Reading List

Reading List

A good read – adapted and added from the Pennine book list

It is my view that training GP’s, pre-eminent experts in humans and common sense, comes a little from medical knowledge, a lot from patients and a lot from life experience. Here is a range of books that help with all three areas, but mainly the last two.

These are some titles recommended by trainers and trainees from Pennine VTS with some others added by me. I have tried to loosely group them.

Please take some time as you pass through your training and career beyond to expand your reading beyond the narrow confines of the medical texts. It will be time well spent for your personal development, wellbeing, and wider sense of self as a Dr.

If you have a recommendation, please forward it to me or Sarah and we can add it.

David Hopes


The Naked Consultation: A Practical Guide to Primary Care Consultation Skills by Liz Moulton. A ‘must have’ book for all Registrars.  A comprehensive, accessible review of consultation models with lots of wonderfully useful tips for improving your consultation skills.

CSA Scenarios for the new MRCGP (Paperback) by Thomas Das

This has been very useful for practising for the CSA.

The Inner Consultation: How to Develop an Effective and Intuitive Consulting Style by Bill Styles, David Haslam, and Roger Neighbour

If you are a GP or a GP registrar F1 or F2 in training with aspirations to enter general practice then you NEED to buy this book. Roger Neighbour’s book is essential reading material for all aspiring GPs and is well written and easily digested.

The nuts and bolts of the consultation is explored in depth in an easy to understand manner and he explains the thought processes going through the doctor’s mind clearly and expertly.

If you want to understand how your GP should be thinking subconsciously then you too should buy this book.

How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine (Evidence Based Medicine) by Trisha Greenhalgh. This excellent book which was serialised in BMJ is very readable and easy to understand. It enables to assess the quality, reliability and applicability of qualitative and quantitative research. If your training practice does not have it in the library, ask your Trainer why!

The Condensed Curriculum Guide: for GP training and the new MRCGP

by Ben Riley (Author), Jayne Haynes (Author), Steve Field (Author). This explains the curriculum and competencies and how they can be taught, acquired, demonstrated and assessed

The Oxford Handbook series….

Oxford Handbook of General Practice (Oxford Handbooks) by Chantal Simon and Hazel Everitt

Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (Mini Edition) (Oxford Handbooks) (Paperback)

by Murray Longmore (Author), Ian Wilkinson (Author), Tom Turmezei (Author), Chee Kay Cheung (Author), Emma Smith (Author)

Oxford Handbook of Palliative Care (Oxford Handbooks) by Max Watson, Caroline Lucas, Andrew Hoy, and Ian Back

Free MRCGP CSA ebooks available to Plymouth VTS via NHS Athens

Roberts, R. (2016). The CSA exam : maximising your success. Chichester : Wiley-Blackwell.

Stannett, J. (2016). CSA revision notes for the MRCGP. 3rd ed. Banbury : Scion. (1 user only for this title-others are unlimited simultaneous users)

Das, T. M. (2015). CSA scenarios for the MRCGP : frameworks for clinical consultations. 3rd ed. Banbury : Scion.

Rushforth, B. ; Firth, A. ; Wass, V. (2013). Get through MRCGP : clinical skills assessment. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL : CRC Press.

Plymouth GP Athens account required – go to to register for free account- under Please enter your organisation, type in Plymouth and select GPs and practice staff in Plymouth. NB: If you have one, enter your NHS email for speedier registration)

You can read online or download for up to 14 days at a time on an Adobe Digital Editions or Bluefire Reader compatible device.

See for information about free books, journals, point of care tools and databases available to you incl. those titles on the VTS Reading List

Email or ring 39111 (Internal, Derriford Hospital) if you need help accessing content.

Mortality and where medicine should stop

Being Mortal. Atul Gawande

The latest of a number of books by this talented writer who despite being a US surgeon has a fine grasp of humanity and what medicine can do versus what it should do. This is tackled through case discussions and personal insights, particularly related to death and dying and managing frailty in old age and chronic illness. A much better read than it sounds when put like this. Should be read by all attending Nursing Homes or doing home visits to the frail elderly (i.e any GP)

Reflections on the work of GPs and other Drs

A Fortunate Man. The Story of a Country Doctor. John Berger

Seminal GP text that should be read by all GPs at some stage (although many haven’t). Mainly of historical interest but the themes, of independent practice, commitment with its rewards and dangers are as relevant now as ever.

Suburban Shaman: Cecil Helman

Legendary medical anthropologist (Helman’s folk model), now sadly departed records his memoirs and discusses why much of General Practice functions to meets the needs of humans as traditional healing as much as modern science. Easy read and entertaining with lots of cases and insight around our everyday GP experience.

The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life and Times of Dr Iwan James. Ian Williams

Graphic (i.e. picture) novel depicting the working life and inner demons of this fictional rural GP. Beautifully drawn and although dark at times it is true to life and well worth a look, particularly for the message about Drs getting ill and being human with all the associated fallibilities associated with humanity. Quick and easy.

A Country Doctor’s Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov

This part autobiography, part fictional book is a collection of stories from Bulgakov’s experiences as a young, inexperienced doctor in pre-revolution rural Russia.

Scanty Particulars: The Life of Dr. James Barry by Rachel Holmes.

The life of the extraordinary military surgeon James Barry. A great campaigner for health care of women, the dispossessed and the marginalised in 18th century England. The first English doctor to perform a successful caesarean section and a pioneer of quarantine and hospital cleanliness – the most amazing thing that when he died he turned out to be a woman.

Some Lives: A G.P.’s East End by David Widgery

This book is startling insight of the lives of those growing up in the shadow of Canary Wharf. In its shadow poverty and deprivation exist but go unnoticed by the City folk. Widgery highlights their plight and the problems caused to them by moving the City out into East London. As well as the medicine there are chapters on economics and one particularly fascinating chapter on the history of the East End.

What’s in a Story? Lessons from Reflections in General Practice

Lessons from the Front Line
David Orlans, Rodger Charlton, and Samuel Finnikin Hampton-In-Arden Publishing, 2017, PB, 362pp, £10.00, 978-0954560447

Write up taken from BJGP
Ciaran Conway

Br J Gen Pract 2018; 68 (671): 287-288. DOI:

“Put simply — this is a brilliant book. The authors have carefully curated anecdotes written by around 100 GPs in the interest of sharing experience and wisdom for the common good. It is primarily aimed at trainees but I would argue that there is something for GPs at any stage of their careers.

The book seamlessly combines an eclectic array of tales covering the full spectrum of highs and lows experienced by GPs, and each story concludes with a ‘lesson’ or ‘reflection’ for the reader to take away. The usefulness of the lessons is variable, ranging from the not very helpful ‘expect the unexpected’ through to more practical advice such as ‘never rely on someone else’s interpretation of results’.

The anecdotes are grouped into themed chapters covering a myriad of aspects of general practice ranging from ‘the consultation’ to ‘death’. This well- intentioned grouping has the slightly unintended effect of making some points seem repetitive. A chapter on ‘occupations and hobbies’, for example, has at least four anecdotes where the conclusion is essentially to remember to ask patients with unusual symptoms about their hobbies and occupation.

However, there is so much wisdom contained within its pages that the book is hard to put down. The most compelling reading comes towards the end of the book in the chapter entitled ‘Errors’, where brave souls lay bare the lessons they have learnt the hard way. The tales told are brutally honest and I challenge you to finish the chapter without a sense of gratitude for those volunteering their stories for the cause.

In summary, this is a great read. It is a book that is both educational and enjoyable in equal measure, and I recommend it without reserve.”

Playing God. Poems about medicine. Glen Colquhoun

April 2007

Entertaining and irreverent poetry about what it is to be a Dr. Some are freely available if you google them and well worth exploring. For example:

a poem for surgeons

When I am in doubt I talk to surgeons.

I know that they will know what to do.

They seem so sure.

Once I talked to a surgeon.

He said that when he is in doubt

He talks to priests.

Priests will know what to do.

Priests seem so sure.

Once I talked to a priest.

He said that when he is in doubt

He talks to God.

God will know what to do.

God seems so sure.

Once I talked to God.

He said that when he is in doubt

he thinks of me.

He says I will know what to do.

I seem so sure.

Death and Dying

Matters of life and death, key writings. Iona Heath

No bundle of laughs but as it says, an exceptional collection of prose and poetry relating to mortality. Certainly worth being aware of and of value when difficult times come.

Before I Say Goodbye by Ruth Picardie

A short and quickly read book, and perhaps not one which you could cope with at all stages in your life, this is the brief account (kind of parallels the brief life) of the last year of life of a 32 year old London journalist who discovers she has cancer – and the news rapidly gets worse and worse. A collection of her emails (sent and received), some pieces she wrote for the newspaper, and text from her husband, this really tells it how it is (or was) for them.

Undying: A love story. Michel Faber

Amazon Blurb:

In Undying Michel Faber honours the memory of his wife, who died after a six-year battle with cancer. Bright, tragic and candid, these poems are an exceptional chronicle of what it means to find the love of your life. And what it is like to have to say goodbye.

All I can do, in what remains of my brief time,

is mention, to whoever cares to listen,

that a woman once existed, who was kind

and beautiful and brave, and I will not forget

how the world was altered, beyond recognition,

when we met.

My bit:

Michel Faber has written this book of poems, before and after the death of his wife from myeloma. It is a profound work that can’t help to touch anyone who has felt love or loss. As he said  “poetry is truly the hardest of literary drugs”. That’s why he chose it for this the hardest of subjects. Unapologetic in its approach, deeply touching, affectionate and not without humour. Read and understand what human beings mean by love.

Medicine in Wider Society

Afflluenza. Oliver James

The psychologist records his (lengthy) views on why increasing material wealth hasn’t resulted in happiness in Western Society. Not strictly medical but when you’ve seen your umpteenth low mood, unhappy life patient, it may start to chime.

Religion for Atheists. Alan de Boton

Again not strictly medical but for wellbeing and general life satisfaction this philosophical study offers some glimpses into what makes humans happy and what we can learn from the ancient religions in its pursuit.

The Motorcycle Diaries (Paperback) by Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

In the year before Che Guevara qualified as a doctor in Buenos Aires he and a friend went on their elective touring South America on a motorbike. His experiences of the suffering of the poor indigenous communities were to start his radicalisation.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine
Review taken from BJGP

Tony Nixon
Br J Gen Pract 2018; 68 (672): 339. DOI:

Loneliness is topical. This year the government accepted a series of recommendations from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness and strategies have been devised to combat loneliness. Olivia Laing’s 2017 non-fiction work The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone was widely read and positively reviewed. A quote from the latter is used as an epigraph for Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a novel about a woman who has sealed herself in her own private world.

The eponymous narrator of the novel is a fine creation. She works in an anonymous office job, has no friends, consumes unhealthy amounts of strong liquor at home, and is content to pass through life without making any impression. She is blunt, judgemental, formal in her dealings with other people, and has idiosyncratic ideas about what constitutes proper behaviour. There are hints of an abusive relationship and a troubled childhood; she has burn scars on her face. Her one connection is provided by phone conversations with Mummy, a caustic, belittling woman who has a massive negative effect on Eleanor’s life.

There is sadness but humour too. Comedy comes from Eleanor’s attempts to negotiate the routine — office politics, bikini waxing, supermarkets, a manicure — and with an infatuation with a small-time musician. However, I think the comedy is only partly successful. The crux of the novel comes with a chance event that forces Eleanor to make meaningful contact with two other characters, Raymond (the IT guy from her work) and Sammy (an older man who collapses in the street), after which her social network expands. Without wanting to spoil the novel, this propels her towards revelation, disaster, change.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is an undemanding novel that edges towards meaningfulness in places. I asked myself two questions while reading the book. Can a character, possibly with autism spectrum disorder, convincingly move from trauma, emotional deprivation, and isolation to a fulfilling life and interaction with other people in 400 pages? And how would that affect her distinctive character, humour, and outlook?

Respectable: Crossing the Class Divide. Linsey Hanley

Linsey Hanley grew up in a council estate in Birmingham, moving to another, more middle class area of Birmingham for her further schooling, then on to university. This move from working to middle class world with associated emotional, social and practical impact gives her a unique insight into the class divide in modern Britain. She has the ability to explain seemingly intractable differences between the classes and Britain’s persisting class structure despite our post-industrial modern world’s promises of social mobility. She explains with insight and well researched argument many of the issues affecting the modern world which our politicians and commentators fail to acknowledge or understand. I would argue and understanding of this aspect of society and it’s complexities is vital for all GP’s.

Man’s Search For Meaning: The classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust
Paperback – 6 May 2004 By Viktor E Frank

A prominent Viennese psychiatrist before the war, Viktor Frankl was uniquely able to observe the way that both he and others in Auschwitz coped (or didn’t) with the experience. He noticed that it was the men who comforted others and who gave away their last piece of bread who survived the longest – and who offered proof that everything can be taken away from us except the ability to choose our attitude in any given set of circumstances. The sort of person the concentration camp prisoner became was the result of an inner decision and not of camp influences alone. Frankl came to believe man’s deepest desire is to search for meaning and purpose. This outstanding work offers us all a way to transcend suffering and find significance in the art of living.

The Truth about the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do about It

by Marcia Angell

This book certainly sheds light on unscrupulous aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. One of the recurring themes in the book is that Big Pharma spends a lot of money overloading all of us with why we should pay for their latest drugs.

Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn

Supremely provocative and involving, Cancer Ward tells the story of Kostoglotov, a man who suffers hardship at the hands of the Soviet State, and the cancerous corruption it represents. The disillusion with what socialism has become serves as a backdrop to the story of a number of men, all fighting to overcome cancer.

Skellig. David Almond

This book is primarily marketed for children (late primary early secondary), although this wasn’t his intention when he set out (“the book just wrote itself” David Almond said). Don’t let that put you off. It’s a quick reading but profound book around a child, Michael’s experience of moving to a tumbledown new home while his family copes with the uncertainty and distress around his profoundly ill newborn baby sister. He meets an inspirational neighbour of a similar age. They meet a strange being who is not what he initially seems, lurking in a collapsing garage in the garden. Together they nurse one another to health in both magical and human ways. Perfect for children and adults who wish to explore family, friendship and illness in an uplifting way.

Doctors and their fallibility / humanity

Health, Humanity, Hubris
Review by Maryam Naeem

Br J Gen Pract 2018; 68 (669): 192-193. DOI:

Sam Guglani Riverrun Press, 2017, HB, 128pp, £20.00, 978-1786483805  

Delicious is not a word that normally springs to mind when describing a book but consultant oncologist Sam Guglani’s debut novel is just that: delicious. Despite wanting to devour each chapter I deliberately slowed down to savour every word, every morsel, of this poetic, poignant, and charged novel.

Histories is — as the title states — a collection of stories set within one hospital over 1 week with each chapter offering a different perspective, and many of the substories interlinking. We are privy to the inner thoughts of the experienced, weathered, alone but not lonely consultant physician Dr Bhatia — or ‘Bat-yer’, the new but not-so-new consultant oncologist Dr Emily Carroll still orienting herself to this new role, wondering why after reaching the highest rung on the ladder she feels: ‘less steady, more easily knocked about … as though all her other patients, all their shouldered but invisible histories, weigh upon and unbalance her’.

Then there is Josh Webster, the hospital porter with his own profoundly enlightening opinion on how to really take a history, and many more.

Although Histories is a novel that can be enjoyed universally, there are so many parts that the clinician reader will not just empathise with but also cry out in solidarity and recognition — how it is often not a catastrophic event but more often that one final straw that can break us. As one doctor speculates: ‘… maybe this is how doctors and nurses finally burn out. Past their failures, their hours, all their inhaled sadnesses. Perhaps finally it really is broken printers and the like, the accrued weight of so many tiny things.’

There is the absurdity of debating drug rationing due to cost restraints when the NHS increasingly cannot afford enough doctors and nurses. How true and continually surprising it is: ‘… how quickly consultations are shaped. In seconds really, set in motion like clockwork or else broken and thrown off course. The wrong word or inflection, even the wrong posture … like the notional butterfly at sea, its tiny wingbeats troubling the air, which is magnified then into storms at the coast.’

How much we as doctors — and, dare I say, GPs — pride ourselves on how well we communicate with our patients, how compassionate we are, how adept we are is thrown into sharp focus by Guglani’s subtle but scathing depiction of some of the doctors depicted in the book. The hospital domestic’s impression when she is confronted on Sunday mornings with the task of cleaning the doctors’ mess: ‘… smeared plates everywhere, half empty bowls tipped up and left out, clothes and stethoscopes … they scribble messages on the board: Someone fucking clean up.’

We hear one consultant — a pinstriped old boy from the old guard, now sick and a patient himself — ruefully reflect with a colleague on how he was asked by a junior doctor about CPR: ‘He wanted to know if I’d like — how did he say it? If I’d like to have CPR … Like it was a jar of sweets up on a shelf.’

The only criticism of this otherwise flawless novel is in the dialogue between Tom Patrick, the hospital chaplain, and Nathan Munro, the consultant oncologist. This conversation feels stilted, forced, and slightly unrealistic, serving only to labour a point about whether a competent doctor devoid of compassion is still a good doctor.

Holden Caulfield shared with us in The Catcher in the Rye that: ‘What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.’

After reading Histories you will be left feeling the same way about Guglani.

·        © British Journal of General Practice 2018

This is going to hurt. Secret Diaries of a Junior Dr. Adam Kay

Amazon: bit
‘Painfully funny. The pain and the funniness somehow add up to something entirely good, entirely noble and entirely loveable.’ – Stephen Fry

The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller and Humour Book of the Year

Winner of the Books Are My Bag Book of the Year

Winner of iBooks’ Book of the Year

Welcome to the life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.

Scribbled in secret after endless days, sleepless nights and missed weekends, Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt provides a no-holds-barred account of his time on the NHS front line. Hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, this diary is everything you wanted to know – and more than a few things you didn’t – about life on and off the hospital ward.

My bit: as was House of God this is standard reading for those survivors of junior hospital Dr lives, particularly O&G. It bought my PTSD symptoms right back. On completion I was left with an overwhelming sense of sadness about how the NHS continues to treat its staff. Not uplifting but funny, easy going, truthful and entertaining.

Bodies by Jed Mercurio

Welcome then, Jed Mercurio. A former doctor himself, delivering his own sharp commentary of life as a junior doctor at an NHS Hospital. With tones that clearly resonate of Samuel Shem’s House of God, Mercurio offers readers a home brand of punchy writing with no less muck and grime.

Mercurio’s nameless narrator journeys through the hospital, its corridors filled with corruption and cynicism, in search of an ideal world where patients improve and doctors romance nurses. Instead he encounters unbridled mendacity, botched medical errors and suffers his own relationship problems with his ‘civilian’ girlfriend. As readers, we gain insight into the narrator’s internal moral, and emotion turmoil and see how this is translated not just physically (his childhood eczema resurfacing) but also into his work environment.

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science. Atul Gawande

Atul Gawande wrote this when he was a trainee surgeon. It was originally a series of articles. He follows various examples and cases to explore key issues in medicine such as making mistakes, burnout, difficult ethical decisions, shared decision making etc. As with his other writing he is thoughtful, extremely honest, well researched and compassionate. Although written from the perspective of surgery the themes are universal and highly relevant to GP. I would thoroughly recommend it as a way of exploring some of these themes in a more interesting and engaging way than simply reading dry GMC or other worthy outpourings.


Particular disease areas

Adventures in Human Being. Gavin Francis

Series of Essays around various organ systems offering insight into the historical and cultural significance humans place on their understanding of themselves. Well written, thought provoking and good to read.

Shapeshifters – his new book. I’ve not read it yet

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Picador) by Oliver Sacks

Not only that, this book contains an extraordinary collection of cases of individuals with neurological disorders that brings one to understand a bit on how human brain works. While this book was first published in the early 1970s and the understanding of the human brain mechanism has changed and increased since then, I found this book to be very insightful.

Because Cowards Get Cancer Too… by John Diamond

As far as John Diamond was concerned, cancer happens to other people. A columnist who is paid handsomely for spouting off each week about whatever is on his mind.

He describes what it feels like to receive the diagnosis one evening as you’re watching Eastenders, how it feels to lose four stone and most of your tongue. Subtitled “because cowards get cancer too”, the book makes no attempt to portray Diamond as some brave, heroic figure and describes his twisted pleasure as he uses his illness as a weapon at dinner parties, his frequent outbursts of impotent rage and the often appalling way he treats his wife during his convalescence.

A Life Decoded: My Genome: My Life by J. Craig Venter.

The autobiography of a ‘beach bum’ who was conscripted to serve in Vietnam as an army paramedic. His experiences changed his life, such that at the age of 20 on his return to the USA he studies medicine and by the age of 30 he becomes a professor of molecular biology. He pioneered the Human Genome Project and was the first man to have his entire genome decoded.

The Diving-bell and the Butterfly (Paperback) by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby was the editor-in-chief of French Elle, the father of two young children, a 44-year-old man known and loved for his wit, his style, and his impassioned approach to life. By the end of the year he was also the victim of a rare kind of stroke to the brainstem. After 20 days in a coma, Bauby awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time: Adult Edition by Mark Haddon

It is very rare to find such a believable narrator, who is so far removed from the author. This is the witty, touching and sometimes harrowing story of a little boy called Christopher who decides to find out who has killed his neighbour’s dog. Christopher lets us into his world which is shaped by autism and through his eyes we watch the murder mystery unfold. This is unlike any book I have ever read – the narrative voice is so believable you forget that it was written by a grown man. Christopher is such a great storyteller that this is a real page-turner and I managed to read the book in two short sittings. A worthy winner of every award that went Haddon’s way – a triumph

The Reason I Jump. Naoki Higashida with foreword from David Mitchell

Written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen, this remarkable book provides a rare insight into the often baffling behaviour of autistic children. Using a question and answer format, Naoki explains things like why he talks loudly or repeats the same questions, what causes him to have panic attacks, and why he likes to jump. He also shows the way he thinks and feels about his world – other people, nature, time and beauty, and himself. Abundantly proving that people with autism do possess imagination, humour and empathy, he also makes clear how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding.

David Mitchell and his wife have translated Naoki’s book so that it might help others dealing with autism and generally illuminate a little-understood condition. It gives us an exceptional chance to enter the mind of another and see the world from a strange and fascinating perspective.

The book also features eleven original illustrations, inspired by Naoki’s words, by the artistic duo Kai and Sunny.

David Mitchell, novelist who also has an autistic child has translated and written a foreword for this fascinating book written by a young autistic child. It helped them, and me gain a beginning of an understanding about some of the more baffling behaviours of this autistic person. They are all different as are non-autistic people, however it did explain the sense of bewilderment of many parents trying their best to manage their autistic children’s behaviours.

It’s all in your head. Suzanne O’Sullivan

Excellent book written by consultant neurologist who sees and takes an interest the patients other neurologists tend to discharge with labels such as functional illness, conversion disorders, pseudoseizures and historically hysteria etc. She looks in depth, through her chosen cases, at the links between psychological state and physical symptoms. Although not a psychiatrist, and so leaving more in depth psychological assessment to them, she nevertheless lifts the lid on and goes some way to explaining the complexity of the psychosomatic conditions that all GPs will encounter throughout their career. For this reason alone, particularly as we often feel so helpless to manage these cases, I would recommend this book heartily.

Fascinatingly the Amazon reviews are either wonderful or demonstrate the polarised view of psychosomatic disorders by people offended that such things can be labelled as “all in your head”. This is a compassionate book looking at a complex problem in a rational and thoughtful way so I do wonder if those protesting aren’t just perpetuating their own strongly held beliefs. A warning to tread carefully with such matters.

Forty Years of Murder: An Autobiography by Keith Simpson

Professor Keith Simpson’s evocative descriptions of how to determine the cause, time, place, method and sometimes motive of a corpse is mind blowing to say the least. The book describes his life as one of Britain’s first criminal pathologists, frequently describing actual cases and how various conclusions were reached.

Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch by John Bayley

It is by far the best book I read for a very long time. John Bayley writes about his life with Iris Murdoch, who died of Alzheimer disease. John Bayley on the other hand looks at his life totally from his own point of view. He has no fix, preconceived opinions of what is good (lucky) or bad (unlucky). Every experience can be pleasant or unpleasant. He has a wholly unprejudiced way of looking at life.

The Smell of Burning. The Story of Epilepsy. Colin Grant

One day Colin Grant’s teenage brother Christopher failed to emerge from the bathroom. His family broke down the door to find him unconscious on the floor. None of their lives were ever the same again. Christopher was diagnosed with epilepsy.

A Smell of Burning tells the remarkable story of this strange and misunderstood disorder. How certain people, at a particular moment in their life, start to suffer seizures, often preceded by an aura, of which a smell of burning is one of the most common.

For many years epilepsy was associated with mental illness or even possession by devils. People with epilepsy were forbidden to marry or have children. Many became victims of Nazi eugenics programmes. To this day many people with epilepsy – sixty million worldwide – still live in fear of exposure.

Grant’s book traces the history of the condition and the pioneering doctors whose extraordinary breakthroughs finally helped gain an understanding of how the brain works. He tells the stories of famous people with epilepsy like Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Vincent Van Gogh, and through the tragic tale of his brother, he considers the effect of epilepsy on his own life.

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

It’s set in WW1 and is about a small town that puts itself under quarantine in order to keep out a plague virus that is sweeping the world and killing large amounts of people. Guards are posted on lookout duty to ensure that no-one leaves or enters the town – until one day a soldier appears, begging for help. He is hungry, cold and tired. He begs for help – what would you do? We learn about the course of action that the young guard takes, the outcome it has on his family, and the chain of events that causes fear, distrust and ugly rumours to almost destroy the community. This is a true page turner which sweeps the reader along with the mounting panic as fear sets into the town. Gripping stuff…I loved every page.

Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry

It focuses on one family and revolves round the care of the 79 year old patriarch who is crippled and afflicted with progressive Parkinsonism. Though there are some mean-spirited characters in the novel, the affection of others is very touching. The love of the nine year old boy for his grandfather is especially heart-warming. Mistry has the gift of bringing sheer unforced goodness to life like no other writer.

Therapy by David Lodge

Laurence “Tubby” Passmore seems to have all the trappings of a successful life but knows that something is missing. He suffers from a variety of ailments and attends a range of therapy sessions on a weekly basis – physiotherapy, acupuncture, cognitive behaviour therapy etc. As usual with David Lodge there is lots of male angst but gently blended with humour (including some “laugh out loud” moments). Passmore is so caught up in his own perceived problems that he fails to notice what is going on around him and his marriage and his career begin to fall apart.

The book becomes his quest to find contentment and meaning to his life. But it is all done with a lightness of touch and at the end comes to a very satisfying conclusion.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This is a disturbing tale about a young woman’s treatment by her husband during the Victorian era. What we now know as post-natal depression was in those days treated as madness and her husband confines her to a room with yellow patterned wallpaper after she has her first baby. Her only way of expressing her feelings is to write them down, but she has to do so in secret, as her husband has forbidden it. She thinks there is a person underneath the wallpaper trying to get out and we can feel the desperation in her writing as she struggles to understand what is happening to her.

Call The Midwife: A True Story Of The East End In The 1950s by Antoinette Brooks

She presents lives of abject poverty, destitution and slum living, combined with the fact that most women did not have one or two children, but five, ten, fifteen – and in one case twenty four! As the book progresses we meet so many different characters and learn their haunting stories. The tale of Mary, the 14 year old Irish girl, abused by her stepfather and neglected by her alcoholic mother, who naively ran away to London in hope of a better life, and was forced into prostitution and later separated by force from her baby. This left me in tears, weeping for this poor girl who never stood a chance. The story of the elderly Mrs Jenkins, who the author found so repulsive until she learned of her truly harrowing experiences in the workhouse. The tale of an elderly man called Ted, who realised that the child his wife bore him could not possibly be his, but as he held the baby in his arms decided to love him as his own anyway. The tale of Conchita and Len, and their happy, cheerful home with twenty-four children! And how her maternal instinct saved the life of her premature twenty-fifth baby.

This book provides the reader with an insight into life in the 1950s East End.

A Girl is a Half Formed Thing. Eimer McBride

“Eimear McBride’s award-winning debut novel tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world at first hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.”

Above is from Amazon.

I found this book deeply painful. As well as her relationship with her brother key themes cover abuse, self-harm and low self-esteem. Written as a stream of consciousness it is neither easy reading nor comfortable, yet remains an important book to read to begin to understand some of the more complex and difficult to understand characters that are encountered during the career of a Dr.