Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a huge fan of Atul Gawande. No, I wasn’t the guy who liked him so much he wrote him a check for $20,000.
Always keen to see what he has to say, I really enjoyed this interview and his book recommendations.
What have you read lately?
I just finished “True History of the Kelly Gang’’ by Peter Carey. I had just come from my first time in the Southern Hemisphere, in Australia. Ned Kelly was this outlaw, but an iconic figure for Australia. The voice that Carey sustains for this 19th-century renegade, from age 12 to his death in an ambush by the police — that voice is amazing. When I travel, I like reading fiction set in that area. Hopefully great fiction, like Peter Carey, but sometimes just a thriller.
What other kinds of books do you read?
I try to range as widely as possible, partly because I’m interested in analogies and parallels across different fields. My most recent nonfiction books included the first volume from Edmund Morris on Teddy Roosevelt; a book about hiring, about how to interview people; and “The Mythical Man-Month,’’ about software engineering.
E-books or paper?
I’m floating between multiple media. I really wish you could buy the hardcover book and it would come with the digital download and audible version. I spend stupid amounts of money because I’m usually buying my books in at least two formats.
Who do you consider great medical writers for a mainstream audience?
Oliver Sacks remains my hero to this day. He was one of the first medical writers I read. The other was Lewis Thomas, who is no longer alive but is just heroic to me.
Is there good writing about health and medicine by non-doctors?
I think some of the best writing. The doctor almost knows too much. One of the best pieces of writing about health care, to my mind, is “A Farewell to Arms’’ — a third of it takes place in an Italian hospital. Hemingway is unsparing and hilarious in his depiction of doctors and what it’s like to be a patient. Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking.’’ A book by Anne Fadiman, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.’’ These are extraordinary books.
Dr. Atul Gawande, is the New York Times bestselling author of Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance , Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, and The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right .