of The Zyprexa Papers

David Healy Why did I love this book?

In The Zyprexa Papers Jim Gottstein runs two parallel stories. One is a thriller covering his efforts to get company documents from Zyprexa’s maker, Eli Lilly, that reveal its hazards and how Lilly hid those hazards, into the public domain and his subsequent trial for doing so. The other centers on the mental health patients he spends most of his time helping avoid being given drugs like this. The patients, especially Bill Bigley, are the beating heart of this book. Their stories bring home the consequences for them of the documents Gottstein took such risks to make public. This is Eric Brockovich – except that Hollywood is too scared of pharma and too dismissive of mental health patients to make this movie. You’ll just have to read the book.

By Jim Gottstein, Bob Parsons (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Zyprexa Papers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On December 17, 2006, The New York Times began a series of front-page stories about documents obtained from Alaska lawyer Jim Gottstein, showing Eli Lilly had concealed that its top-selling drug caused diabetes and other life-shortening metabolic problems. The "Zyprexa Papers," as they came to be known, also showed Eli Lilly was illegally promoting the use of Zyprexa on children and the elderly, with particularly lethal effects. Although Mr. Gottstein believes he obtained the Zyprexa Papers legally, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn decided he had conspired to steal the documents, and…


Book cover of The Thalidomide Catastrophe

David Healy Why did I love this book?

For many, Thalidomide is like King Arthur – a story lost in the mists of time. Except, like the Knights Templar or the Holy Grail, it still lives. People are still trying to find out who made it, still trying to find out how it causes the birth defects and other problems it causes, and still trying to claim it cures cancers and Covid – which it might.  

In a scenario that takes the hitman’s ‘nothing personal, it’s just business’ dilemma to unimaginable reaches, through the 1960s and 1970s senior Nazis plotted with Israeli scientists to defend this drug. Like Chou-en-Lai’s 1970 comment that it’s too soon to know what the French Revolution really meant, it’s too soon to know how the thalidomide story ends, but it’s worth bingeing on this book, nonetheless.

By Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, Tobias Arndt

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Thalidomide Catastrophe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"This momentous book is the first comprehensive history of thalidomide. ... It demonstrates how many thousands of victims could have been spared very late in the day if Chemie Grünenthal had taken any notice of the early alarms: ... [It] carries conviction by its scientific rigor, and the clarity of the writing. Fifty years after the deaths and sufferings, the thalidomide tragedy is marked by ... the odour of corruption and cover up." - Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Sunday Times and The Times


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Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

Book cover of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

Edward Benzel Author Of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Coming from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, I have witnessed many successes and failures over more than four decades. I recognized decades ago that communication with patients at a level that involves emotions is a necessary part of being a complete physician. This involves being empathetic and, henceforth, digging deep to find the strength to be transparent, vulnerable, compassionate, understanding, and, when needed, forceful (some would call this paternalism). Although the five books I have chosen to highlight vary widely in content, they have one common theme – finding within us the will and wherewithal to succeed.

Edward's book list on awakening of the strengths that are hidden deep inside each of us

What is my book about?

My book is a collection of monthly Editor-in-Chief letters to the readership of World Neurosurgery, a journal that I edit. Each essay is short and sweet. The letters were written for neurosurgeons but have been re-edited so that they apply to all human beings. They cover topics such as leadership, empathy, vulnerability, stress, burnout, and on and on…. These essays are relevant for all who strive to craft a better version of themselves.

Life lessons learned by the author during his 40+ year neurosurgery career are shared and translated into real-life scenarios. Between the covers are many lessons that are derived from the experiences of the author and then applied to all humans. The mastering of these lessons should translate into a sense of pride and satisfaction. In keeping with the theme of the book, this process should culminate in the feeling at the end of the day that ‘Today was, indeed, a good day.’

Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

What is this book about?

About the Book
Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon features many topics that pertain to how neurosurgeons interact with others and how each of us can use introspection to modify how we are using tools and strategies such as empathy, respect, stress management, and much more.
This book provides some insights into leadership, effective communication, and fulfillment from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, and it causes the reader to think about and consider many, many attributes of a leader.
We all want to have a good day. This book provides strategies…


1 book lists we think you will like!

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