For those not satiated by the recent post making suggestions for your holiday reading, below are some more titles recommended by Croakey contributors.

•  Associate Professor David Thomas
Menzies School of Health Research, and the Lowitja Institute.

Two very different books that I read and are really about public health this year.

Susan Cain’s Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking was fascinating because most public health academics, like me and most academics, are introverts.

But the media wants extrovert tarts for talent.

And there are some great public health tarts, and some write for Crikey/Croakey!

But also some very useful introverts, carefully and diligently answering important questions and mentoring and building their research teams, and sometimes surprising everyone by how well they can perform when they come out into the limelight to explain what that they have been working on because that is what is more important than avoiding all the glare.

Cain is an introvert (why else write the book) and a lawyer, not a psychologist, but it seems carefully written to this non-psychologist, who has not cautiously tested its academic verity, just enjoyed the ride and the questions posed.

The second book is Hilary Mantel’s terrific Bring up the Bodies, her second novel about Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court – because public health is all about politics and dealing with political and bureaucratic intrigues.

Fortunately our heads are no longer at risk, but at risk of sounding too righteous, the lives of many of our citizens are still at risk if we don’t play these necessary games.

We can only wish that everyone playing on the side of public health, has Cromwell’s decency, stamina and skills, as they are displayed in this entertaining novel.  (For a darker story of medicine read Mantel’s differently gripping 2003 dark memoir Giving up the Ghost.)


• Don Perlgut, communications expert and writer

Lying on the Couch by Irvin D. Yalom (originally published 1997) is one of the “must-read” novels for health professionals.  Yalom is a San Francisco-based practicing psychiatrist who moonlights as a novelist.  He writes colourfully, simply and articulately, crafting a psychological “who dunnit” of enduring worth.

It may be particularly American, but E.J. Dionne’s Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent (2012) gives probably the best recent insight into the real American political conundrum – one that inevitably affects all of us here in Australia.

Yes, I am thinking of American issues at the moment, but Joseph E. Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012) is one of the great impassioned arguments for a more equal society in the face of increasing control of wealth by a smaller and smaller number of people – and the resonances for Australia are not difficult to find.


 • Dr Rosemary Stanton, public health advocate, nutritionist

My choice is Geoff Rayner and Tim Lang’s book, Ecological Public Health: Reshaping the Conditions for Good Health, Routledge Earthscan, 2012.


• Science writer Leigh Dayton

Sentinel Chickens: What Birds Tell us About Our Health and the World (MUP, 231pp, $29.99).

While my interest is largely frivolous, as a virologist and immunologist, Doherty takes the little flappers seriously. And, as he writes in his charming and informative book, he’s fascinated not only with chickens but with puffins and pelicans, eagles, canaries and crows—in fact, birds of all kinds.

It’s not the mere existence of birds that intrigues him; rather, it’s the compelling human-avian relationship. As his book’s subtitle suggests, birds provide free monitoring services to people. Doherty explains: ‘‘Our free-flying, wide-ranging avian relatives serve as sentinels, sampling the health of the air, seas, forests and grasslands that we share with them.’’

While the book canvasses many species and the jobs they do, for my money chapter four, Sentinel Chickens, is an unsurprising highlight. As anyone familiar with so-called bird flu—aka the H5N1 strain of influenza A —knows, some viruses can jump from one species to another. I hasten to add that spreading disease is not the job of the sentinel chickens. Instead, they keep a biological eye out for arboviruses, insect borne microbes.

Some arboviruses cause serious human diseases, such as Ross River fever and Murray Valley encephalitis, but only mild infection in chickens. So flocks of avian ‘‘volunteers’’ are located at outposts where disease-bearing bugs may bite. Experts collect blood samples from a wing vein and assay them to see if the sentinel has developed antibodies to the microbe. If so, public health measures can be taken.

Even better, not only do the sentinels detect viral threats, they can serve as ‘‘birds of record’’, measuring the spread of a disease outbreak.

And that’s just the gist of chapter four, let alone the book, which is a delight to read.

Even the end notes are fun. As the cover blurb says: ‘‘Sentinel Chickens shows us why we should give our feather friends close, sustained and caring attention.’’

(This review was first published in The Australian, and is re-published here with Leigh Dayton’s permission).


• Dr Amanda Wilson, Research Academic, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle  

Having just finished The Secret River and Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, I would recommend they be used as a public health intervention in their own right.  They deliver an iron fist of reality covered in the most stunning velvet glove of prose.

My other favourite is The Book Thief by Sydney writer Marcus Zusak, set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. But this is a compassionate death who is humane and even humorous in his work.  It’s a beautiful book.

And anything by Helen Garner. 


Meanwhile, some Croakey contributors have also suggested books for Crikey correspondent Bernard Keane’s bedside, in response to his recent attack on public health and health prevention (as outlined here).

• Michael Moore, Public Health Associaton of Australia

Republicanism: Theory of Freedom and Government, by Philip Pettit (Oxford University Press, 1999).

I think this book would seriously help him rethink what freedom really is – it is not about “non-interference” as industry (and Keane) would have us believe.

It is about “non-domination”, not being bullied or overwhelmed by influences in society that are usually pushing their own vested interest.

DECLARATION:  The PHAA only receives project funding from Government … our members are our prime source of financial support.


• Ben Harris Roxas, public health lecturer, UNSW

Bernard needs to get over his teenager-like love for Atlas Shrugged, step outside the Canberra press gallery and recognise that much of our individual wellbeing is collectively intertwined.

There’s a number of “social elite” assumptions that underpin his arguments, in particular relating to addiction. A lot of the choices he accuses public health of seeking to restrict are not entirely freely chosen and most rely on straw-man arguments or extreme cases.

He might like Juli Zeh’s book The Method, as may many public health professionals. It’s a story that uses Bernard’s perspective as a starting point but it may force him and many of my public health colleagues to reconsider their perspectives:


• Part one of Croakey’s book recommendations

And now, for some words to avoid: The worst words of 2012.



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