The Optimized Doctor

My recommendations for the best books of 2018


“Leadership in Turbulent Times,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, PhD, (New York:Simon & Schuster, 2018). I’m a presidential biography junkie. As physicians in what some may rightly call a turbulent health care culture, we face challenges each day that require our best intentions, our best diagnostic skills, our best empathic efforts, our best selves. Dr. Goodwin, in her prototypical engaging and informative prose, shows us four American presidents, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson, who persevered through devastatingly turbulent times. While we don’t have to make decisions regarding warfare, we do have an unmistakable impact on the lives of thousands of patients, and this book provides insights that can help all of us become better informed, better prepared leaders for our patients, our coworkers, and our communities at large.

“You and I Eat the Same: On the Countless Ways Food and Cooking Connect Us to One Another,” edited by Chris Ying; foreword by René Redzepi (New York:Artisan, 2018). Open a newspaper or turn on the news, and it’s difficult not to feel as if we live in an alarmingly polarized society. We can find many issues that divide us, but as healers, I hope we also strive to find ways to connect us. In 19 engaging and thought-provoking essays, this book explores the various ways that food connects us as humans. Whether it’s an historical deep dive into our love of meat wrapped in flatbread (which we’ve been doing for over 1,000 years) or tackling philosophical questions like, “Is there such a thing as a ‘non-ethnic’ restaurant?” this book will inform, inspire, and delight, and provide delicious topics for a bite of small talk with your patients.

“The Great Alone,” by Kristin Hannah (New York:St. Martin’s Press, 2018). Lured by Alaska’s majestic splendor and remoteness, the Allbright family (former POW, Ernt; abused wife, Cora; and coming-of-age daughter, Leni) are happy with their new life. For a minute. What ensues, namely punishing 16-hour days of darkness punctuated by episodes of oppressive snowfall, paranoia, and domestic violence, is grueling: “Night swept in like nothing Leni had ever seen before, like the winged shadow of a creature too big and predatory to comprehend.” Yet, this book is also a story about the bonds of family, both those we are born into and those we choose, love, sacrifice, and resilience.

If you have any books you read over the last to year to add to this list, please write to me at [email protected].

Dr. Benabio is director of Healthcare Transformation and chief of dermatology at Kaiser Permanente San Diego. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not represent those of Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Benabio is @Dermdoc on Twitter.


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