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Medicine in Literature

A guide to the Medicine in Literature collection in the Walton Library.
Medicine in Literature

About Our Collection

Our Medicine in Literature collection captures the complexities of what it means to be human through a wide range of literary genres and film. These resources range from fiction and non-fiction (medical history, medical ethics and memoirs) to graphic novels, poetry and prose (medicine as metaphor). Representations of illness, dis-ease, healing and health are interwoven themes that give voice to a diversity of perspectives and experiences. If you're interested in exploring your subject from a different viewpoint or simply want to broaden your reading, dive right in! The MIL collection is housed in the Quiet Study area of the Walton Library. Please ask a member of staff if in doubt about the location. Happy reading!

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What's New

Wellcome Book Prize 2019

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Wellcome Book Prize rewards exceptional works of literature that illuminate the many ways that health, medicine and illness touch our lives.
The shortlist for the prize will be announced on Tuesday 19 March, with the winner revealed on Wednesday 1st May. 
We have every book in the longlist available to borrow - click through to find out more about each one.

Thomas Page McBee - Amateur: A True Story About What Makes A Man

An exploration of modern masculinity by the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden.

In this groundbreaking new book, Thomas Page McBee, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence.

Through his experience of boxing – learning to get hit, and to hit back; wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym; confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body – McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes and the limitations of conventional masculinity. A wide-ranging exploration of gender in our society, Amateur is ultimately a story of hope, as McBee traces a way forward: a new masculinity, inside the ring and out of it.

A graceful and uncompromising exploration of living, fighting and healing, in Amateur we gain insight into the stereotypes and shifting realities of masculinity today through the eyes of a new man.

Matthew Sperling - Astroturf

A story about masculinity, identity, sock-puppets and steroids.

Good things can happen when you do bad things.

At 30, Ned is in a rut. His girlfriend has dumped him, his job is boring and he lives in a dismal bedsit. While others around him climb the property ladder and get ahead, he seems destined to remain one of life’s plodders.

Encouraged by a friend to try using steroids to bulk up his frame, Ned is pleased to discover a new vitality within himself. Physical changes are only the beginning: his mental state is clearer, he feels more confident and, most thrillingly of all, friends and lovers alike seem compelled by this new improved Ned.

Using his knowledge of the murky yet surprising online world of steroids, Ned begins to build a business and discovers that his talents can take him further than he ever thought possible. But when his new life is threatened, he finds himself doing things he never would have dared to do before.

And it all seems to be going fine…

Tara Westover - Educated

This incredible and moving memoir, which has garnered huge international attention and plaudits, is about the power of education – and the determination of one young woman to fight for her right to be ‘educated’.

Tara Westover and her family grew up preparing for the End of Days but, according to the government, she didn’t exist. She hadn’t been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she’d never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn’t believe in hospitals.

As she grew older, her father became more radical and her brother more violent. At 16, Tara knew she had to leave home. In doing so she discovered both the transformative power of education and the price she had to pay for it.

Akwaeke Emezi - Freshwater

Freshwater is about a young woman, Ada, who is 'ọgbanje': peopled with spirits, trapped in her body, Ada is torn between the physical and spiritual world. As Ada grows up, the spirits that people her develop distinct and varied selves within her, and Ada must learn how to survive with them…

Ada was born with one foot on the other side. Having prayed her into existence, her parents, Saul and Saachi, struggle to deal with the volatile and contradictory spirits peopling their troubled girl.

When Ada comes of age and heads to college, the entities within her grow in power and agency. An assault leads to a crystallisation of her selves: Asụghara and Saint Vincent. As Ada fades into the background of her own mind and these selves – now protective, now hedonistic – seize control of Ada, her life spirals in a dark and dangerous direction.

Narrated from the perspectives of the various selves within Ada, and based in the author’s realities, Freshwater explores the metaphysics of identity and being.

Sandeep Jauhar - Heart: A History

Sandeep Jauhar – cardiologist, bestselling author and New York Times columnist – beautifully weaves his own experiences with the defining discoveries of the past to tell the story of our most vital organ.

Sandeep Jauhar looks at some of the pioneers who risked their careers and their patients’ lives to better understand the heart. People like Daniel Hale Williams, who performed the world’s first documented heart surgery, and Wilson Greatbach, who accidentally invented the pacemaker.

Amid gripping scenes from the operating theatre, Jauhar tells stories about the patients he has treated. And he relates the moving tale of his family’s own history of heart problems, from his grandfather’s sudden death in India – an event that sparked his lifelong obsession with the heart – to the first ominous signs of his own mortality.

He also confronts the limits of medical technology and argues that future progress will be determined more by how we choose to live than by any device we invent.

Arnold Thomas Fanning - Mind on Fire: A Memoir of Madness and Recovery

A searing, immersive account of profound mental illness – and recovery.

Arnold Thomas Fanning had his first experience of depression during adolescence, following the death of his mother. In his 20s, he was overcome by mania and delusions. Thus began a terrible period in which he was often suicidal, increasingly disconnected from family and friends, sometimes in trouble with the law, and homeless for a winter in London.

Drawing on his own memories, the recollections of people who knew him when he was at his worst, and medical records, Fanning has produced a beautifully written, devastatingly intense account of madness - and recovery, to the point where he has not had any serious illness for over a decade.

Very few people have gone through what Fanning went through and emerged alive, well, and capable of telling the tale with such skill and insight. Mind on Fire is the gripping, sometimes harrowing and ultimately uplifting testament of a person who has visited hellish regions of the mind and survived. It is a book for anyone who has experienced mental illness, who is close to someone mentally ill, or who wishes to understand the workings of the disordered mind.

Will Eaves - Murmur

Taking its cue from the arrest and legally enforced chemical castration of the mathematician Alan Turing, Murmur is the account of a man who responds to intolerable physical and mental stress with love, honour and a rigorous, unsentimental curiosity about the ways in which we perceive ourselves and the world.

Convicted of gross indecency with another man in 1952, Turing was sentenced to a regimen of punitive hormonal injection. He grew breasts, survived the year-long ordeal, but died in 1954. Verdict: suicide. Alec Pryor – the book’s avatar for Turing – is caught between fascination and horror as he becomes a new version of himself.

The novel asks: what does great bodily change - torture - do to a person’s mind? The bulk of the book is a sequence of dreams and letters; these are bookended by extracts from a fictional journal that show a brilliant intellect struggling to come to terms with the effects of that change.

Ottessa Moshfegh - My Year of Rest and Relaxation

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature.

Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate. She lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

This story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs, designed to heal us from our alienation from this world, shows us how reasonable, even necessary, that alienation sometimes is. 

Polio: The Odyssey of Eradication by Thomas Abrahams

Looks at how global and local forces thwarted the eradication of polio, one of the world’s most important and ambitious health campaigns.

In 1988, the World Health Organization launched a 12-year campaign to wipe out polio. Thirty years and several billion dollars over budget later, the campaign grinds on, vaccinating millions of children and hoping that each new year might see an end to the disease. But success remains elusive, against a surprisingly resilient virus, an unexpectedly weak vaccine and the vagaries of global politics, meeting with indifference from governments and populations alike.

How did a campaign to achieve something so obviously good – ridding the world of a crippling disease – become a hostage of geopolitics? Why do parents refuse to vaccinate their children against polio? And why have poorly paid door-to-door health workers been assassinated? Thomas Abraham reports on the ground in search of answers.

Jessie Greengrass - Sight

The first novel from the author of the prize-winning An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It.

In Jessie Greengrass’s debut novel, our unnamed narrator recounts her progress to motherhood, while remembering the death of her own mother ten years before, and the childhood summers she spent with her psychoanalyst grandmother.

Woven among these personal recollections are significant events in medical history: Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of the X-ray; Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis and the work that he did with his daughter, Anna; and the origins of modern surgery and the anatomy of pregnant bodies.

Sight is a novel about being a parent and a child: what it is like to bring a person in to the world, and what it is to let one go.

Sarah Krasnostein - The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster

The author charts the extraordinary Sandra Pankhurst bringing order and care to the living and the dead, in her role as a trauma cleaner. A compelling story of a fascinating life.

Sandra Pankhurst started life as an abused adopted son in a working-class family. Following marriage, fatherhood and divorce, she made the transition to living as a woman. Now, as a trauma cleaner she helps those at life’s dark extremes. In telling Sandra’s extraordinary story, Sarah Krasnostein shines a light on the complex and lasting legacies of trauma.

Jean Hannah Edelstein - This Really Isn't About You

A tender, funny and honest memoir of grief, illness and finding your way in life.

In 2014 I moved back to the United States after living abroad for fourteen years, my whole adult life, because my father was dying from cancer.

Six weeks after I arrived in New York City, my father died.

Six months after that I learned that I had inherited the gene that would cause me cancer too.

When Jean Hannah Edelstein’s world overturned she was forced to confront some of the big questions in life: how do we cope with grief? How does living change when we realise we’re not invincible? Does knowing our likely fate make it harder or easier to face the future? How do you motivate yourself to go on your OkCupid date when you’re struggling with your own mortality?

Edelstein’s memoir is by turns heart-breaking, hopeful and also funny. 

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