Recommended Books for Winter Reading

By Jay Kravitz

Blog #3 posted on December 10, 2020

For the fun of it I have listed a number of excellent books that I have read over the years for entertainment and professional enlightenment. Many remind me of global travel and professional experiences, as a clinician, public health practitioner and university assistant professor. All seven continents are mentioned to whet your curiosity…to entertain, educate and contemplate. This list includes both fiction and non-fiction: travel, adventure, history, economics, memoirs, medicine, environment, science, politics, global health and humor. Happy reading! I imagine you can find many of these books at your local library or on-line.

Travel and Adventure

  1. Dark Star Safari (2002); Paul Theroux

An insightful account of an overland journey across Africa from Cairo to Cape Town via trains, boats, buses, cars, and armed convoy, written many years after Theroux was removed from the Peace Corps for meddling in Malawi politics. This travel saga offers a realistic, somewhat cynical view of Africa’s complexities. Remember that Africa is not a country, but an ancient continent comprised of 54 recognized nations. Africa has widely varied geography, topography, environments, complex borders (colonialism influenced), races, cultures, politics, languages and religions

2. Touching the Void (1988); Joe Simpson

A recounting of a successful, but disastrous and nearly fatal, mountain climb of the 6,344-metre Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Great, reflective adventure story.

3. A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush (1958); Eric Newby

This is an autobiographical account of the adventures of two English lads in the Hindu Kush, exploring the Nuristan Mountains of Afghanistan, in their effort to make the first mountaineering ascent of Mir Samir. Having traveled in this magnificent land prior to the 1979 Russian invasion and the start of their tragic, ongoing civil war, this book captured for me many of the “sights and sounds” that I experienced of beautiful, remote mountains and welcoming people.

4. Cry of the Kalahari (1984); Mark and Delia Owens

An autobiographical tale detailing two newly married American zoologists’ experiences studying wildlife in the Kalahari Desert of Botswana. This international bestseller shares their story of life with lions, hyenas, jackals, giraffes and many other creatures. GREAT book!

5. Shackleton (1985); Roland Huntford

This biography of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton is a story of endurance and courage, hardship, rivalries and betrayal. He was a very complicated man! Having traveled to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island in 2018, I can only imagine the vicissitude that he and his shipmates endured. I shadowed Shackleton’s trek over the summit of South Georgia Island (my picture) to reach safety and rescuers for his crew stranded on a small, remote island in the vast Southern Ocean wilderness after their ship, Endurance, was crushed by sea ice. The South Georgia Land Trust (https://www.sght.org/) is a great organization currently engaged in restoring the natural environment and wildlife of this incredibly beautiful and remote island destination, severely damaged ecologically during the early 20th century whaling period. Many species have rebounded! https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-54994814/

6. The Ra Expeditions (1971); Thor Heyerdahl

The author recounts the planning for his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in an Egyptian papyrus reed boat and describes the voyage made by himself and his crew. Their expedition set out to prove that ancient civilizations in Central America were directly influenced by ancient Egypt. Clues in archeological remains and legends of bearded white men suggest this possibility. The expedition had other themes, including ocean pollution and global affairs.

7. The Last Grain Race (1956); Eric Newby

This travel writer related his seafaring experience from England to Australia around the Cape of Good Hope through the southern Indian Ocean on one of the last commercial sailing ships, the four-masted Moshulu. This was the vessel’s final voyage over the Australian grain trade route.

Global Health, Science and Environmental Perspectives

8. The Struggle for Health-Medicine and the Politics of Underdevelopment (1985); David Sanders

Struggle was written by well-respected physician, Dr. Sanders, for health care workers and the general public. He offered a strategy, which still resonates today, to promote health in the developing world where diseases appear overwhelming and insoluble. As a global health advocate and academic – and my esteemed mentor, he served in professorial positions as a Public Health Department Chairman at universities in Harare, Zimbabwe; Durban, South Africa; and Cape Town, South Africa. He was active in the People’s Health Movement during his lifetime. This book has received excellent reviews from my students.

9. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012); David Quammen

The emergence and causes of new diseases around the world are examined. Spillover describes how pathogens originating in wild animals have the potential to infect humans. Future pandemic risks are contemplated, especially when people encroach on the natural environment. Although written almost a decade ago, at times this book reads like a current event…especially with the COVID-19 pandemic in progress.

10. The Ghost Map (2006); Steven Johnson

Ideas of contagion are chronicled in a fascinating account of London’s catastrophic cholera epidemic in the 1850s. English physician, Dr. John Snow, famous for his seminal studies of cholera, is widely viewed as father of contemporary epidemiology. His best-known efforts included an investigation of London’s Broad Street pump cholera outbreak in 1854. He conducted his “Grand Experiment,” a study comparing waterborne cholera cases in two districts of the city – one receiving sewage-contaminated water, the other receiving relatively clean water. His theoretical scientific strategy influenced evolving hygiene improvements for cities around the world – and saved lives.

11. Where There is No Doctor (Revised 2011); David Warner

Published by the Hesperian Foundation, this book covers a wide range of health issues. Written for lay people, store keepers, pharmacists, teachers, village health workers, mothers, and midwives. Ideas are offered about infectious diseases, hygiene, diet, family planning, and preventive health.

12. Where There is No Dentist (1983); Murray Dickson

Published by the Hesperian Foundation, this is a companion volume to Where There is No Doctor. Village health workers and others can use this book to help people care for their teeth and gums. A wide range of dental issues are covered to help diagnose and treat dental problems, while promoting community dental health.

13. Illness as Metaphor (1978); Susan Sontag

The author challenges victim-blaming in the language often used to describe diseases and the people affected by them. She delves into social stigma and psychological explanations related to cancer and tuberculosis.

14. Heart of Dryness (2009); James Workman

This book shares the author’s experiences in the Kalahari Desert. He analyzed the complex dynamics of politics and society that threatened Botswana water resources. Serious concerns about the consequences of drought across sub-Saharan Africa were articulated, but also the potential for global vulnerabilities related to water shortages.

15. Camping with the Prince and Other Tales of Science in Africa (1990); Thomas Bass

The author described an intellectual, two-year journey across Africa from Timbuktu to the Zambezi River. His motive was to meet local scientists and explore the drama and collision between Western science and traditional African cultures. I found the chapter about the cichlid eco-zones of Lake Malawi particularly interesting. One may snorkel there to see these beautiful fish, which I did without knowing that a risk for contracting water-borne schistosomiasis goes with the territory. The biological research center was an interesting destination to visit.

16. Earth Under Fire – How Global Warming is Changing the Planet (2007); Gary Braasch

This award-winning, photo journalist and author explored the world for decades, documenting environmental changes resulting from the warming of our planet. This compelling, photo journal provided evidentiary documentation of global warming from the Arctic to the Antarctic and many places in between, long before it became a current events topic. Tragically, Mr. Braasch drowned while filming serious coral reef damage on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

17. The Ocean World (1979); Jacques Cousteau

A magnificent and comprehensive reference and encyclopedia of the undersea world. This volume is filled with text, pictures and illustrations of the varieties of life in the vast world’s oceans.

18. Fever and Cultures: Lessons for Surveillance, Prevention & Control (2003); George Pollock

This book compares methods of surveillance and prevention of communicable diseases in countries selected for their difference situations and approaches. Although written some years ago, public health professionals, nurses and support staff might find this book of interest.

19. Critical Issues in Global Health (2001); C. Everett Koop

Dr. Koop, an American pediatric surgeon and public health administrator, was a vice admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service. He served as Surgeon General of the United States under President Reagan from 1982 to 1989. This book, a compendium of knowledge and thought by a panel of internationally renowned medical and public health experts, offers insights into the most important health issues of an earlier period. It is unlikely that much has changed over the past 20 years. The Forward, written by former President Jimmy Carter, sets the stage: “…If we are to improve health, we must concentrate on existing disparities in opportunities, resources, education and access to health programs. Only to the extent that we can eliminate these inequities will our dreams for global health in the 21st century be realized.” 

Memoirs

20. West with the Night (1942); Beryl Markham

This insightful memoir chronicles Markham’s experiences growing up in Kenya in the early 1900s. She had celebrated careers as a racehorse trainer and first female bush pilot in Africa.

21. Long Walk to Freedom (1994); Nelson Mandela

Written by South African President Mandela, this autobiography profiles his early life, coming of age, education, and 27 years in prison. This is an amazing volume, as he shares his story of determination, wisdom, honor and survival. An extraordinary man!

22. Don’t let’s go to the Dogs Tonight (2001 ); Alexandra Fuller

The author shares visceral memories of her childhood in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, describing the lives of Fuller and her family on a farm in Rhodesia prior to 1980. A great writer with other books also written about her life there!

23. The Last Resort (2009); Douglas Rogers

A remarkable, true story about a white family in Zimbabwe, confronted by tense post-colonial, corrupt politics. Born and raised in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Rogers was the son of farmers living through the transition of post-colonial rule. As an adult, he immigrated to New York, but shares his compelling tale upon returning to visit his family farm in northeast Zimbabwe, near Mutare.

Historical Novels

24. The Covenant (1980); James Michener

A compelling historical novel by American author, Michener, set in South Africa; home to many distinct population, language and ethnic groups. This book helps explain the complicated history of migration, settlement, politics, conflicts and development over centuries in this beautiful and remarkable country.

25. Things Fall Apart (1958); Chinua Achebe

The first novel by renowned Nigerian author Chinua Achebe. This story chronicles pre-colonial life in the southeastern part of Nigeria and the consequences of the arrival of Europeans during the late 19th century.

26. Shōgun (1975); James Clavell

The first novel of the author’s Asian saga. A major best-seller, beginning in feudal Japan, Shōgun gives an account of the rise of the daimyō “Toranaga.” Japanese society in the 1600s was insular and xenophobic. European exploratory ventures related to its military capabilities were considered a threat to traditional Samurai warrior culture.

27. A Bend in the River (1979); V.S. Naipaul

Nobel laureate Naipaul tells the story of Salim, a merchant in post-colonial mid-20th century East Africa. This is one of his best known, widely praised works. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1979.

28. Max Havalaar (1860); Multatuli

This novel played a key role in shaping and modifying colonial policy in the Dutch East Indies during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. A fierce indictment of colonialism, this book is considered a masterpiece of Dutch literature, based on the author’s own experience as a Dutch East Indies administrator in the 1850s.
Expressing political outrage, this story relates the tale of a renegade colonial administrator’s unavailing struggle to end the exploitation of the Indonesian peasantry. This book was also made into a compelling movie, which one can watch on YouTube: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=teDbp-QsjGI).

History, Society, Economics and Politics

29. The Inconvenient Indian (2012); Thomas King

This terrific book was the winner of the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize, both a “history” and a complete subversion of history. It is a critical, opinionated, unconventional and personal meditation that Canadian Mr. King conducted over 50 years about what it means to be “Indian” or “Native” in North America.Although a darkly humorous history of Indian-White relations, King ultimately rejects the pessimism and cynicism with which Natives and Whites regard one another. He charts a new way forward through penetrating storytelling for Indians and non-Indians alike by discussing popular culture, law and policy. I discovered this book while visiting the Museum of Northern British Columbia in Prince Rupert, Canada. I asked the young souvenir shop clerk which one tome amongst the MANY volumes on the long display bookshelves that I should read. This was the book she handed me. This beautiful museum is housed in a large, cedarwood longhouse with exhibits of the culture and history of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Worth a visit!

30. The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (1978); Ryszard Kapuscinski

Polish journalist Kapuściński’s analysis of the decline and fall of Haile Selassie’s regime in Ethiopia.Selassie managed to rule a huge medieval empire for 50 years and succeeded in guiding Ethiopia closer to the modern era during his rule.

31. The Shadow of the Dam (1961); David Howarth

A British historian highlights one of Africa’s major dam projects on the Zambezi River – and the heroic struggle to save the native life of Kariba along the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) – Zambian border from threatening, rising water…In 2020 the Kariba Dam has been reported to be at risk of failure from engineering lapses and inadequate maintenance. More recently, the Zambezi region has been suffering from a serious, recurring drought.

32. The Shock Doctrine – The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007); Naomi Klein

A well-respected investigative journalist, Klein offers a rigorous assessment of globalism and delves deeply into neoliberalism, which caused great economic hardship across Asia, Latin America and Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. Neoliberalism is an economic and political philosophy emphasizing free-market capitalism without regulation. Deregulation of financial markets was intended to remove barriers to private wealth accumulation with a concomitant disregard of governmental fiscal support for health and social programs. This legacy continues today: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0020731420925449?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=planetary_health_weekly_volume_6_number_44_october_29_2020&utm_term=2020-10-29&

Novels

33. I Heard the Owl Call My Name (1967); Margaret Craven 

A lovely novel that tells the story of a young Anglican vicar, who learns about the meaning of life when he is sent to a First Nations parish located on the inside passage, coastal region of British Columbia. One can picture the natural beauty and immerse in the native cultural heritage of this part of Canada, when indulging in the book. “When you see clam shells, know it is Indian country. Leave it alone.”

34. Sometimes a Great Notion (1964); Ken Kesey

The tale of a family of fiercely independent loggers in a small lumber town along the Oregon coast, as they struggle to keep the family business alive amidst changing times. A must read for those interested in understanding Oregon coastal communities during an earlier period. Reviewed as “one of the few essential books written by an American author in the last half century.” This novel was also crafted as a movie, starring Paul Newman, released in 1971.

35. Fur Trappers of the Old West (1946); Anita Anderson

While this book, published by the Wheeler Publishing Co., was written for children, I found this beautiful volume quite compelling and interesting from an adult’s perspective. I read it twice…first as a 10 year-old child and then again as an adult out of curiosity. This saga delves into relations between Native Americans and fur trappers during the 1800s in the North American Rocky Mountains and highlights Jim Bridger, a mountain man and wilderness explorer of that era.

36. Elephant Song (1991); Wilbur Smith

Combining realism with suspense, this novel journeys deep into the heart of Africa, threatened by the destructive hand of man. Ivory poaching has promoted greed, corruption and the senseless slaughter of elephants. In a dangerous world of poachers and blood money, Smith highlighted a determination to stop the killing of a species threatened with extinction. This photo was taken while I was on a horse safari in Kenya.

Humor

37. Jitterbug Perfume (1985); Tom Robbins

Robbins’ fourth novel, listed on the New York Times Best Seller list, was widely considered a wacky cult classic. The book follows two interweaving, entertaining storylines, one in Ancient Eurasia and one in the more “present day” New Orleans.

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