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The New Health Dialogue

A Blog from New America's Health Policy Program

HEALTH CARE: Holiday Reading

Published:  July 2, 2010
Summer Reading

For many months of health reform, we were so enmeshed in policy that we didn’t have time for outside reading that wasn’t policy-heavy. Moving from the "reform" era to "implementation" hasn't slowed the work pace all that much, but we have managed to shift from policy papers and journals to some very good books that are at least somewhat related to our work. So in time for the July 4 break, here’s some of what we’ve read recently, some of what we’re in the middle of, and one that we plan on curling up with this weekend (Once we finish washing and bleaching our grocery bags -- see next blog item!)

We’ve read:

Melissa Fay Greene’s “There is No Me Without You” came out in 2006, and I had been meaning to read it for several years. It’s long -- about 450 pages -- and worth every minute. (With limited time -- I bought and read the print version when I could and listened to a library CD version in the car and the kitchen). It’s the story of one Ethiopian widow's attempt to save the AIDS orphans in her country. All of them. Moving and fascinating. Probably my favorite narrative nonfiction book since I read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. We broke a self-imposed rule by blogging about this (based on reviews) before we actually read it, but then we read it and loved it.  It’s sociology and health policy and science and bioethics, and raises questions about ownership of our cells and tissues, as well as jarring description of inequities in our system that we hope health reform will repair.

Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa, MD. You may remember the New England Journal essay a year or two ago about the cat who knew when nursing home residents were near death. That cat is the Oscar of the title. This book is really more about dementia and families -- and science and scientists -- than it is about cats, but that can be our little secret. I  will probably write more about this…

In the middle of (and I should disclose that the next two authors are friends of mine):

SuperBug: The Fatal Menace of  MRSA by Maryn McKenna. Meredith blogged about it already, and I like what I have read so far. It’s highly readable for a nonscientist, and it is helping me understand the intersection of public health and some of the hospital quality/infection problems that we need to address as a nation (and, again, health reform gives us some tools).

Jonathan Alter’s “The Promise: President Obama, Year One.” Favorite chapter title: "Tyrannosaurus  Rx." Even for those of us who have followed closely or lived through health reform, lots of good context and insight. He manages to build some drama even when we know how the story turns out. And  yes, everything you always thought about Rahm is true.

Reading this Weekend:

Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret by Steve Luxenberg. We haven’t written all that much about mental illness and health policy on this blog, but it’s a topic that several of us on the New America health policy team have a strong professional  interest in (and I think this article about the suicide of a senator’s son is one of the best two or three pieces of work I’ve ever done.) I heard Luxenberg on the radio months ago, and made a note to get this book. Long story short, although I don't know Luxenberg, we do move in overlapping professional and social circles and I had a work-related phone conversation with him the other day (about the Post’s health reform book Landmark, which we wrote about here). Anyhow, as soon as I complete this post and wrap up some edits in the last piece of my spring freelance writing binge, Annie and I will curl up on a giant swinging chair under the big oak in the back yard.

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