The best public health books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about public health and why they recommend each book.

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Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health

By Matilda van den Bosch (editor), William Bird (editor),

Book cover of Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health

Edited by Matilda van den Bosch and William Bird, Nature and Public Health. Each chapter was written by several top experts in the field. There were more than a hundred different experts chosen to write sections of this fine book, selected from all around the world of health, botany, horticulture, urban forestry, urban affairs, and the environment. Nature (or the lack of it) is closely aligned with human health, and this wonderful book explores the subject like no other.

Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health

By Matilda van den Bosch (editor), William Bird (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Human beings have always been affected by their surroundings. There are various health benefits linked to being able to access to nature; including increased physical activity, stress recovery, and the stimulation of child cognitive development. The Oxford Textbook of Nature and Public Health provides a broad and inclusive picture of the relationship between our own health and the natural environment. All aspects of this unique relationship are covered,
ranging from disease prevention through physical activity in green spaces to innovative ecosystem services, such as climate change adaptation by urban trees. Potential hazardous consequences are also discussed including natural disasters, vector-borne…

Who am I?

I am now considered by many as the expert on creating allergy-free and allergy-friendly gardens and landscapes. I have lectured on the subject all across the US and Canada, and also in Israel, Ireland, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia. For 30+ years now I’ve been researching the connections between urban landscaping and allergies and asthma. My articles have appeared in dozens of fine publications, including The New York Times, The London Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, Atlas Obscura, Scientific American, Der Spiegel, and The New Scientist. I have owned two nurseries and taught horticulture for twenty years. 


I wrote...

The Allergy-Fighting Garden: Stop Asthma and Allergies with Smart Landscaping

By Thomas Leo Ogren,

Book cover of The Allergy-Fighting Garden: Stop Asthma and Allergies with Smart Landscaping

What is my book about?

Many allergies (and asthma) are homegrown…caused by plants growing right in your own yards. Learn which choices are the most allergy-free, and which are the worst. Thousands of trees, grasses, ground covers, vines, and shrubs are included…and all are ranked 1-10 (where 1 is the best, and 10 is the worst, the most allergenic. Used by hundreds of cities worldwide.

We Wear Masks

By Marla Lesage,

Book cover of We Wear Masks

The whimsical illustrations in this book caught my attention and captured my heart. The colors in this book are lovely pastels and the text is simple so there’s lots of room to admire the images. I am partial to picture books that are simple and emotional. As we continue on for so many months making the extra effort to wear masks in our daily lives, there’s something heartening in seeing pictures of other people happily wearing masks on the pages of this book. The text is written in sets of rhyming pairs, which are sometimes a stretch. I appreciate that this book for young readers shows a diverse group of people all merrily going about their tasks while wearing protective face masks. 

We Wear Masks

By Marla Lesage,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Wear Masks as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We Wear Masks is a fun tool to help children make sense of this new reality and make wearing masks less scary and more relatable.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many children have been introduced to wearing face masks and seeing others in masks. Author and illustrator Marla Lesage normalizes mask-wearing by introducing young readers to artists, ranchers, pilots, welders, scientists and many more people who already wear masks in their day-to-day lives. This delightful, rhyming picture book will help explain to children why wearing a mask is important as we interact with others in our communities. Readers will learn that,…


Who am I?

I'm an author of books for young readers. These days, there’s nothing more important than having conversations about the Coronavirus disease. It can be hard for grown-ups to start a conversation about Covid with their kids. But they can read a book about the subject and invite the kids to respond to what they heard and saw. My book COVID-19 Helpers was the first place winner of the Emery Global Health Institute’s e-book contest back in May 2020. Through the pandemic, I’ve been reading and talking about the virus with kids from around the world. If you're interested in having me read one of my books to your school, clinic, or your daycare center feel free to get in touch. 


I wrote...

Helping Our World Get Well: Covid Vaccines

By Beth Bacon, Kary Lee (illustrator),

Book cover of Helping Our World Get Well: Covid Vaccines

What is my book about?

After months of wearing masks, washing hands, and social distancing, kids can now help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic by getting a vaccine. It’s a tiny task that not only gives kids their own protection from the virus, it also helps protect their family, their friends, and their whole community. In straightforward language, this book explains to kids how vaccines will help us rid the world of COVID-19 and how they have a role to play in that mission.

This book helps kids and grown-ups talk about their own experiences, questions, thoughts, and concerns that have arisen during the pandemic. 

Stuck

By Heidi J. Larson,

Book cover of Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start -- And Why They Don't Go Away

This book by an anthropologist explores the dynamics of anti-vaccine rumours: how they are initiated and how – like a virus they spread. She uses the metaphor of fire, and since I also wrote a book on this topic I am interested in this metaphor. She takes into account the emotional basis for anxiety about vaccinations among both the vaccine hesitant and among vaccine opponents. While rejecting the validity of their arguments, she nevertheless makes these more likely to be overcome by offering a nuanced account of some of the emotional and psychological reasons for such beliefs. It’s a kind and thoughtful book.

Stuck

By Heidi J. Larson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Vaccine reluctance and refusal are no longer limited to the margins of society. Debates around vaccines' necessity - along with questions around their side effects - have gone mainstream, blending with geopolitical conflicts, political campaigns, celebrity causes, and "natural" lifestyles to win a growing number of hearts and minds. Today's anti-vaccine positions find audiences where they've never existed previously.

Stuck examines how the issues surrounding vaccine hesitancy are, more than anything, about people feeling left out of the conversation. A new dialogue is long overdue, one that addresses the many types of vaccine hesitancy and the social factors that perpetuate…

Who am I?

I founded Critical Metaphor Analysis, an approach that has become well known in English language studies. My books Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis, Politicians and Rhetoric: The persuasive power of metaphor, and Analysing Political Speeches have over 5,000 citations. I am also ranked first on Google Scholar on political rhetoric. I have always tried (though not always successfully) to write in an accessible style to reach out to audiences beyond academia. As well as lecturing, I assist in the training of Westminster speechwriters. I love languages and speak French, Spanish, Moroccan Arabic, and Malay with varying degrees of incompetence; I have rediscovered the pleasure of watercolour painting.


I wrote...

Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

By Jonathan Charteris-Black,

Book cover of Metaphors of Coronavirus: Invisible Enemy or Zombie Apocalypse?

What is my book about?

This book explores the metaphors used by the media and by politicians during the Covid-19 era to understand how language shapes our moral reasoning and the role of language in policy formation and communication during a period of crisis. It analyses metaphors, metonyms, allegories, and symbols to gain insight into the moral basis for the decisions that people made during the pandemic. It draws on cognitive linguistics, history, social psychology, and literature for a multi-layered interpretation of the language of the pandemic and its social and political consequences. 

Violence

By James Gilligan,

Book cover of Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes

When I was thinking about the second book I wrote in my trilogy, I knew I had to learn about violence, particularly violence in prison. What causes it, its impact, and why some people hurt themselves in prison. My brother recommended James Gilligan, a prison psychiatrist, and his insights and understanding of it shaped the central character in my book. It’s troubling but fascinating reading for anyone who’s interested in understanding this.

Violence

By James Gilligan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An eye-opening, revisionist analysis of the social and psychological roots of violence argues that violence should be approached as a problem in public health and preventative medicine, rather than one of biological or moral origins, and that shame is the common denominator that links violent perpetrators.

Who am I?

I write character-driven thrillers, including my latest novel: Rough Justice. How did I come to write psychological character-driven thrillers? It began years ago when I went to Hollywood in 1977. This was the New Hollywood (1967 -1980), and I worked with writers whose work grabbed viewers viscerally, not with explosions but with multi-dimensional characters that would draw you into a deeply moving story. I spent countless hours working out the stories and shaping the people in them. Working closely with these great screenwriters was a rare opportunity to learn how to create complicated characters and to see how these complex people enriched storytelling.


I wrote...

Rough Justice

By Burt Weissbourd,

Book cover of Rough Justice

What is my book about?

Callie and Cash are back, and their world is about to explode! It’s been a year since they had to take on lethal adversaries. Now, against all odds, their feelings for each other have evolved startlingly—they’re very much in love, thriving.

So, imagine their surprise when they get an unexpected, half-Algerian female guest, twenty-five-year-old Sara, showing up at the restaurant and insisting on telling them her shocking, unbelievable story. Someone is trying to kill her, and they’ve stolen her identity. She needs their help now, and she has a stunning, life-changing secret to tell. Yet, again, Cash and Callie assemble their unconventional ragtag family. Together, they go to war with formidable adversaries. The fierce battle leads them to Cuba where their audacious offensive will take your breath away.

Waste

By Catherine Coleman Flowers,

Book cover of Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

One of the most important new issues faced by rights advocates is climate change. Macarthur genius award-winner Catherine Coleman Flowers is on the front line of that fight, based on her own childhood as the daughter of an activist Black family in Lowndes County, Alabama. This memoir captures Flowers’ essence: someone who just can’t let an injustice slide by. And she will talk to anyone who might be able to help, including with cleaning up the raw sewage that continues to poison the homes of many poor Alabamians. Flowers clearly describes the link between local rights issues and the global campaign to deal with climate change.

Waste

By Catherine Coleman Flowers,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Waste as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The MacArthur grant-winning environmental justice activist's riveting memoir of a life fighting for a cleaner future for America's most vulnerable

A Smithsonian Magazine Top Ten Best Science Book of 2020

Catherine Coleman Flowers, a 2020 MacArthur "genius," grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, a place that's been called "Bloody Lowndes" because of its violent, racist history. Once the epicenter of the voting rights struggle, today it's Ground Zero for a new movement that is also Flowers's life's work-a fight to ensure human dignity through a right most Americans take for granted: basic sanitation. Too many people, especially the rural poor,…


Who am I?

I’ve been a rights advocate since I was a middle schooler planning how to help save the whales. In college, I volunteered in anti-apartheid campaigns, then became a journalist covering the rise of the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru. I wanted my research and words to make change. I spent 12 years covering Peru and Colombia for Human Rights Watch. Now, I try to inspire other young people to learn about and advocate for human rights as a professor and the co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. I also write fiction for kids that explores human rights themes and just completed The Bond Trilogy, an epic fantasy.


I wrote...

Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

By Robin Kirk,

Book cover of Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

What is my book about?

Most people aren’t aware that determined individuals thought up and fought for the human rights we now take for granted. Righting Wrongs introduces you to 20 fascinating people who envisioned women’s rights, the rights of children and the disabled, indigenous and LGBTQ rights, and protections against torture and land mines, among other things. These stories of hope and hard work show how people working together can dramatically change the world for the better.

Book cover of Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

Case and Deaton, Princeton economists (married to each other), explain how economic developments in recent decades, such as the rise of trade and the weakening of unions, have eroded the fabric of our society. Case and Deaton document the devasting impact on people and communities left behind by looking at deaths of despair—those from suicide, overdoses, and alcoholism. If you have the feeling that something is not right with capitalism—or even if you don’t—this is a book that will offer you a detailed look at America’s economic underbelly.

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism

By Anne Case, Angus Deaton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal Bestseller
A New York Times Notable Book of 2020
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
Shortlisted for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year
A New Statesman Book to Read

From economist Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton, a groundbreaking account of how the flaws in capitalism are fatal for America's working class

Life expectancy in the United States has recently fallen for three years in a row-a reversal not seen since 1918 or in any other wealthy nation in modern times. In the…


Who am I?

I’m passionate about economics and public policy because they are the tools we can use to improve our lives—everything from fighting a pandemic to preventing the next financial crisis. I’m interested in politics, too, because that is how policies get made in a democracy. We’re living through a time with serious social challenges and a political system paralyzed by partisanship. We have to do better.


I wrote...

Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science

By Charles Wheelan,

Book cover of Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science

What is my book about?

At last! A new edition of the economics book that won't put you to sleep. In fact, you won't be able to put this bestseller down. In our challenging economic climate, this perennial favorite of students and general readers is more than a good read, it's a necessary investment--with a blessedly sure rate of return. This revised and updated edition includes commentary on hot topics such as automation, trade, income inequality, and America's rising debt. Ten years after the financial crisis, Naked Economics examines how policymakers managed the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Demystifying buzzwords, laying bare the truths behind oft-quoted numbers, and answering the questions you were always too embarrassed to ask, the breezy Naked Economics gives you the tools to engage with pleasure and confidence in the deeply relevant, not so dismal science.

Partner to the Poor

By Paul Farmer,

Book cover of Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader

While Farmer is a physician and anthropologist rather than a historian and these collected essays are not historical in a strict sense, Farmer's account of structural violence is clear, readable, and evocative. An understanding of structural violence is a prerequisite for understanding the phenomenon of violence in any context, present or past.

Partner to the Poor

By Paul Farmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Partner to the Poor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For nearly thirty years, anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer has traveled to some of the most impoverished places on earth to bring comfort and the best possible medical care to the poorest of the poor. Driven by his stated intent to 'make human rights substantial', Farmer has treated patients - and worked to address the root causes of their disease - in Haiti, Boston, Peru, Rwanda, and elsewhere in the developing world. In 1987, with several colleagues, he founded Partners In Health to provide a preferential option for the poor in health care. Throughout his career, Farmer has written eloquently…

Who am I?

I am a biblical scholar who has become a historian of violence because I could no longer ignore the realities of the present or my own past. I write of violence for my childhood self, who was bullied for a decade and used to run away from school.  I write of it for my grandfather, who was born of exploitation.  I write of it for my African-American wife and daughter, in the hopes that I might contribute to the elimination of hierarchies that threaten their dignity and sometimes their lives.  Doing this work is not just intellectual for me—it is a memorialization and a ritual of healing. 


I wrote...

Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

By T.M. Lemos,

Book cover of Violence and Personhood in Ancient Israel and Comparative Contexts

What is my book about?

In the first book-length work ever written on personhood in ancient Israel, I reveal widespread intersections between violence and personhood in this society and the wider region. Relations of domination and subordination were incredibly important to the culture of ancient Israel, with these relations often determining the boundaries of personhood itself. Personhood was malleable—it could be and was violently erased in many social contexts. This study exposes a violence-personhood-masculinity nexus in which domination allowed those in control to animalize and brutalize the bodies of subordinates.

The Politics of Breastfeeding

By Gabrielle Palmer,

Book cover of The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business

This was the book that really opened my eyes to the power of marketing, and the impact this can have on the way babies are fed – in all countries of the world. It’s an absolute classic – a seminal work. It showed me how the infant formula industry (and increasingly the baby food industry in general) uses any tactics it can to influence and distort the dialogue around infant feeding. I was especially horrified to learn how, as a health visitor and midwife, I could unwittingly be used to promote products and practices that had the power to undermine breastfeeding, even while I thought I was supporting mothers and babies to do it.

The Politics of Breastfeeding

By Gabrielle Palmer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As revealing as "Freakonomics", shocking as "Fast Food Nation" and thought provoking as "No Logo", "The Politics of Breastfeeding" exposes infant feeding as one of the most important public health issues of our time. Every thirty seconds a baby dies from infections due to a lack of breastfeeding and the use of bottles, artificial milks and other risky products. In her powerful book Gabrielle Palmer describes how big business uses subtle techniques to pressure parents to use alternatives to breastmilk. The infant feeding product companies' thirst for profit systematically undermines mothers' confidence in their ability to breastfeed their babies. An…


Who am I?

I got hooked on breastfeeding when, during my health visitor training, our class had a lecture from Drs. Penny and Andrew Stanway, who wrote the original Breast is Best. I breastfed my own children, became a breastfeeding counsellor and lactation consultant (IBCLC), and championed breastfeeding as a health visitor and midwife. I then worked for 14 years with the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, teaching and supporting healthcare staff to improve standards of care for breastfeeding mothers and babies. Throughout, I gained a huge respect for babies’ abilities in relation to breastfeeding. This directly influenced my belief in their capacity to continue feeding themselves when they start solid food, which is my current focus.


I wrote...

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide

By Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett,

Book cover of Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide

What is my book about?

Solid foods are nowadays recommended from around six months. At this age, the vast majority of babies don’t need to be spoon-fed, and they don’t need their food to be pureed. Instead, they can feed themselves with pieces of real food, using their hands. They know what they need to eat, how fast, and how much. The parent’s role is simply to provide healthy food and shared mealtimes, and to trust their baby’s abilities and instincts.

I first began speaking and writing about BLW back in 2001. A few years later, I teamed up with Tracey Murkett to write the first edition of this book, which sets out the benefits of baby-led weaning, why it makes sense, and how to do it. Since then, baby-led weaning has taken off worldwide and the book – now in its second edition – has been translated into over 20 languages. As a result, many authors have followed in our wake. But our book was, and remains, THE definitive guide.

Civilised by Beasts

By Juliana Adelman,

Book cover of Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

This is one of several excellent books that explores how nonhuman animals shaped cities (see also Andrew Robichaud’s Animal City, Frederick L. Brown’s The City is More Than Human, Dawn Day Biehler’s Pests in the City, and Hannah Velten’s Beastly London, for example). Cities are multispecies spaces and they have always been so, even as the history of a given city shifts and changes. When we walk through a city like Dublin today we may not immediately think about the many, many nonhuman animals who used to roam the same streets and pathways we walk on today. And yet, as Juliana Adelman explores in this book, there are hints and traces of this animal history if we know where to look.

Civilised by Beasts

By Juliana Adelman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Civilised by Beasts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Civilised by beasts tells the story of nineteenth-century Dublin through human-animal relationships. It offers a unique perspective on ordinary life in the Irish metropolis during a century of significant change and reform. At its heart is the argument that the exploitation of animals formed a key component of urban change, from municipal reform to class formation to the expansion of public health and policing. It uses a social history approach but draws on a range of new and underused sources, including archives of the humane society and the zoological society, popular songs, visual ephemera and diaries. The book moves chronologically…

Who am I?

I am a historian of visual culture, and my work explores the ways images can shape and challenge dominant ideas about other species. The ways we choose to represent certain animals (or not) can have important consequences, both in terms of environmental issues but also in terms of the wellbeing of individual animals. Digging deeper into these histories can make us aware that the categories we like to put animals in can shift and change depending on the time period and place. As we confront increasingly urgent climate and environmental issues, understanding these dynamics will be even more important than ever.


I wrote...

Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

By Keri Cronin,

Book cover of Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914

What is my book about?

This book looks at the ways in which those working to make the world a better place for animals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries used art and imagery in their campaigns. Today we expect that activist campaigns are highly visual, but my book goes further back in time to try to understand some of the ways that reformers saw visual culture as an integral part of animal advocacy at this earlier point in history. 

There are some similarities--much like today, debates over the appropriate use of graphic imagery existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, there were some aspects of these early campaigns that aren’t as widely considered today: the role of art education as a way to foster kind and humane behavior in children, for example, or the ways in which some of the most famous paintings of the day were repurposed as campaign material.

Deadly Glow

By Ross Mullner,

Book cover of Deadly Glow: The Radium Dial Worker Tragedy

This book also digs deeper into the science behind radium, the realization that radium poisoning was occurring, and how it impacted the scientific community. Radium poisoning was difficult to discover and diagnose for many reasons, beginning with the initial belief that radium improved one’s health. Once symptoms began to occur in women using radium on a daily basis, their health problems were varied and inconsistent. This book also discusses how the study of radium improved health standards for handling other radioactive substances.

Deadly Glow

By Ross Mullner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Deadly Glow is the important story of a public health tragedy. It chronicles the lives of young women who worked in radium application plants in the early 1900s painting numerals on instrument and watch dials. From their experience, the harmful effects of radium deposited in the body became known.

The victims suffered from skin ulcerations, tumors and other severe medical symptoms. Physicians were baffled and misdiagnosed their conditions as heart disease and even syphilis. Solving the intriguing mystery of the workers' disabling, yet unknown, disease would be a complex and difficult task requiring brilliant detective work of several investigators. In…


Who am I?

When I decided to write about Catherine Donohue, I searched for everything I could find about her, which was surprisingly little. I traveled to Ottawa, Illinois to read her letters held at a local historical society, and I connected with the son of her attorney, who has kindly uploaded his father’s old newspaper clippings onto the internet. The story of America’s Radium Girls is a tragic warning about where greed and corruption can lead, but it is also a story about courage, faith, and perseverance. It is a privilege to be a part of increasing awareness of their fate. After all, HERstory is history, too.


I wrote...

Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

By Samantha Wilcoxson,

Book cover of Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl

What is my book about?

A young woman's life is set on an unexpected course when she accepts a job at Radium Dial. She soon finds out that the excellent pay is no recompense for the dark secret that lurks in the paint that magically makes her glow in the dark. This is the story of brave Catherine Donohoe who took on the might of a big corporation and became an early pioneer of social justice in the era between two world wars. Emotive and inspiring - this book will touch you like no other.

It’s too late for me, but maybe it will help some of the others. ~ Catherine Wolfe Donohue 

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