Keeping the Blog, Changing the Title

Well, after hiding and un-hiding the blog and then making a few changes, I’ve decided to keep it (for now).  However, I am thinking about changing the title/URL, so if anyone has suggestions that would be dandy.  I was hoping for “Sleeping in Seattle” since that’s been my handle for a few other things on the interwebs, but unfortunately the URL is already occupied.

Orlando

I was actually thinking about deleting this blog this week, but I wanted to put this somewhere so I guess the deleting will have to wait at least a bit…

TL;DR: I dunno, I guess the last paragraph?  Most of which I didn’t actually write? 

I debated whether or not I wanted to post this for quite a while.  In some ways I wrote more for my own processing than for others.  A lot of people have said a lot of things already; I don’t want to regurgitate what’s already been said (and likely more eloquently), yet I want to say something.  Then again, there’s nothing new under the sun…

I see three main issues portrayed: 1) guns, 2) terrorism under the name of Islam, 3) prejudice against LGBT+ people under the name of religion.  It’s a false trichotomy to portray the tragedy as a consequence of only one or another of these things, but because I’m a good Presbyterian and an IS(N?)TJ, lists are how I understand the world.  Other than mentioning them above, I’m not going to spend any time discussing the first two items.  They’re barrels of monkeys that merit entire posts of their own, but ignoring them completely would be a glaring omission.  And so I’m choosing to stop here, except to say, be good to each other, folks.

49 people were murdered on Sunday.  That’s only 8 people fewer than were in my graduating class in high school.  4 fewer than can be on an NFL team’s active roster.  Each of those people had a story, and many of those people’s stories happened to include identifying as part of the LGBT community.

Almost half (48%) of people who identify as LGB in the US also identify as Christian, according to a 2015 Pew survey (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-4-the-shifting-religious-identity-of-demographic-groups/#religious-composition-by-sexual-orientation).  Although this is substantially less than the straight or overall populations, which usually poll around 70%, it also appears to be substantially more than the Jesus-vs.-The-Gays scenario that the media/popular culture, and some Christian groups, would have us believe.  These 48% are our brothers and sisters.  And, though perhaps not theologically, so are the other 52%.

A 2013 Pew survey (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2013/06/13/a-survey-of-lgbt-americans/#religion; the 2015 survey may also include this question, but I’m having trouble navigating their website…) asked about how people perceived religions’ (un)friendliness towards LGBT people.  Not surprisingly, the Church did not fare well.  This likely explains at least some of the ~20% difference between the religious composition of the general population and the LGB community.

As Rachel Held Evans wrote on her Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/rachelheldevans.page/posts/10153956026774442), “Many [Christian] leaders have publicly grieved the massacre and called for Christians to ‘simply love’ the LGBT community in this hour of need…which is good; that’s the right thing to do. But what I’m hearing from my Christian LGBT friends in particular is that these calls to grieve and love ring a bit hollow when coming from pastors and church leaders who have never spoken out about hate and violence directed against LGBT people before or who have spent years perpetuating the very misinformation, stereotypes, and theology that hurt LGBT people every day.”

Sentiment matters.  49 people died violently in one night; that shakes our worldview, our framework of security, our ideal of freedom of religion, belief, and expression.  And yet, around 11,000 people ages 15-34, the age group most affected by the shooting, commit suicide in the US every year (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr64/nvsr64_02.pdf).  Being LGBT has been shown repeatedly to increase the risk of suicide attempts drastically: anywhere from 2 to 4 times greater (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss60e0606.pdf).  Taking the conservative estimate of doubling the rate, and assuming that between 3 and 10% of the population identifies as LGBT (from the 2013 Pew survey; we’ll take the average, 6.5%, since more younger people identify as LGBT), that rounds out to be around 1,400 lives lost every year in the young LGBT community.  This is not to trivialize the loss of 49 people in one day—indeed, this shocks and horrifies us for good reason—but to point out an ongoing problem.  Is this the fault of the Church?  Of culture?  Of being LGBT?  No, no, and no.  Suicide is sometimes conceptualized as a blameless tragedy, in that it takes a complex collection of events and actions and environments and genetics and thoughts and feelings to proceed.  But it can be stopped.  And for those of us who aren’t doctors/social workers/counselors /public health advocates, one of the most important roles we have in preventing injury or death, whether self-inflicted and externally perpetrated, is how we treat other people, implicitly and explicitly.

Sentiment matters.  The motives of the shooter are yet to be uncovered, and it’s likely we’ll never fully untangle them.  Although a mass-murderer isn’t created by culture alone, it would seem that culture can have a normalizing role in prejudice and hatred, hatred that can, it seems, infect even those it affects.  Throwaway derogatory comments can seem harmless in the moment; indeed, perhaps they are—in the moment.  But the prevailing atmosphere may have greater effect than we realize.  The same way “rape culture” is impugned for normalizing the boys-will-be-boys attitude that seems to have led to the highly-criticized sentence in the recent Stanford case, perhaps prejudice, bigotry, and even violence against groups with whom we disagree, dislike, or merely see as different from ourselves is normalized through our everyday attitudes, words, and actions.

If we claim to belong to the Church, we are held to the highest standard in this regard—even if we think the other party is wrong.  Just as our love for someone does not excuse us from confronting tough problems, personally wrestling with a theological or moral issue cannot excuse us from loving, fully and not hollowly, those with whom we disagree.  As Julie Rodgers wrote on her blog this week (http://julie-rodgers.com/?p=16473), “You do not have to support same-sex marriage to fight for safety and protection for human beings made in the image of God. Your solidarity will not be taken as theological agreement, and it’s hard for me to understand how grieving the death of 50 beautiful people can feel complicated for a Christian. It’s always right to grieve with those who are grieving.”

And likewise, the Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox, a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints—a bastion of modern conservatism and orthodoxy if there ever was one—said this at a vigil on Monday (I highly encourage reading the entire speech; besides being rhetorically interesting, the words need to be heard https://www.ksl.com/index.php?sid=40209267&nid=148&title=lt-gov-cox-speaks-at-vigil-for-orlando-my-heart-has-changed): “How did you feel when you heard that 49 people had been gunned down by a self-proclaimed terrorist? That’s the easy question. Here is the hard one: Did that feeling change when you found out the shooting was at a gay bar at 2 a.m. in the morning? If that feeling changed, then we are doing something wrong.”

The shooting in Orlando is not a philosophical conundrum for politicians and pastors and pundits to toss around like a football.  Nor is it a stone to hurl at people with whom you disagree(—and it is largely on this point that I hesitated to post this: in some ways, it seems to waver between a reflection, an appeal, and a bludgeon).  It is a human tragedy.  In light of everything that is being done and said, remember that we are people talking to and about and arguing with and about other people.  If you find yourself thinking angrily/bitterly/condescendingly/disgustedly to yourself, “The gays are [scornful descriptor],” remember that someone somewhere is probably thinking, “The Christians are [scornful descriptor]”—and vice versa.  (…or if you’re thinking “The Muslims/atheists/Mexicans/gun owners/Democrats/Republicans/ whatever-group-that-isn’t-like-me are [scornful descriptor].”  We’re all someone else to someone else, and whenever we point a finger there are three pointing back at ourselves.)  Remember that on the other side of your thought or word or action—negative or positive—there is another person, receiving, listening, or perhaps just observing.

Spring 2016 Reading List

Well, time for the next reading list.  Now that I won’t be in school (for a couple years, anyhow), I’m not sure if I’ll keep doing three “semester” lists, or possibly switch to biannual or quarterly lists, which conform better with the temporal preferences non-academic society.  It may turn out that post frequency will depend on how much reading I do.

The links go to other people’s reviews where I could find ones I thought were well-done.  Many come from NPR as I find a large proportion of my reading list from NPR articles/broadcasts.  Otherwise, the links go to product pages on Amazon (yes, I know, Amazon is a killer of small-businesses-and-publishers–trust me, I used to work for such a publisher–but the large numbers of non-paid reviews are a valuable resource)

Ink and paper books:

  • Does Jesus Really Love Me?: A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America (Jeff Chu): One issue that I struggle with is the position and role of the church in LGBT issues.  I was raised pretty conservative, but a lot of the orthodox positions make me deeply uncomfortable for a lot of reasons.  Although the Bible isn’t supposed to be a comfortable book, there are a number of things that are often taught in more conservative (or even just “less liberal”) circles that I am fundamentally unsure about.  The internet is a terrible place to have a “discussion” about this, so I’ll leave it at that, but this book is worth a read to get an idea of the tension and struggle that LGBT Christians face even in a progressive, accepting larger society–and in the case of this book, the story of one relatable, personable, human individual.  As Andrew Solomon so beautifully wrote in Far from the Tree (see below), “Numbers imply trends, while stories acknowledge their chaos.”
  • Shrinks: The Untold Story of Psychiatry (Jeffrey A. Lieberman & Ogi Ogas): May be a little history heavy/textbook-y, but I thought it was an enlightening read on a specialty of medicine that often gets a bad rap, sometimes deserved, sometimes not.  Traced the development of psychiatry from pre-DSM to the present day.  Pretty accessible, but some may find it to be a little textbook-y at times.
  • A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back (Kevin Hazzard): I thought about going to EMT/paramedic school after finishing my bachelor’s (I know, backwards…).  I ended up not taking that route, but this book kind of made me wish I did.
  • Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Andrew Solomon): Very long, but Solomon’s writing is graceful and informative and flowing and fair as usual.  Each chapter covers a type of “difference” that individuals experience that alienates them from larger society: deafness, criminality, dwarfism, genius, and so on.
  • The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness (Elyn R. Saks): Saks is a professor of law (as well as psychology/psychiatry/behavioral sciences) who was diagnosed with schizophrenia while she was in graduate school.  She is incredibly bright and also incredibly self-aware.
  • When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi): Kalanithi was a medical doctor in his final year of residency when he died after facing metastatic cancer.  This autobiography was written after his diagnosis and completed posthumously by his wife, also a physician.  His language is beautiful and compelling.  Wins the “best book of the semester” award for its writing, tied with A Mother’s Reckoning.
  • Proof: The Science of Booze (Adam Rogers): Pretty informative and not too dry (no pun intended).  Accessible to a general audience.
  • It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (Lynsey Addario): Addario is a prize-winning war photographer.  Here she documents stories of her work, struggles, and life.  I heard about this book on a Radiolab podcast.
  • Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things (Jenny Lawson): It’s funny.  And very real.
  • A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Sue Klebold and Andrew Solomon): I found out about this book from a reference in Far from the Tree.  Klebold’s writing is excellent and her words are honest.  She writes about her son, Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine, his life, and her life, before and after the tragedy.  Her story is filled with grace in the face of unspeakable pain and anger.  Wins the “best book of the semester” award for its courage and honesty, tied with When Breath Becomes Air.

Audiobooks:

  • The Brothers Karamozov (Fyodor Dostoevsky): Great book to listen to; in some ways even better than reading it.
  • The Giver (Lois Lowry): Not into dystopian fiction but it was fine.
  • Harry Potter series (JK Rowling): Finally “read” Harry Potter!  I thought the plot was really well-constructed.
  • The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett): “Read” it for the first time since kindergarten or first grade because Harry Potter seemed like it was alluding to this in a lot of ways and I wanted to know if my memory was serving correctly.  Still not certain, but I think it is (e.g., Lily’s eyes/his mother’s (Lillias’) eyes, the names Colin Creavy/Colin Craven, etc.)

Fall 2015 Reading List

Yup, it’s that time of year again.  It’s a little shorter in quantity than most of my previous fall lists since I spent most/all of Christmas break studying for the MCAT rather than reading 200 pages a day.  I did, however, read a lot of essays, long-form blog posts, and scientific papers.  Some of these may be behind paywalls, so consider yourself warned, but in particular (though in no particular order), I’d recommend:

And now, back to the books (links go to other people’s reviews–I should emphasize that I don’t necessarily agree with them, but they generally have interesting/thoughtful perspectives):

  • Under the Same Sky: From Starvation in North Korea to Salvation in America (Joseph Kim): Autobiography of a young man who escaped from North Korea through China and then to the United States.  I noticed two things in particular.  The first was that when he first arrived in the U.S., the first foster home in which he was placed did not have enough food for him.  This was hugely problematic for someone who just escaped from North Korea, and he was fortunately moved to a different home.  What was interesting to me was that the family was willing, despite their own poverty, to take in a complete stranger.  Obviously there were issues, but I think I could learn from that type of generosity.  The second was that when he was fleeing North Korea, people told him to find a church in China and that they would help him.  The people who told him this were somewhat unsure what exactly a church was, but they knew it could help: even in the (literally) darkest of nations, Christ’s light shines.
  • Go Set a Watchman (Harper Lee): I guess this was my mandatory fiction for the semester.  Somehow, it was lacking…plot structure.  I kept waiting for something to happen, except then it was the last page and nothing had really happened.
  • If You Feel Too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped For (Jamie Tworkowski): Pretty stream of consciousness/blog style.  Not dissimilar to Blue Like Jazz, which I guess makes sense, since Donald Miller wrote the foreword.
  • Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry (Mark Yarhouse): Okay.  I’ve heard good things about Yarhouse.  The book seemed a little cookie cutter, but it was intended as a guide for youth ministry, as the title suggests, in-depth analysis.
  • Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget (Sarah Hepola): Wins the best book of the semester award.  It’s clear that Hepola is actually a professional writer, not just some person writing about her life.  But even if it were just some person writing about her life, that would be okay too, because her story is an important one to tell.  (Similar in style, writing quality, and perhaps even intent to Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan.  Liked it more than Drink by Ann Dowsett Johnston, which was more topically similar.)  As someone on a university campus where there are a lot of “you’re not alcoholic until after college” jokes (and, admittedly, as someone who has made such “jokes” in the past), there’s a lot of insight to be found.
  • Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (Oliver Sacks): Brilliant Sacks, as usual. Perfect balance of the cool science-y stuff and the story of his childhood (much of which would be forbidden for safety concerns now).
  • Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World (Linda Hirshman): Great exposition of the histories and stories of O’Connor and Ginsburg.  Definitely has staunch feminist perspective, but what would you expect from a book about the two justices who revolutionized the legal standing of women?
  • When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests (Leana Wen and Joshua Kosowsky): Did not like this book.  Leana Wen is one of my favorite public health figures (if one can have “favorites” in that category?) but the entire book came across as condescending and patronizing–to both patients and doctors.  I have no idea how they pulled that off, although Kosowsky’s sections seemed a bit worse in this regard.

Audiobooks

  • Crossroads of Twilight (Robert Jordan)
  • Knife of Dreams (Robert Jordan)
  • The Gathering Storm (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)
  • Towers of Midnight (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)
  • A Memory of Light (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson): Finally finished the series!  There was a definite shift of…atmosphere…in the last three books, but I’m not sure how much of it is due to the fact that they were completed after Jordan’s death and how much is due to the stage of the plot.  I was never a huge fan of Rand al’Thor’s scenes in general (this is coming from the person who finds hobbits annoying and thus skims through large sections of The Return of the King and has only read The Hobbit twice compared to the trilogy four or five times), so the last couple books also weren’t my favorite for that reason, but it was still definitely worth completing.
  • New Spring: The Novel (Robert Jordan): I liked the prequel a lot; considering that my favorite characters in the entire series were probably Moiraine and Siuan, an entire (short) book of them was delightful.

“You Didn’t Have to Go”

An acquaintance from high school took his own life last weekend.  I can’t claim to have known him well, but when you go to a small school, you kind of know everybody.  I don’t really have words to understand what happened, and even if I did, I’m not sure I’d share them here: it’s not mine to tell.

But there are a few things I can say.  In a society where “I’m so depressed” is tossed around as loosely as Peyton Manning’s passes this season, it’s easy to forget that depression can be a life-threatening illness: its estimated mortality rate is as high as 15%, though likely somewhat lower depending on what definition of “depression” is used.  Statistics aside, think about that again: Depression can be fatal.

Popular culture would have us believe depression is constant sadness, never-ending crying, or just a persistent case of the Eeyores.  This is true for some people, some times. Earlier this week, a friend from high school wrote a beautifully conceived and executed Facebook post reflecting on this loss and on depression and mental illness in general.  He described depression as when “you stop participating in your life”–that’s probably as accurate a description as I’ve ever heard.  But depression is a shape-shifter.  It has many presentations, even for one person, within one episode–and that can make it hard to catch.

My boss told me one time that if I ever started to feel excessively guilty or worthless, or if I started to wonder what it would be like to be dead, to see a psychiatrist immediately.  I would add to that if you start doubting yourself (not just your judgment or choices–yourself) in ways you wouldn’t normally, or if you find yourself mysteriously unable to do anything, seek help.  Recognizing depression is important in its own right–self-awareness is a beautiful thing–but it’s also a necessary step in getting help, which I would argue is the greater value in the path to getting better.  It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist or psychologist, at least not right away.  A friend, a family member, a teacher, a clergyperson if you’re religious, even a coworker or boss.  Someone cares and someone will care.  As my mother would remind me, it’s safer not to travel alone.

For those who are called upon to help: first and foremost, listen.  It can be uncomfortable.  It can be confusing.  It can be scary, especially if the person is actively suicidal.  But listen.  Don’t try to fix: leave that to the psychiatrist or psychologist later on.  Seek help yourself, in the stead of the other person, if you need to.  Be present.  Stay present.  Love.  And listen.

“Contemplation, normally regarded as a private pursuit, needs communal support.  We are most likely to risk its vulnerabilities and be faithful to its implications when we are embedded in a community that both evokes and witnesses our truth—a rare form of community in which we learn to ‘be alone together,’ to support one another on a solitary journey.  We practice being present to others without being invasive or evasive—neither trying to ‘fix’ them with advice nor turning away when they share something distressing.” (Parker Palmer)

“You can flip the switch by standing at a safe distance, on the threshold, and simply reaching in the door, but to enter the dark you actually have to step inside.  That may be real love, right there.  The willingness to be present, knowing there isn’t a damn thing you can do to fix anything.” (Kristin Richard Armstrong)

“Because our lives are hidden with Christ in God, we do not know the effects of even the smallest acts of love.” (Aaron Kheriaty)

Finally, a couple years ago, I put the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in my phone.  You never know when someone might need it, and you don’t want to be fumbling around on the internet in a moment of crisis.  You also don’t know if that someone might be you.  My friend who wrote the post I referenced above also recommended this, so I will do the same.  It only takes a moment–a moment now could be invaluable at some moment in the future.  Here’s the number: 1-800-273-8255.

I don’t mean to overdramatize this.  Drama aside, I don’t think I can overemphasize how important these things are.  The title of this post also came from my friend’s Facebook post.  And so I will close:

Please don’t go.

Summer 2015 Reading List

  • Radical: My Journey Out Of Islamist Extremism (Maajid Nawaz): I suggested this autobiography for a class where we voted on what book to read/analyze/discuss in the last week of classes.  We ended up reading something else, but I read it anyhow.  Insightful look into how and why his worldview changed, and a good reminder that none of our worldviews are static.
  • The Cellist of Sarajevo (Steven Galloway): Read this in one sitting.  I know a little bit (not much) about the Bosnian War, so it was interesting to try to consider the novel in that frame of reference.  I found the ending rather unsatisfying…I suspect this is at least partly due to my low understanding of how to appreciate fiction properly.
  • Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness (Susannah Cahalan): Written beautifully by someone clearly trained in journalism.  Vulnerable and honest.  The science behind the illness she suffered from is intriguing–she goes into it a little bit, but not so much as to overwhelm the lay reader.  Pubmed is a great resource for primary literature on the subject; Wikipedia, of course, for those who prefer a more readable education.  Also a good reminder that as much as we know about medicine, there’s still an astounding amount we don’t know.
  • The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas (Anand Giridharadas): Story of a convenience store employee in Texas shot in retribution for 9/11 who then petitioned for his would-be-murderer’s (the successful murderer of two other Middle Eastern-appearing individuals) stay of execution.
  • Betrayal of Trust (Laurie Garrett): Extremely in-depth look at the problems facing global and public health.  Not quick, but pretty interesting.
  • The Joy of the Gospel (Pope Francis): The pope is cool.  So is the Gospel.  So I decided to read stuff he wrote about it.
  • Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Hector Tobar): Informative for the reader who didn’t know anything about the situation than what the mainstream media presented.  Tobar is a very good journalist.
  • The Story of Science (Susan Wise Bauer): Was not quite what I expected…seemed to go a mile wide and an inch deep through topics I mostly had learnt before.
  • Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide (Kay Jamison): Referenced so frequently that I thought I had better read it.
  • The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal Behind the World’s Favorite Board Game (Mary Pilon): If you ever want to know the real history behind Monopoly, this is the book for you.
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard): I happen to like Annie Dillard’s writing even though she’s a little more…hippie…than my normal preference.  As a result, I’m sure I missed a lot of the meaning of the book and should probably re-read it at some point.
  • Do No Harm (Henry Marsh): A little bit like Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, but more focused on how a doctor thinks and operates than on patient diagnoses.
  • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (Andrew Solomon): Another key piece of literature on depression that I figured I had better read eventually.  The author’s TED talk is also worthwhile.
  • I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks (Laurie Garrett): Written like a movie script: fast and edge-of-the-seat, based on her own experiences in New York in 2001 and 2002.

Audiobooks: I started listening to audiobooks this summer while I was working instead of just sermons/podcasts/TED talks and music.

  • Notes from the Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky): This was the first ebook I have ever listened to.  I probably enjoyed this the least of the works of Dostoevsky that I have read (Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Idiot). I suppose this could be because it’s harder for me to observe subtleties in language and theme when listening to something (which compounds the fact that my faculty for consuming fiction is already in want). I found the characters irritating to the point of being unredeemable, which probably has some literary intent and significance beyond me.
  • Paradise Lost (John Milton): Read excerpts in high school so I decided to listen to the whole thing, since I suspected it would take me forever to sit down and actually read.
  • Paradise Regained (John Milton): Surprisingly short.
  • A Crown of Swords (Robert Jordan): Started the Wheel of Time series the summer after I graduated from high school, but only finished about half–I read reasonably fast, so it’s a pretty big time commitment.  I sort of feel guilty if I read fiction, like I’m being unproductive or something, so I decided to listen to the rest of the series while I’m at work.
  • The Path of Daggers (Robert Jordan)
  • Winter’s Heart (Robert Jordan)

Spring 2015 Reading List

These have been fun for me to compile, so here you go again:

  • The Suicidal Mind (Edwin Shneidman): Readable approach of a difficult topic.
  • Women in Science: Then and Now (Vivian Gornick): Realistic, interview-based discussion of the difficulties women faced (and still face) in academia and science.
  • The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved: How Mathematical Genius Discovered the Language of Symmetry (Mario Livio): Felt a mile wide and an inch deep.
  • We (Yevgeny Zamyatin): Picked by popular vote to read for a class…needless to say, I did not vote for it.  Dystopian fiction is not my thing.
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World (Steven Johnson): This was a lot of fun to read.  It walked through the process of how society created a breeding ground for, learned to understand, and subsequently combated cholera epidemics.  The author makes a decent, albeit slightly forced, attempt at the end of the book to connect these historical events to modern-day epidemics and public health threats.
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (Johann Hari): Easily the best book I have read this semester.  This is one of the books that forced me to think about why I think the way I do.  It explores the historical and social underpinnings of the war on drugs, its effects on users and society as a whole, and possible better solutions.  Obviously, the text is an argument and the author has a bias, but even laying that aside, there’s a lot to learn about aspects of drugs and addiction that are less frequently discussed.