The Human Condition Curated

What's New

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.”  

Richard Ratzan on Grief by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“Published in 1844, the poem is one of several sonnets Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote following the death of her 33 year old beloved brother and immediately younger sibling, Edward, by drowning in 1840.”

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.”

Howard Trachtman on Wayward by Dana Spiotta

“[The] book is emotionally engaging. There is a keen awareness of the unsteady world in which we live and in which the story unfolds.”  

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.”

Jacalyn Duffin on Wild Boy by Jill Dawson

“Young doctor Jean-Marc Itard is serving in the Paris home for deaf-mute children. When a ‘wild boy’ without speech is found near a village in Aveyron, France, Itard accepts the challenge of educating him…”

Danielle Madsen on The Inkblots by Damion Searls

“[The book] is a comprehensive history of Rorschach’s life and an overview of the use and influence of his psychiatric test over the past century.”

Howard Trachtman on The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow

“The book takes on the accepted grand narrative of human development, namely, a linear evolution from a primordial state of innocence and equality to a society in which hierarchy and inequality are hard wired into existence.”

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 A Matter of Death and Life by Irvin and Marilyn Yalom

“The book is full of practical wisdom about communication, compromise, caregiving, support, and love during the experience of terminal illness.”  

Kristen Dammeyer on Life According to Sam directed by Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

“The film is an inspiring and emotional portrayal of a family who has devoted their lives to tackling progeria while simultaneously embracing life and living the present day to its fullest.”

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.”

Devon Zander on Site Fidelity by Claire Boyles

“The stories explore the way in which the characters interact with the myth of open land, untouched environment, and home in the West, but do not shy away from all that myth can often obscure - poverty, hardship, crime, radicalism.”

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."   

Lucy Bruell on The First Wave directed by Matthew Heineman

“[The film’s] focus on the suffering of the patients and the emotional stress on those who care for them will be of interest to everyone living in this life-changing time of the pandemic.”  

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.”

Russell Teagarden on The Shapeless Unease: A Year of Not Sleeping by Samantha Harvey

“The book is a deep and ranging analysis of insomnia causes, consequences, and fixes in the midst of daily life as Harvey experiences it.”

Howard Trachtman on The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality by Kathryn Paige Harden

“In this important new book, Kathryn Harden provides staunch support for the key role of genetics in health, disease, and in human well-being.”

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.”

Christine Olagun-Samuel on Darwin's Hunch by Christa Kuljian

“The book has utmost relevance today, as we continue to understand how vestiges of racial thought, bias and discrimination may still live on in medicine albeit in a more insidious manner.”

Guy Glass on One Friday in April by Donald Antrim

“One Friday in April is a book that will give reassurance to people who have endured suicidal thoughts that if they persist they will get better.”   

Russell Teagarden on Seeing Red by Lina Meruane

“The story involves the interplay of serious clinical events, family and social relationships, challenges with daily activities, and diminishing medical options.” 

Steven Field on Mysterious Medicine: The Doctor-Scientist Tales of Hawthorne and Poe edited by L. Kerr Dunn

“Some of us think of “doctor fiction” as a modern genre.  This anthology definitely calls that notion into question.”

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.”

Howard Trachtman on Bewilderment by Richard Powers

“[The author] examines the question whether neurobiology can help people achieve empathy, potentially even merge with another person.”

Guy Glass on How To Be Depressed by George Scialabba

“The bulk of the book is an edited selection of the author’s psychiatric records from 1969 to 2016…The notes document changes in psychiatry over the past half century."

Howard Trachtman on Blood in the Water: The Attica Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy? by Heather Ann Thompson

“This book is a reminder that it will take an extended and concerted effort to achieve equal treatment for citizens in the penal system and in the health system.”

Steven Field on Oli Otya? Life and Loss in Rural Uganda directed by Lucy Bruell

“The film is a moving and thought-provoking look at the beating heart of medicine with its engaging soundtrack and its from-the-inside views of rural and village life.”

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.”

Russell Teagarden on This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan

“Pollan continues pursuing his interest in the human drive for altering consciousness through mind-altering substances and marries this interest with his passion for plants and gardening.”     

Devon Zander on The Impatient Dr. Lange by Seema Yasmin

“Like many public health crusaders, Lange understood the connection between societal and historical factors and the spread and development of disease, specifically HIV and AIDS.”

Guy Glass on Everything is Fine by Vince Granata

"[The author] dedicates himself to understanding schizophrenia and the shortcomings in our mental health care system, and, finally, writes this book." 

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.”

Cortney Davis on Freud on My Couch by Richard Berlin

“Berlin writes as a physician, husband, father, friend, lover of music--and as a man who understands that he and his patients share a common and fragile humanity.”

Russell Teagarden on Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver

 “Readers will appreciate the book for the questions it raises and the thinking it inspires...[about] taking measures to avoid devastating enfeeblement and infirmity during old age.”

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.”

Sebastian Galbo on Imagining Vesalius: An Ekphrastic, Scholarly and Literary Celebration of the 1543 De Humani Corporis Fabrica of Andreas Vesalius by Richard Ratzan

“[The author] brings together scholars and creative writers to celebrate the legacy of the sixteenth-century Flemish physician and anatomist, Andreas Vesalius and his  landmark text, De Humani Corporis 

Howard Trachtman on East West Street and Ratline by Philippe Sands

“In these two linked books, [the author] tells an extraordinary real life story that combines personal experience and world history into a narrative that is as powerful as any novel.”

Carol Schilling on Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution by Directors Nicole Newnham and James LeBrecht

Crip Camp is in part a multi-voiced memoir told from the too-rare perspective of teenagers with disabilities about a shared formative experience and, simultaneously, a needed documentary about disability civil rights campaigns.”

Russell Teagarden on Dileesh Pothan's Joji

“Covid-19 has has scorched societies at all levels all around the world. Will anyone believe a movie is set in the current time period without signs of Covid-19? Dileesh Pothan thinks not.”  

Howard Trachtman on Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

“Is Religion or Science best able to deal with the psychological problems that can arise over a lifetime? Yaa Gyasi’s powerful new book aims to answer these perennial questions.”

Mark Clark on The Arrow Tree: Healing from Long COVID by Phyllis Weliver

“[The] memoir points its readers in the direction of a safe passage to the home of our natural world, where, in finding union with that world, we may experience healing not only from COVID but from habits of the heart that have left us more broken than we know.”

Russell Teagarden on Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

“From this novel, we get Lethem’s view of how Tourette syndrome can affect everyday life and how it can progress; how people with the syndrome can think about it; the balance people seek between benefits and side effects of drug therapies; and whether it’s acceptable to think that some verbal and physical tics are funny.”

Tony Miksanek on Parenthesis by Élodie Durand

"The author-artist's black and white illustrations are potent in portraying her struggle to understand the seizures and her attempt to communicate their impact on her life.”

Lucy Bruell on Collective by Alexander Nanau

“By bringing public awareness to the critical shortcomings, corruption and politicization of the Romanian health care system, the filmmakers have created an important cautionary tale for other cities and countries who do not prioritize the health of their citizens.”

Total Database Contents

  • 178 Visual Art Annotations
  • 2969 Literature Annotations
  • 301 Performing Art Annotations
  • 100 Artists
  • 1900 Authors
  • 206 Keywords