I gravitate towards non-fiction and within that I like stories about health care, memoirs, and other cultures. I particularly like well-researched books that read like novels or stories that are so unbelievable that they can only be true. Here are some recommendations:
  1. Wild Swans (Jung Chang)
    One of the best books I have ever read. The author writes about three generations of women (her grandmother, mother, and herself) in China over the 20th century and shows how drastically the country changed during that period.
  2. Emma's War (Deborah Scroggins)
    This book chronicles the civil war in Sudan and a parallel story about a British aid worker who marries a Sudanese warlord in the early 90s. (Side note: I would be very interested to hear how many other people want to throttle Emma by the end of the book.)
  3. God's Hotel (Victoria Sweet)
    A story of a doctor who works at a hospital/almshouse in San Francisco that provides for indigent patients. The book follows the doctor’s experiences with her patients, her interest in medieval medicine, and the changing face of the American healthcare industry over two decades.
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
    A mind blowing story about the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, and the woman, Henrietta Lacks, from whom the cells were taken. Told for a lay audience, this book touches on core issues of ethics, race, class, and informed consent in medical research. (No science background needed to appreciate or understand!)
  5. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
    An amazing story about a Hmong family living in California with an epileptic daughter. The family wants what is best for their daughter and so does the medical community, but their perspectives and backgrounds are so different that they are hard to reconcile.
  6. No Time to Lose (Peter Piot)
    The first half of this book is about the author's discovery of Ebola in the 1970's. The second half is about the advent of AIDS and the author's eventual appointment to the head of UNAIDS. It is part a global health story and part a fascinating/disturbing/jaw dropping look into the backstabbing nature of the UN and global politics.
  7. In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)
    A meticulously researched book by Erik Larson about the American ambassador to Germany and his family leading up to World War II. Told in real time, this book feels like a thriller even though the reader (sadly) knows how the story ends.
  8. A Primate's Memoir (Robert Sapolsky)
    A light read about a Stanford neuroscientist’s research on baboons in Kenya and his travels in East Africa in the late 70s and early 80s.
  9. Runner up: Random Family (Adrian Nicole LeBlanc)
    This is probably one of the most extraordinary pieces of journalism I have ever seen. It follows an extended family from the Bronx in the 80's and shows the impact of drugs (particularly crack) and poverty on their lives. I have to admit that I couldn't finish it because it was too depressing, but I tip my hand to this author and would recommend it to anyone who can get through it.
  10. Honorable Mention: Brain on Fire (Susannah Cahalan)
    I don't want to tell you anything about this book because I don't want to give anything away - just go read it (it will only take a few hours).