Chosen by Mimi Swartz
Mimi Swartz’s new book, Ticker, tells the story of the decades-long quest to develop an artificial heart. Swartz, a Texas Monthly editor and two-time National Magazine Award winner, here names six favorite works about the medical field.
Hearts: Of Surgeons and Transplants, Miracles and Disasters Along the Cardiac Frontier by Thomas Thompson (Open Road, $18 as an e-book). This is an oldie but a goodie. Thompson, a writer for Life during the magazine’s golden age, had near-complete access to Houston’s Methodist Hospital and its world-famous doctors in the late 1960s and early ’70s—when heart surgery was taking off just like the space program. High drama and high gossip.
The Sublime Engine: A Biography of the Human Heart by Stephen and Thomas Amidon (Rodale, $16). Written by a cardiologist and his novelist brother, this provocative history acknowledges the heart’s ages-old spiritual significance while also examining its awesome, unrelenting physical function. It’s an extremely accessible, welcoming read.
Every Second Counts: The Race to Transplant the First Human Heart by Donald McRae (out of print). Here’s a genuine medical thriller for anyone interested in one of medicine’s most significant advances. It reads like a great detective novel but is, of course, a true story.
A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov (Melville, $15). A hopeful (but still very Russian) look at a young doctor’s sentimental education in the early 20th century. It provides a wonderful window on how medicine has changed and how it hasn’t, and how people have changed, and how they haven’t.
The Courage to Fail: A Social View of Organ Transplants and Dialysis by Renée C. Fox and Judith P. Swazey (Routledge, $47). The title may suggest a dry treatise, but this is a lively, super-smart take on the history, complications, and ethics of some of the major medical advances of our time, written by two gutsy women who weren’t afraid to ask the hard questions. Of anyone.
King of Hearts: The True Story of the Maverick Who Pioneered Open Heart Surgery by G. Wayne Miller (Broadway, $19). A scrupulously reported, compassionate biography of C. Walton Lillehei, a brilliant, troubled doctor and arguably the father of open heart surgery. It’s a terrific introduction to the blind flying and virtuoso leaps that gave us the astounding, and yet nearly routine, procedures we have today. ■