A few years ago I served as a teaching assistant for a global health course at Harvard. As part of admission into the course, students had to write an essay on what inspired them to take the course. I separated the applications into two piles, those that stated that Mountains beyond Mountains was their inspiration, and those that did not (roughly 1/3 vs. 2/3 split). I seem to recall that those that showed more original thinking did better than others, but I would have to re-run the numbers. While many would say that this is the book that inspired them to become interested in Global Health, I will argue that there is much better stuff out there.
In preparation for summer reading, I thought I would cast my two cents in terms of recommended readings for those interesting in global health in case you were looking for books to pack for your long trips overseas or your trips to the beach. Here would be my short list:
1. Better by Atul Gawande: While most of this book focuses on lessons from developed country settings, I think this book does more than any other I have read in recent years to push the idea of how health care can be improved. It even has a chapter in India. I love, love, love this book. Almost made me want to be a surgeon, then I remembered how much I hate gross stuff like touching other people. Ick. I’ll stick to my datasets, thank you very much.
2. Read back to back An End to Poverty (Sachs) and White Man’s Burden (Easterly): Lots of debate out there on the value of aid. I would recommend reading both of these books back to back as I did a few summers ago. I am personally biased as to which one I think is better. But, if you liked those, and for those with more of a research background, I would also recommend Reinventing Foreign Aid (ed. Easterly) from the Center for Global Development.
3. The Making of a Tropical Disease: A short history of malaria. If I ever get really bored and want to do more education (it could happen), I think I would do a doctorate in history. This book is part of a series called the biographies of disease, which I think is totally cool. This book taught me more about malaria than anything I have ever read.
4. Mosquito by Andrew Spielman: The late, and great, Andy Spielman, perhaps one of the greatest entomologist that has worked on malaria left behind this great work. Hard to explain, but basically a book about how mosquitos think.
5. Weak Links the Chain Parts I and II: Every few months I sit down and re-read these two papers by Filmer, Hammer, and Pritchett. These papers, perhaps more than anything else, have shaped my views on how health systems work (or don’t work) and the options available to improve them.
6. The battle against Hunger by Devi Sridhar. Last December I had the opportunity to attend a conference with Devi. I since read her book, which is an anthropological take on the World Bank’s feeding programs in history backed up with lots of data, making it hard for economists to dismiss (as we usually do with anthropological research). An amazing read, but spoiler alert: you will never want to work at the World Bank again if you read this book.
7. Finally, I think it is worth mentioning one more time on this blog: Access: How do good health technologies get to poor people in poor countries should also be on your list if you have not read it yet. This one is even free.
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