Because my recent colonoscopy was normal and I can now prove where my head is not, I have renewed confidence in the value of my advice to others. So I thought I would advise you on what to read this summer — just think of me as Dr. Oprah Winfrey. The common theme to these books is their contribution to our understanding of how we can all think more effectively, and be less likely to get it wrong when it counts. (How’s that working for me? Here’s a hint — I have a lot more reading to do.)
1. Nerve — Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, by Taylor Clark. If you are worried-stressed-anxious all of the time, keel over at the thought of public performance, or want to do the right thing when the game is on the line or your plane makes an emergency landing in the Hudson River, read this book. It might save your life or just give you peace of mind, costs less than Valium and is less addicting. Keep reading it until you get it, then start living it.
2. The Big Short — Inside the Doomsday Machine, by Michael Lewis. If you read only one book about the causes of our current financial crisis, read this one. Don’t let the fact that it’s about high finance stop you; I have the financial IQ of an onion bagel, but Lewis’s book makes the financial hijinks behind our current recession understandable, and reads like a thriller. It tells this tale of national idiocy through the eyes of several individuals — one a physician in training — who did not believe American home values would keep rising, and then bet billions of dollars the housing market-driven economic boom would bust. It’s a study in how to get it right when surrounded by everyone else getting it wrong.
3. 365 Days, by Ronald Glasser, M.D. A collection of his stories from wounded military personnel cared for at an evacuation hospital during the Vietnam War by Dr. Glasser, “365 Days” is a compelling war memoir published in 1971 that remains timely. As one of my physician colleagues prepares for his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, the service of fellow physicians in the care of war’s wounded reminds me not to whine when my day safe at home is difficult. Reframing our perspective has a lot to do with whether something we don’t like stresses us out.
4. The Checklist Manifesto — How to Get Things Right, by Atul Gawande, M.D. Forget that this book focuses primarily on how to get things right in health care, and read it for clues to reducing frenzy in your own life by using simple checklists to make sure you don’t forget to do crucial things right every time. If no place else, use Dr. Gawande’s checklist lessons to keep you safe this summer around the water and on the road, but its lessons are broader.
5. The Healing of America — A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, by T.R. Reid. The Rosetta Stone for understanding how America can afford health insurance for all of our people. It’s also an exercise in understanding what happens when we clear our heads of bias and rhetoric, then just think; Reid shows us that communism, socialism, total government control and the sacrifice of chickens are not required, but common sense is.
6. The Fort, by Bernard Cornwell. A fictional account of the Revolutionary War’s Penobscot Expedition, the worst naval defeat in American history after Pearl Harbor. The real event took place in an area of the Maine coast known by the Native American name Majabigwaduce, near what is now Castine. Cornwell is probably the best battlefield fiction writer alive, but what really interested me about the story was why the leaders of a vastly superior American force failed to act decisively at crucial moments. (Not that I would ever make that mistake.)
If I keep reading such books I may not need another colonoscopy to prove anything about my smarts.
Erik Steele, D.O., a physician in Bangor, is chief medical officer of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.