14 thought-provoking books that every doctor should read

Stuck for reading ideas? Here are 14 suggestions guaranteed to leave you just a little bit smarter than you already are.

Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH
6th Jul 2018 • 7m read

Medicine is constantly changing and what you knew to be true ten years ago may be completely irrelevant today. With the pressure to stay abreast of all of the latest developments in an ever-changing field, it’s understandable that many physicians spend most of their reading time catching up on the medical literature. But there is so much more to being a doctor than simply knowing the latest treatment guidelines.

In the interest of saving you time, we’ve compiled a list of non-medical literature that we think could help you to grow as a physician and as a person.

The Mind Map Book

by Tony Buzan - Check out the book on Amazon

The premise of this book is that, as humans, we evolved to think and communicate in pictures. As we slowly moved toward a language-based society, we lost touch with our natural way of thinking and forced generations of people to learn and think primarily with words. Although words can be used as an efficient tool to communicate and absorb information, they are not an efficient way to learn or memorize that information. Buzan cites Leonardo Da Vinci (and other great minds) as prime examples of the importance of maintaining creativity and using images to emulate the way we naturally learn—through association and network (or map-based) thinking. This is a great book for anyone who wants a practical way to improve their ability to learn and recall information.

Skin in the Game

by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - Check out the book on Amazon

This is really a philosophical book about how to approach risk and risk-asymmetry in life, investing, and business. Taleb is a controversial character who can sometimes be insulting to well-respected names in the field (which makes the read entertaining but may be distasteful to some). Definitely one of the great thinkers of our times, Taleb's book makes a terrific read for anyone interested in the role of risk in our lives.

The Problems of Philosophy

by Bertrand Russell - Check out the book on Amazon

Tim Ferriss swears by this book—and with good reason—it's a great opportunity to challenge your approach to reality! It's definitely not something you can get through in one sitting though. It takes you through the process of thinking about the nature of reality and what you see around you. It's an easy read but does take time to digest, so it might take a while to get through (even though it's a pretty short book). We'd recommend it to anyone who likes to challenge their ways of thinking and what they hold to be true.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

by William B. Irvine - Check out the book on Amazon

Irvine makes a really good case for practising stoicism and for the importance of having a good philosophy in life. This book is a brilliant primer on stoicism if you've heard about it, but aren't really sure what it's all about or why you'd bother to learn about it. We highly recommend it!

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong—and the New Research that's Rewriting the Story

by Angela Saini - Check out the book on Amazon

As the subtitle of the book, How science got women wrong... suggests, this book reveals how the male-dominated field of science (from Darwin onwards to modern primatologists and biologists) led to bias in the picture we have about the role of women in our society. You'll learn about behavior in great apes, hunter-gatherer societies, sexual behavior, and how all of this affects the design of medical trials. A quick read that we recommend for anyone who is interested in knowing more about the effect of sexism on scientific advancement.

The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck

by Mark Manson - Check out the book on Amazon

If you’ve been seeing orange books everywhere and wondering what on earth everyone is reading, let me spare you the pain of trying to find out. Mark Manson’s book cover is as colourful as the language he uses to lament the modern epidemic of self-congratulation! In a book that has spread like wildfire across the world (with good reason), Manson bucks the self-help trend by arguing that improving our lives hinges not on our ability to turn lemons into lemonade, but on learning to stomach lemons better. If you have the time to read only one book listed in this post, make sure you read this one!

Second Suns: Two Doctors and their Amazing Quest to Restore Sight and Save Lives

by David Oliver Relin - Check out the book on Amazon

This is the first book in our list that is technically still medical, but in a non-medical way. In this captivating work, we follow the stories of two opthalmologists, Geoffrey Tabin and Sanduk Ruit, as they go about saving tens of thousands of people from preventable blindness in the foothills of the Himalayas. This is a feel-good, true story about the unique power that every clinician holds to make a real and measurable difference in this world. Another fabulous doctor saves the world! memoir can be found in the Hospital By The River—a book which follows the incredible story of Dr Catherine Hamlin as she fights to help fistula sufferers in Ethiopia.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

by Dale Carnegie​ - Check out the book on Amazon

This book needs no introduction. Perhaps one of the most cited business books of all time, this classic is essential reading for anyone in a role where the ability to influence others is a standard part of the role (doctors definitely fall into this category).

When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi - Check out the book on Amazon

Get the tissues ready for this one... The late neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi, takes us on a personal journey as he describes defining events throughout his life, trying to find the answer to the universal question What makes human life worth living? This deep exploration of, perhaps, one of the most significant questions we all face is likely to leave you with more questions than answers, but it offers a powerful perspective from a man facing his own mortality. Underpinned by philosophy and flecked with neuroscience, this book will leave the most critical readers in awe of Kalanithi’s resilience in the face of death.

The Power of Habit

by Charles Duhigg - Check out the book on Amazon

We are all the product of the choices that we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing, often every day—Charles Duhigg. This book describes how we can allow unconscious habits to govern most of the decisions we make and, ultimately, our entire lives. Habits are certainly useful—they can free us from having to think constantly about basic behaviors and let us focus on more demanding activities. But when do these habits start becoming destructive rather than constructive? This is a fascinating read for any doctor who is interested in changing their own (or their patients') habits.

Thinking Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman - Check out the book on Amazon

This book is all about decision-making and it proposes that we basically make decisions in two ways—fast, intuitive thinking and slower, rational thinking. Though this can be a heavy read at some points, Kahneman highlights fascinating, real-world examples to lighten things up (did you know that judges are less likely to give parole when they’re hungry?). The book offers an intriguing insight into the way we subconsciously allow prejudice to influence our decisions and the cognitive shortcuts we use to make judgements. As doctors, we pride ourselves on being rational decision-makers, but this book might make you think twice!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot​ - Check out the book on Amazon

When Oprah Winfrey decides to star in a movie, you know the story must be pretty legit! And if you are at all interested in the ethics of medicine, then the story of Henrietta Lacks is bound to keep you captivated. Hitting the silver screen in recent times, the story of Henrietta Lacks is one that will undoubtedly leave you feeling very conflicted. A poor, black, 1950s farmer with cancer, Lacks was none-the wiser when some of her cervical cancer cells were secretly shaved from her biopsied tumor and cultured into the world’s first immortalized cell line—HeLa. HeLa has been responsible for significant medical discoveries and countless lives saved, yet the cell lines were taken without consent and without compensation. This is a fascinating story for all medical professionals.


by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi​ - Check out the book on Amazon

What makes people happy to be alive? For over twenty years, Csikszentmihalyi has studied a phenomenon that makes experiences deeply satisfying—a state we now call flow. When we’re in flow, we are in a state of concentration that is so focused, it feels like we’re truly in the moment and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. This state, Csikszentmihalyi says, is the ultimate manifestation of happiness. Flow is a great read for anyone interested in contemporary psychology and the science of happiness.

Osler’s “A Way of Life” & Other Addresses, with Commentary & Annotations

by Sir William Osler - Check out the book on Amazon

Sir William Osler needs no introduction! If you’ve been following our Magazine posts for any length of time, you’ll know that we’re huge fans of Osler here at Medmastery. Technically, this isn’t a book, but rather a compilation of Osler’s most important speeches, letters, and notes. At first glance, the book may seem rather wordy and obtuse, but I guarantee that this book is full of hidden gems for anyone willing to spend some time with it!

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