The Human Condition Curated

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Dustin Brinker on Beautiful Boy by Felix Van Groeningen

“Beautiful Boy is heart-wrenching. Not only does the film detail a boy’s rapid decline into florid substance use disorder, but it also conveys his father’s contemporaneous emotional journey.”

Richard Ratzan on Funeral Mass by P. K. Page

“[The poem] is a marvelously succinct triptych of two quite different reactions to an infant's death at a funeral mass.”

Shawn Thomas on Together by Vivek Murthy

“Dr. Murthy has made his mark as surgeon general by shining a spotlight on the long-standing issue of social isolation and loneliness..”

Howard Carter on Scales to Scalpels: Doctors Who Practice the Healing Arts of Music and Medicine by Lisa Wong

“This is a quick and personal history of the Longwood Symphony Orchestra (LSO), a group of Boston area musicians who, in their working lives, are medical personnel.”

Sebastian Galbo on Face Time by Lorrie Moore

“Moore’s story describes the unsettling circumstances of socially distanced bedside visitation and communication with sick loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic”

Howard Trachtman on Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

“The underlying premise of this engrossing book is the well documented historical fact that William Shakespeare had a young son who died at age 11, relatively early in his father’s theatrical career.” 

Rachel Martel on Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

“At its core, Transcendent Kingdom asks fundamental questions about the mind and the soul, exploring the tension between religion and science in terms of interpreting the human experience.”

Dustin Brinker on Call Me by Your Name by Luca Guadagnino

“Music, language, and literature act as conduits of the primary themes of the piece, namely those of precocity and sexuality.”

Guy Glass on The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper

“This is a sensitive book which approaches such painful topics as domestic violence and racism, and which gets to the heart of what it means to be a healer."

Martin Kohn on The Talking Cure: New and Selected Poems by Jack Coulehan

“The poems represent multiple viewpoints—patients, caregivers, family members as they struggle to make sense of the vicissitudes—and unexpected joys—in life."

Rachel Martel on Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh

"Blue Ticket offers a meditation on freedom, exploring whether it is possible to live a free life within the bounds of a choice that is made for you."

Howard Carter on Caitlin Doughty's Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory

"At 23 years of age, Caitlin Doughty went to work for a crematory in Oakland, California, and looked human mortality right in the eye. She reports on her first six years in the funeral industry."

Dustin Brinker on Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Set in the 19th century United States, Beloved follows a formerly enslaved woman named Sethe and the lives of those closest to her.”

Martin Kohn on Doctors’ Choice: Sixteen Stories about Doctors and Medicine Selected by Famous Physicians by Phyllis and Albert Blaustein

“Doctor’s Choice is a collection of 16 stories by authors from and well known in the early-to-mid 20th century.”

Carol Donley on I Hear Their Voices Singing: Poems New and Collected by Cortney Davis

“Davis is known for her ability to see and understand what is going on and to hear the unique voices that express suffering, faith, desire—and to convey empathic understanding of the speaker.”

Dustin Brinker on Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe

"Despite my qualms, Brave Story is a wonderful piece of literature that provides much insight into the adolescent mind for use in broaching topics such as racial discrimination, religious zealotry, childhood divorce, and radical acceptance."

Russell Teagarden on The Betrothed During the 2020 Pandemic

“Many of the descriptions of the plague in Milan that Manzoni offers from his sources mirror descriptions that have appeared in contemporary mainstream accounts about the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. in 2020.”

Katie Grogan on Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain by Abby Norman

“Norman’s memoir puts in stark relief the barriers in place when a young woman seeks help for an under-researched gynecological problem within a medical system still reckoning with its patriarchal norms and values.”

Steven Field on The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason

“The Winter Soldier is a war story, a doctor story, and a romance.  It also poses a wrenching question of medical ethics.”

Dustin Brinker on Dr. Futurity by Philip Dick

"Dr. Futurity, despite its precarious foundation in time travel, acts as a clear intersection of race, gender, and medicine."

Guy Glass on Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

“The Galvins of Hidden Valley Road, just outside Colorado Springs, appear to be the kind of wholesome, all-American family that others might envy.  The tragic fact is that six of the twelve children go on to develop schizophrenia..”

Dustin Brinker on The Walking Dead (Volumes 1-32) by Robert Kirkman

“Taking place in a post-apocalyptic United States, these graphic novels follow the life and legacy of a former county police officer named Rick Grimes as he and those he encounters learn to survive and thrive in a world beset by zombies… Relationships of all kinds are questioned, the most salient of which is that of parenthood.”

Devon Zander on Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

“Gottlieb’s writing is unique as she places a magnifying glass on herself and her own experiences in therapy just as much, if not more, than those of her patients.”

Sebastian Galbo on Death is But a Dream: Finding Hope and Meaning at Life's End by Carine Mardorossian and Christopher Kerr

“ The mystery of end-of-life dreams—their visions of loved ones; of seeking forgiveness, healing, and understanding within weeks, sometimes days, of one’s death; of comforting apparitions and visitations—points to a miraculous capacity within the human heart that eases the life-to-death transition.”

Lucy Bruell on Time Out of Mind by Oren Moverman

"...the focus is on the day to day struggle to survive on the streets, the ingenuity it takes to stay alive, and the need for personal connection..."

Devon Zander on BPM (Beats per Minute) by Robin Campillo

"Directed by Robin Campillo, himself a veteran of Paris’s ACT UP, the film details the realities of being an HIV/AIDS political action group during an era of governmental inaction and lack of recognition of those most impacted by HIV and AIDS."

Gretl Lam on Dylan Mortimer's painting Tree, Broken Tree

"[Dylan Mortimer] not only creates art about the challenges of cystic fibrosis, with broken lungs and purulent mucus, but also about his gratitude for the lung transplants and their gift of life."

Sebastian Galbo on The Little King by Salman Rushdie

"The poignancy of Rushdie’s narrative lies in obfuscating the line dividing the old country and the modern-day American medical establishment..."

Howard Trachtman on Spring by Ali Smith

"In a novel whose scope includes the most destructive features of modern society, Smith is able to infuse  small day-to-day events and artifacts with meaning and optimism."

Russell Teagarden on State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

"A broader perspective of this book shows how a novelist can probe science and generate questions about it, warn of possible negative implications, and generate reasonable doubt and skepticism."

Cortney Davis on I Watched You Disappear by Anya Krugovoy Silver

"These poems are beautifully crafted, often primal, and they touch the deepest reaches of personal illness and the shadow of mortality."

Gretl Lam on See You On the Other Side by Matthew Wong

"Matthew Wong was a rising young painter who died of suicide on October 2, 2019. … [There is a] sense of isolation and longing in the painting, depicted by the solitary figure on a barren ridge, looking back at a house in lush green surroundings."

Russell Teagarden on How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

“From his research, interviews, and personal experiences, Pollan is enthusiastic about the potential benefits psychedelics offer individuals who are healthy or sick….”

Marilyn McEntyre on Love Thy Neighbor: A Muslim Doctor's Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji and Alan Eisenstock

“Responding to a shortage of doctors in rural areas in 2013, Dr. Virji, a Muslim, moved from the urban East coast to a small town in Minnesota. The story is nuanced and sometimes surprising in the way it shows how medicine offers an access route across tightly held political and religious boundaries.”

Tony Miksanek on Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor's Stories of Compassion and Burnout by Joanna Cannon

"A British physician-writer reflects on her topsy-turvy medical training emphasizing the mental and emotional burden of becoming a doctor."

Howard Carter on Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America's Heartland by Jonathan M. Metzl

“This is a rich, nuanced and complex book, a major contribution to public health, sociology, and American studies.”

Katherine Burke on Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser

“Throughout this memoir, Lesser seeks wisdom and guidance from colleagues and friends, offers lessons in how to be with a person who is sick and dying, and incorporates teachings from myriad spiritual and religious traditions.”

Russell Teagarden on The Genius of Marian by Anna Fitch and Banker White

"Pamela Steele White was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease at the age of sixty-one. A year later, in 2009, as her disease progression was evident, her son Banker, a documentary filmmaker, turned his camera on, and he kept it on until the autumn of 2012."

Howard Carter on Elderhood: Redefining Aging, Transforming Medicine, Reimagining Life by Louise Aronson

"Louise Aronson, a geriatrician, argues that we should create Elderhood as the third era of human aging….This new concept will allow us to re-evaluate the richness of this later time, its challenges as body systems decline, and, of course, the choices of managing death."

Carol Schilling on Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century by Lorene Cary

"In Ladysitting, novelist and memoirist Lorene Carey writes candidly and reflectively about the year and a half she cared for her century-old, ferociously independent paternal grandmother."

Audrey Shafer on Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life by Mallory Smith

"This memoir is recommended for anyone touched by chronic illness and particularly cystic fibrosis."

Audrey Shafer on That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour by Sunita Puri

"Sunita Puri, a palliative care attending physician, educates and illuminates the reader about how conversations about end of life goals can improve quality of life, not just quality of dying…."

Sebastian Galbo on The Presentation on Egypt by Camille Bordas

"Bordas’ story examines how the fabrication of fiction, of refusing to accept reality, can either ease, or deepen, one’s suffering."



Carol Schilling on Bodies of Truth: Personal Narratives on Illness, Disability, and Medicine edited by Dinty Moore, Erin Murphy and Renée Nicholson

"Bodies of Truth gathers twenty-five essays about experiencing illnesses and disabilities from the perspectives of patients, healthcare professionals, and families."

Total Database Contents

  • 178 Visual Art Annotations
  • 2871 Literature Annotations
  • 280 Performing Art Annotations
  • 99 Artists
  • 1834 Authors
  • 180 Keywords