The best books about nurses

6 authors have picked their favorite books about nurses and why they recommend each book.

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Home Before Morning

By Lynda Van Devanter,

Book cover of Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam

I’m going to jump historical genres slightly and recommend Lynda Van Devanter’s Vietnam memoir which reads like historical fiction and is every bit as engaging as the great novels and memoirs of the Vietnam War written by such men as Robert Stone, Larry Heinemann, Michael Herr, Tim O’Brien, Philip Caputo, and Karl Marlantes. As an Army nurse, Devanter gave it her all to save others. This book is her effort to learn to live with what she witnessed in Vietnam, to get the truth down as honestly as she can by using all the narrative techniques of the novelist. Of the great books written about that horrific time in our country’s (and Vietnam’s) history, this one grabbed me from start to finish like no other. A powerful voice is telling us what we too readily forget now—that war is a criminal activity, no matter how justified or how much the…


Who am I?

I’m the author of ten books, including fiction, memoir, collected journalism, and criticism. My novels are historical fiction, hence my decision to make my recommendations within that genre, mostly. My own historical novels comprise a tetralogy beginning with The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin and ending with The Turner Erotica, so the series takes the reader roughly from 1648 to 1900. The second book chronologically in the series, Rebecca Wentworth’s Distraction, won the 2003 Langum Prize for historical fiction. Retired now, I was the founding director of the MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction at Southern New Hampshire University.


I wrote...

The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin

By Robert J. Begiebing,

Book cover of The Strange Death of Mistress Coffin

What is my book about?

The first novel of an historical tetralogy, Mistress Coffin is based on the unsolved, brutal murder of a strong woman in 17th century New England. The novel follows actual court records from 1640s New Hampshire Province (then under Massachusetts rule) where the case was tried and dropped by the woman’s husband for mysterious reasons. The settlement’s elders call on Richard Browne, a young Englishman, to discover what happened. But the more he learns, the more puzzling the crime becomes, and the more Browne finds himself attracted to the wife of the missing suspect.

Intensive Care

By Echo Heron,

Book cover of Intensive Care: The Story of a Nurse

Although younger readers may enjoy Echo’s newer non-fiction titled Emergency Nurses 24/7 captures the challenges and triumphs of nurses as they enter practice or specialty areas for the first time.  After ten years in the intensive care team, she has intriguing stories to share—which may be why her memoir spent 8 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list.


Who am I?

Juggling roles as a professor, nurse practitioner, author, mother, and grandmother would seem to limit my reading time but instead, I always have a book in my car, on my phone, or in my hands. I read broadly and enjoy all genres, from fiction to nonfiction, poetry to medical comics, as well as the creative essay columns nursing journals are beginning to embrace. In particular, I gravitate toward resources that help nurses create a positive relational workplace where their best efforts can be even more effective. Whether it’s ending the RN-RA (relational aggression) Rut, using poetry to express feelings about caregiving, or writing creatively about the many aspects of nursing, I am ready to read! And of course, the best part of reading is having a discussion with colleagues or friends about what exactly that book was about…


I wrote...

Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil

By Cheryl Dellasega,

Book cover of Toxic Nursing: Managing Bullying, Bad Attitudes, and Total Turmoil

What is my book about?

Nurse-to-nurse incivility and relational aggression can poison the work environment of virtually any organization. My work shares practical solutions from real-life professional conflicts nurses face and offers suggestions for coping with and preventing relational aggression. 

Florence Nightingale

By Catherine Reef,

Book cover of Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse

I loved the way this book intertwined Florence Nightingale’s story with images of her life. It may have been written for young adults, but readers of any age will be immersed in this well-written and graphically beautiful book. Catherine Reed’s engaging story of Nightingale combating the gruesome hygienic conditions at the Crimean battlefront, going against Victorian society expectations, creating sanitary methods still used today, and earning the moniker of The Lady with the Lamp is a testament to the difference one life can make.


Who am I?

In 1990, Amy Gary discovered unpublished manuscripts and songs from Margaret Wise Brown tucked away in a trunk in the attic of Margaret’s sister’s barn. Since then, Gary has catalogued, edited, and researched all of Margaret’s writings. She has worked with several publishers to publish more than 100 of those manuscripts, which include bestsellers and Caldecott nominees.

Amy’s work on Margaret has been covered in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and on NPR. Her biography on Margaret, In the Great Green Room, was published by Flatiron Books, a division of Macmillan, and was named a best book of the year in 2017 by Amazon.

She was formerly the Director of Publishing at Lucasfilm and headed the publishing department at Pixar Animation studios. In addition to writing, she packages books for retailers and consults with publishers. In that capacity, she has worked with Sam’s Wholesale, Books-a-Million, Sterling Publishers, and Charles Schultz Creative Associates.


I wrote...

In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

By Amy Gary,

Book cover of In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown

What is my book about?

Before Margaret died in 1952 at the age of 42, she had published almost one hundred children’s books. Many may recognize the titles of her books such as Goodnight Moon or The Big Red Barn, but most don’t know that Margaret was a leading figure in a children’s literature revolution. Fairy tales and fables were often part of the school curriculum in the 1930s, which served to reinforce diminished roles for girls and violence as a way to resolve conflicts. As part of a movement to create more “democratic” literature for children, Margaret studied what caught a child’s attention, then wrote stories and poems that reflected a child’s own world.

Sisters of the Great War

By Suzanne Feldman,

Book cover of Sisters of the Great War

Two sisters from Baltimore volunteer for WWI, one as a nurse, one as an ambulance driver. Though this isn’t a romance, each find love amid the gruesome reality of war – one with a doctor, one with another (female) ambulance driver. The sheer number of amputations will leave your head spinning.


Who am I?

My mother went back to school for her PhD in Anatomy when I was a pre-teen. During the summers of my high school years I worked with her in her lab, and let me tell you, you see your mother in a new light when you see her dissect a rat. Though I didn’t go into medicine, anyone raised in our household learned an impressive amount of biology just sitting around the dinner table. Consequently, I’ve always loved fiction with a medical bent. My mother was also the one to introduce me to historical fiction, so perhaps I was fated to write a historical novel with a nurse protagonist.


I wrote...

The Sharp Edge of Mercy

By Connie Hertzberg Mayo,

Book cover of The Sharp Edge of Mercy

What is my book about?

Lillian Dolan is optimistic about her new job at the New York Cancer Hospital after dreaming for years of becoming a nurse. But she struggles to fit in, so when the confident surgeon Dr. Bauer takes a shine to Lillian, she is thrilled to be noticed.

Lillian has been warned not to get too close to the patients, but Mrs. Sokolova draws her in. When Mrs. Sokolova’s situation becomes dire, however, she puts Lillian in an impossible situation – all while the young nurse slowly loses control of her relationship with Dr. Bauer. Her decision to help her patient throws her life into chaos, and she must make a terrible choice: capitulate to Dr. Bauer’s demands or face possible arrest.

The Light of Luna Park

By Addison Armstrong,

Book cover of The Light of Luna Park

A dual-time story written by a Vanderbilt undergraduate (!), this is the story of a nurse at the Coney Island incubator “exhibit” where premature babies were brought because hospitals did not want to invest in this new technology (yes, this really happened). In 1926, Nurse Anderson takes a failing baby there with intentions of returning it to the parents, and a special education teacher in the 1950s has a connection to that fateful decision. Another fascinating piece of history that is not well known.


Who am I?

My mother went back to school for her PhD in Anatomy when I was a pre-teen. During the summers of my high school years I worked with her in her lab, and let me tell you, you see your mother in a new light when you see her dissect a rat. Though I didn’t go into medicine, anyone raised in our household learned an impressive amount of biology just sitting around the dinner table. Consequently, I’ve always loved fiction with a medical bent. My mother was also the one to introduce me to historical fiction, so perhaps I was fated to write a historical novel with a nurse protagonist.


I wrote...

The Sharp Edge of Mercy

By Connie Hertzberg Mayo,

Book cover of The Sharp Edge of Mercy

What is my book about?

Lillian Dolan is optimistic about her new job at the New York Cancer Hospital after dreaming for years of becoming a nurse. But she struggles to fit in, so when the confident surgeon Dr. Bauer takes a shine to Lillian, she is thrilled to be noticed.

Lillian has been warned not to get too close to the patients, but Mrs. Sokolova draws her in. When Mrs. Sokolova’s situation becomes dire, however, she puts Lillian in an impossible situation – all while the young nurse slowly loses control of her relationship with Dr. Bauer. Her decision to help her patient throws her life into chaos, and she must make a terrible choice: capitulate to Dr. Bauer’s demands or face possible arrest.

The Man in the Window

By Jon Cohen,

Book cover of The Man in the Window

Perhaps this was an inspiration for my own novel. It is about Louis, who has not left his house in sixteen years, due to his disfigured face. I won’t ruin the book, but I must say that it is written with great tenderness and understanding, and the characters are luminous. 

This book has stayed with me for years. Cohen weaves a bit of magic into his writing, and though the topic is sad on the surface, its two main characters will fill the reader with deep love and great satisfaction.


Who am I?

As a novelist, I focus on the characters in my books, and the plot is woven around them. I'm a people-watcher, and I remember bits and pieces of the folks I observe—many of which find their way into my novels. As a reader, plot pulls me in, but it is the characters that I remember. As a novelist, I always begin with a cast of characters: I start with a physical quirk, a personality flaw, an offbeat way of seeing things. Then I add a plot. For me, plot is the hardest. There are hundreds of characters swimming around in my imagination (see my first book, Characters in Search of a Novel).


I wrote...

The World Came to Us

By Molly D. Campbell,

Book cover of The World Came to Us

What is my book about?

Tommy Poole and her mother Meg have decided to become recluses together. Not forever; only for a year. And not at night when the dog needs to be walked. In the midst of their grief over the loss of Tommy’s other mother, Sam, shutting themselves away seems the only viable way to recovery. 

However, while they have decided to step away from the world, the world has not made the same decision. Soon, Tommy’s best friend is living with them. And the crotchety neighbor is making their lives miserable. And when a teenaged girl with a troubled past and an indignant future enters their orbit, life might be as full for Tommy and Meg as it has been for years. And that was before the wedding…

Reminiscences of My Life in Camp

By Susie King Taylor,

Book cover of Reminiscences of My Life in Camp: An African American Woman's Civil War Memoir

Many African American women served as nurses, especially in the South, as Susie King Taylor did. But their stories have largely gone unrecorded. This memoir adds an important perspective to any consideration of Civil War nurses.


Who am I?

Jocelyn Green is the bestselling and award-winning author of eighteen books as of 2021. Her historical fiction has been acclaimed by Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, the Historical Novel Society, and the Military Writers Society of America.


I wrote...

Wedded to War

By Jocelyn Green,

Book cover of Wedded to War

What is my book about?

Tending to the army's sick and wounded meant leading a life her mother does not understand and giving up a handsome and approved suitor. Yet Charlotte chooses a life of service over privilege, just as her childhood friend had done when he became a military doctor. She soon discovers that she's combatting more than just the rebellion by becoming a nurse.

The Daughters of Mars

By Thomas Keneally,

Book cover of The Daughters of Mars

The Daughters of Mars provides a unique account of war through the lens of two sisters from New South Wales who serve as nurses on an Australian ship carrying soldiers wounded at the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.  After the ship is sunk, the sisters end up nursing on the Western Front.  The novel is a page-turning, authentic account of the personal and professional experiences of Australian nurses dealing with the horrific impacts of war.


Who am I? Why this topic?

Both of my grandfathers served in WWI. Growing up on their stories, I had a keen interest in WWI. A lover of history, I attended an exhibit at the Smithsonian called The Faces of War that focused on prosthetic masks made by artists during WWI for men whose faces had been mutilated by war. Having always wanted to write a historical novel, I merged my interest in WWI with a newfound passion for these faces of war and wrote Day Lights the Bone (not yet published). The novel is set in a military hospital in Wandsworth, England, during the final months of WWI. I am a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul, MN, where for many years I taught and served as Director of The Creative Writing Programs.


I wrote...

Rainy Lake

By Mary Francois Rockcastle,

Book cover of Rainy Lake

What is my book about?

In Rainy Lake, author Mary Rockcastle invites the reader to savor the sights, sounds, and smells of summer at her parents' lopsided lakefront cabin during the 1960s. From the landscape of her memory, Danielle Fillian paints a sensitive and wise family portrait of summers filled with fly-fishing, swimming, water-skiing, new friendships, and a deepening first love. But with the intrusion of the Vietnam War and the rumblings of the civil rights movement growing steadily nearer, this sheltered vacation community is forced to acknowledge the harsh realities of the wider world.

An Irish Hostage

By Charles Todd,

Book cover of An Irish Hostage

As a student of history I am impressed with the research that underpins this series, and especially the life of ordinary people in Ireland following the  Easter 1916 uprising. The whole Bess Crawford series tells the story of Bess, a strong-willed, independent woman who serves as a battlefield nurse in World War One. She needs all her courage and intelligence to survive then and in all of her ventures. Society’s expectations of women and how they should behave were dramatically changed during and following the Great War. How was it possible to expect a woman who had nursed on battlefields or driven an ambulance through enemy territory to return to a life of ‘proper’ behaviour, of tea and cucumber sandwiches, and absolute obedience to her husband?

An Irish Hostage finds Bess in Ireland at the wedding of a friend, only to become embroiled in the trouble and treachery following the…


Who am I?

I have seen Degas’ astonishing paintings in the Quai d’Orsy in Paris and his wonderful sculptures of ballerinas. So I was immediately drawn to this book. Like most people who admire his incredible work, I had no idea of the pain suffered by the girls who saw the ballet as a way to rise above their pitiful lives. Nor did I know the stories behind the abuse of Degas’ models. It is difficult when we have to try to separate the works of genius from the horrible things geniuses did.


I wrote...

Company Wife

By Helen Webster,

Book cover of Company Wife

What is my book about?

Company Wife brings to life the story of a woman married to a Hudson’s Bay Company trader. Her story is one of bravery and endurance in the face of extreme hardship, isolation in the wilderness of the north woods of Ontario in the late 1800s, and escalating domestic violence. It is a tale of a woman of indomitable courage and strength.

This book is available here.

Fire by Night

By Lynn Austin,

Book cover of Fire by Night

Few topics rouse people’s ire faster than women’s issues. Within Christianity we find a wide range of theologies, left and right. Lynn Austin’s Fire by Night, about a Civil War nurse, takes up questions of gender roles and woman as man’s “helpmeet” (cf. Genesis 2:18) and threads the needle between the various schools of thought in a faithful, mature, real-to-life way.


Who am I?

I’m a writer married to a theologian. My husband and I often discuss Augustine and Aquinas, Austen and Tolstoy, Christie and Sayers, and trends in popular fiction—when we’re not discussing Frog and Toad, Elephant and Piggie, baby diapers, and what to make for dinner. Love stories have long been my favorite stories, and I’ve always enjoyed historical settings. My award-winning novel In Pieces, a 1793 Boston-set historical romance with elements of family drama, society drama, and political suspense, combines all these interests. I even managed to sneak in a diaper-changing scene.


I wrote...

In Pieces

By Rhonda Ortiz,

Book cover of In Pieces

What is my book about?

Boston, 1793—Beautiful and artistic, the only daughter of a prominent merchant, Molly Chase cannot help but attract everyone’s notice. But she carries a painful secret: her father committed suicide and she found his body. When Molly moves in the Robb family, society assumes the worst, tempting her to take the easy way out: a marriage of convenience.

Merchant sailor Josiah Robb is as familiar to Molly as a brother—as dear and as exasperating. She is no sister to him, but sailing the seas leaves no time for convincing Molly he is more than her teasing childhood friend. Josiah wants a new job and a fresh start, and when he agrees to carry a confidential letter to President Washington, his life is forever changed.

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