The Human Condition Curated

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Richard Ratzan on First Death by Donald Justice

“Justice has ably depicted a child’s confusing reactions to death, his first, apparently, of a family member."

Carol Schilling on American Sirens: The Incredible Story of the Black Men Who Became America's First Paramedics by Kevin Hazzard

“[The book] reveals the story of the first fully trained paramedics who practiced life-saving medicine beyond hospital walls. Celebrated in Hazzard’s account are the Black men from the segregated Hill District of Pittsburgh that the visionary physician Peter Safar, inventor of CPR, recruited and trained.”  

Howard Trachtman on I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai

“[The novel] brings to life the horror of sexual abuse that can occur when one of the partners exerts dominance based on a position of power within the social hierarchy.”  

Guy Glass on The Best Minds by Jonathan Rosen

“[The book] is the true story of the lifelong friendship between the author, Jonathan Rosen, and Michael Laudor. What makes it so rich and rewarding is Rosen’s ability to intertwine Laudor’s story with his own and to juxtapose both with concurrent trends in academia, law, and psychiatry.”  

Tony Miksanek on Tell Her Everything by Mirza Waheed

"The novel illustrates the personal and professional downward spiral that can occur when empathy and morality are subjugated to the pursuit of wealth and status."

Howard Trachtman on The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen

The Netanyahus is a novel about family dynamics, cultures in conflict, academia, assimilation, and antisemitism..." 

Jacalyn Duffin on Sawbones Memorial by Sinclair Ross

“For readers of this database, [the book] contains a succinct but vivid portrayal of the life and work of a country doctor in the early twentieth century—through war, influenza, the Dust Bowl depression, and small-town nastiness…”

Steven Field on Your Hearts, Your Scars by Adina Talve-Goodman

“This slim volume of essays written by a young woman who had a heart transplant packs a wallop, albeit an understated one.  The essays—there are seven of them—deal with life experiences, mostly in the form of encounters with other people, mostly post-transplant." 

Luke Bonanni on 2001: A Space Odyssey directed by Stanley Kubrick

"Kubrick’s masterpiece asks us to ponder who we are, where we are going, and what we will become. It is important to extend these questions to the field of medicine..."

Sneha Sharma on Still Alice directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland

“This film is frequently difficult to watch and provides the viewer with glimpses of the ever more monumental challenge of living with or caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease."

Jacalyn Duffin on The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

“In the beautifully written prose, users of this database will find evocative portrayals of the impacts of social determinants on the health of women and children—impacts that are exaggerated in times of crisis.”

J. Russell Teagarden on Ava directed by Léa Mysius

“Thirteen-year-olds often feel a lot of anxiety and uncertainty, and their developing brains have yet to gain control of risky impulses. [The movie] explores the effects of ratcheting up these anxieties and uncertainties ….”  

Gerard Brungardt on Living directed by Oliver Hermanus

“[The film] is a faithful and accessible remake of Ikiru, showcasing a tour de force performance by Bill Nighy.”

Jacalyn Duffin on George and Rue by George Elliott Clarke

"A remarkable but painful story, loosely based on the true story of the author’s maternal cousins once removed."

Howard Trachtman on All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu

“[The book] vividly portrays the profound human cost of social conflict and how the deep bond of love is sacrificed in 'war' zones.”

Howard Trachtman on Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

“Ng has written an austere mythic tale that is propelled by a journey of self-discovery and that brings to life the conflict between the individual and the State when values collide.”

Russell Teagarden on Plague Years: A Doctor's Journey through the AIDS Crisis by Ross Slotten

“In his memoir, Slotten offers perspectives both as a health care provider and as a member of an at-risk community.”

Guy Glass on The Doctor by Robert Icke

“This is an important and thought-provoking play that, despite its difficulties, provides a springboard for discussion about some of today’s most pressing bioethical issues.” 

Gerard Brungardt on The Hours directed by Phelim McDermott

“This opera is an immersive portrayal of depression, grief, trauma, loss, and suicide of three different women in different eras and locations in which we learn, and experience what many of our own friends, family, and patients go through.”  

Russell Teagarden on Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

“The novel recasts Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield for modern day as a literary take on the opioid addiction crisis in the U.S. during the 1990s and 2000s.”

Guy Glass on Sinkhole by Juliet Patterson

“The book was written with a poet’s sensibility.  At the same time, the author’s copious research into suicide lends it substance.”

Sebastian Galbo on Nineteenth Century Popular Fiction, Medicine and Anatomy: The Victorian Penny Blood and the 1832 Anatomy Act by Anna Gasperini

“Anna Gasperini builds on existing scholarship by examining how Victorian ‘penny blood’ literature depicted working-class readers’ anxieties concerning medical dissection following the 1832 Anatomy Act.”

Jacalyn Duffin on What She Left Behind by Ellen Wiseman

“[The novel] is inspired by the real 1995 discovery of 400 suitcases that once belonged to former patients of the Willard State Hospital in New York’s Finger Lakes region.”

Howard Trachtman on Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

" Zevin invokes games as emblematic of how human beings grapple with the unexpected challenges of life – the triumphs and the tragedies."

Jacalyn Duffin on Bookends: A Family Doctor Explores Birth, Death, and Tokothanatology by Susan Boron

".. the repeated message is one we’ve heard many times before, offered in a refreshing way: the importance of empathy and of listening to the patient's wishes in birthing and in dying." 

Sebastian Galbo on Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology by Deidre Cooper Owens

“Owens argues that the emergence, practice, and professionalization of American gynecology in the 19th century were inextricably enmeshed with the institution of slavery and discourses of biological racism."

Gerard Brungardt on Severance directed by Ben Stiller

Severance is a genre defying series that enables us to see a contemporary cultural construct -- work-life balance -- from new and different vantage points.”

Sebastian Galbo on The Last Strawberry by Rita Swan

“Swan’s memoir by a former Christian Scientist is important for readers interested in the intersection of medical ethics and religion.”

Jack Coulehan on Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia edited by Shelton Rubenfeld and Daniel Sulmasy

“[The book] is an unusual collection of scholarly essays in that it combines essays about Nazi euthanasia with others that deal with contemporary PAD (Physician Aid in Dying) and questions whether there might be a relationship between the two.”

Jacalyn Duffin on Station Eleven by Emily Mandel

“[The novel] raises questions about basic human nature--fear, greed, cruelty, and decency–and about the fragility of our world and the technologies on which we depend.”

Guy Glass on Strangers to Ourselves: Unsettled Minds and the Stories That Make Us by Rachel Aviv

“[The book] provides a fascinating glimpse at people whose psychiatric conditions cannot be fully understood through existing paradigms….The reader is left with an appreciation for the complexity of the human condition.”     

Jacalyn Duffin on Hurdy Gurdy by Christopher Wilson

“The title may refer to the cyclic foibles and futility of human responses to the inevitable (and equally cyclic) return of pestilence.”  

Sebastian Galbo on The Unseen Shore: Memories of a Christian Science Childhood by Thomas Simmons

“Thomas Simmons narrates the physical, emotional, and spiritual anguish of growing up in, and later leaving, the Christian Science Church.“

Jacalyn Duffin on The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

“The novel is a riveting, quickly moving tale that accurately portrays the atmosphere of mid-nineteenth-century medicine and social life.”

Sebastian Galbo on The Science of Starving in Victorian Literature, Medicine, and Political Economy by Andrew Mangham

“[The book] examines how Victorian writers drew upon the era’s medicine and physiology to represent the physical realities of starvation.”

Jack Coulehan on Stuck by Heidi J. Larson

“[The author] approaches vaccine rejection as a complex moral and cultural phenomenon, rather than as a simple issue of ignorance or a marginal point-of-view.”

Gretl Lam on Rx/Museum: 52 Essays on Art and Reflection in Medicine by Lyndsay Hoy and Aaron Levy

" Rx/Museum is a wonderful example of collaboration and integration of the arts, humanities, and medicine to teach or renew a sense of empathy, connection, and new perspective.”

Tony Miksanek on Barefoot Doctor: A Novel by Can Xue

“With a dream-like setting and spiritual tone that includes psychics and deceased ancestors, this affectionate story explores the joy and duty of being a healer.”

Jacalyn Duffin on Cancer Confidential: Backstage Dramas in the Radiation Clinic by Charles Hayter

“Physician-historian-playwright Charles Hayter describes his encounters with cancer, as a doctor and as a son, and how the experience changed him as a person.” 

Sebastian Galbo on Vanished in Hiawatha: The Story of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians by Carla Joinson

“Readers interested in the history of psychiatry, institutionalization, Indigenous studies, or early twentieth-century politics will appreciate Joinson’s meticulous portrait of Canton Asylum.”

Jacalyn Duffin on The End of Her: Racing against Alzheimers to solve a murder by Wayne Hoffman

“ A sensitive pathography and a “true-crime” history combined..."

Tony Miksanek on Two Nurses, Smoking by David Means

“Tenderness trickles throughout this tale of two nurses who are desperately in need of some healing themselves.”

Vincent Palusci on The Death of Innocents: A True Story of Murder, Medicine, and High-Stakes Sciencey by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan

“[The book} is essential reading for those wanting to learn about the history of SIDS, apparent life-threatening events, fatal child abuse, postpartum depression, and what was called Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy.”

Howard Trachtman on Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

“The central image of seeking the American dream is powerful in its own right, and the novel highlights how elusive that dream can be.”

Jack Coulehan on Editing Humanity by Kevin Davies

“Close reading of this book is well worth the effort, especially since it deals with a technology that is bound to raise profound ethical issues in future medical practice."

Carol Schilling on Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner

“While Michelle Zauner’s remarkable memoir is an expression of her profound grief after her mother died, her story simultaneously reflects on her complicated relationship with the woman she called Umma and with her own Korean-American identity.”

Cortney Davis on My Borrowed Face by Stacy Nigliazzo

“The poems in this collection were written during the Covid pandemic; they speak of the toll the virus has taken and continues to take not only on patients but, in these poems, on the caregivers--specifically the poet.”

Jack Coulehan on The Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories of Mystery Illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan

“Suzanne O’Sullivan, an Irish neurologist, set out in 2018 to study children suffering from resignation syndrome, a project that led her to investigate other outbreaks of mysterious illness around the world.”

Jack Coulehan on The Invention of Medicine: From Homer to Hippocrates by Robin Lane Fox

“.. a difficult but rewarding read for anyone interested in the origins of the Hippocratic tradition in medicine.”  

Howard Trachtman on When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut

“Nothing will quite prepare you for the literary world that Labatut has invented… the characters lived through the turbulent first third of the 20th century when quantum mechanics revolutionized the traditional understanding of physics.”

Guy Glass on The Urge: Our History of Addiction by Carl Erik Fisher

“[The book] is a comprehensive history of addiction from ancient times to the present day. It is also a memoir of the author’s own struggle with addiction.”

Jack Coulehan on Ward Rounds by K. Dale Beernick MD

"These poems, in no small part, provide a poetic peeks into the history of mid-20th century medicine."   

Carol Schilling on Every Last Breath: A Memoir of Two Illnesses by Joanne Jacobson

“Jacobson’s brilliant essays refuse to let us ignore our shared vulnerability or the unpredictability of living in a body, as she once thought she could.”

Akbar Salman and Ellen Yin on Fauci directed by John Hoffman and Janet Tobias

"What is most striking throughout the film is the sense that what makes Fauci a great man and what has made him so influential is not simply his knowledge or his intellect, but his unfailing sense of duty to his fellow man..."

Sebastian Galbo on Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me by Sarah Leavitt

"There is much in Tangles that might offer solace to current (or former) caregivers who struggle to give loved ones with Alzheimer’s a quality, dignified end-of-life experience.”

Tony Miksanek on The End of Days by Bernard MacLaverty

“The tale is a stunning and sorrowful envisioned snapshot of what the end of life might have felt like for an artist-protagonist during the 1918 influenza pandemic.”

Audrey Shafer on Daughter by Cortney Davis

“The collection is a tribute to familial love, and ultimately to one particular person, separated by the worsening pandemic, and dealing with the ravages of metastatic breast cancer.”

Russell Teagarden on Dopesick created by Danny Strong

“To adapt to the format of a dramatic series, Danny Strong, the creator, sets the series around the fiendish Purdue Pharma sales and marketing practices and the people they affected directly.”

Jacalyn Duffin on The King's Anatomist by Ron Blumenfeld

“Centered on the mysterious death and lost grave of the great anatomist, this enjoyable novel is anchored in nodal points generated by scholarly literature.”

Martin Kohn on Practice by Richard Berlin

“Evident in the poems is a person experiencing much more than medical/psychiatric practice, but a full cornucopia of life: his love of art, music, food, nature, and the people he shares this bounty with.”

Cortney Davis on Queen of the Sugarhouse by Constance Studer

“Even when the author is writing of life outside the hospital or the sickroom, her knowledge of our fragile bodies and vulnerable minds are evident--as is her understanding of the complexities of human existence and desire.”

Steven Field on The Expendable Man by Dorothy Hughes

“Hughes’ ability to create the setting and build the uneasiness is superb literary craft…  prepare to have everything you’ve thought about the story suddenly change with the breathless rapidity of a rug being pulled out from under you.”

Sebastian Galbo on An Enemy of the People by Satyajit Ray

“Ray depicts physicians who struggle to share scientific truth under the weight of public vilification and skullduggery.”

Jack Coulehan on Secret Wounds by Richard M. Berlin

“Richard Berlin’s poems are revelatory. They reveal the healing power of attention, empathy, witness, and love.”

Devon Zander on The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

“The book  explores the human condition and what it means to relate to one another with caring despite the interpersonal complications that can often arise.”

Tony Miksanek on The Ministry of Bodies by Seamus O'Mahony

“This unusual memoir - both blunt and philosophical - contemplates topics deeply relevant to all physicians.”

Total Database Contents

  • 178 Visual Art Annotations
  • 2973 Literature Annotations
  • 301 Performing Art Annotations
  • 100 Artists
  • 1903 Authors
  • 208 Keywords