Thinking Citizen Blog — A Reading List from Victor Fuchs

Thinking Citizen Blog — Thursday is Health, Health Care and Global Health Policy Day

Today’s Topic — A Reading List from Victor Fuchs

Last week, I quoted Victor Fuchs, the Stanford economist who wrote the best introduction to health care economics ever — “Who Shall Live: Health, Economics, and Social Choice” (1974, second expanded edition 2011). On a whim, I emailed Fuchs (now 96 years old) to ask what other books he would recommend to a fourth-year medical student. To my utter amazement, I got a reply in short order. And the list was: The Mirage of Health (1959) by Rene Dubos; The Youngest Science (1983) by Lewis Thomas and A Quest for Certainty (1982) by Rufus Rorem. So I decided to check out what these books have to say. Today, the best summaries of each I could find. What are the best books you’ve ever read on health economics or the history of medicine? My personal favorite in the latter category is “Doctors: the biography of medicine” by Sherwin Nuland. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

RENE DUBOS — MIRAGE OF HEALTH: Utopias, Progress, and Biological Change (1959)

1. “Every man dreams of a utopia in which disease is conquered and the only thing left to die of is old age. In a study of the history and concepts of medicine, René Dubos, who is one of America’s most distinguished scientists, shows that such a utopia is neither possible nor desirable.”

2. “Organized species such as ants have established a satisfactory equilibrium with their environment and suffer no great waves of disease or changes in their social structure. But man is essentially dynamic, his way of life constantly in flux from century to century. He experiments with synthetic products and changes his diet; he builds cities that breed rats and infection; he builds automobiles and factories which pollute the air; and he constructs radioactive bombs.”

3. “As life becomes more comfortable and technology more complicated, new factors introduce new dangers; the ingredients for a utopia are the agents of a new disease. Dr. Dubois’ thesis may sound discouraging to a world looking for a cure-all in medical research, but actually, it is affirmative — even hopeful. Once we accept the fact that “complete freedom from disease and from struggle is almost incompatible with the process of living,” we will know that our aspirations cannot be satisfied with health and the easy life.”

NB: Rene Dubos (1901–1982) was a microbiologist, pathologist, and environmentalist, credited with inventing the maxim, “Think Globally, Act Locally.” Any Dubos fans out there?

René Dubos

LEWIS THOMAS: THE YOUNGEST SCIENCE (1983) — his autobiography

1.) “From the 1920s when he watched his father, a general practitioner who made house calls and wrote his prescriptions in Latin, to his days in medical school and beyond, Lewis Thomas saw medicine evolve from an art into a sophisticated science.”

2.) “The Youngest Science is Dr. Thomas’s account of his life in the medical profession and an inquiry into what medicine is all about–the youngest science, but one rich in possibility and promise. He chronicles his training in Boston and New York, his war career in the South Pacific, his most impassioned research projects, his work as an administrator in hospitals and medical schools, and even his experiences as a patient.”

3. “Along the way, Thomas explores the complex relationships between research and practice, between words and meanings, between human error and human accomplishment. More than a magnificent autobiography, The Youngest Science is also a celebration and a warning–about the nature of medicine and about the future life of our planet.”

NB: Lewis Thomas (1913–1993) was physician, Dean of Yale Medical School, a poet, and the author of the best-seller, Lives of A Cell. Have you read anything by Thomas?

Lewis Thomas

C. RUFUS ROREM: A QUEST FOR CERTAINTY (1982) a collection of essays written from 1930 to 1970

1. C. Rufus Rorem, father of the American classical composer Ned Rorem, was the author of the first authoritative financial study of hospitals in America, “The Public Investment in Hospitals.”

2. He was an advocate of group medical practice and pre-paid hospital plans.

3. His study, “The Cost of Medical Care,” is credited with leading to the formation of Blue Cross Shield.

NB: Anyone familiar with this book? or the history of medical insurance in the USA or elsewhere?

Mirage of Health

The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher

The Youngest Science by Lewis Thomas: 9780140243277 | Books

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

History of insurance


Please share the most interesting thing you learned in the last week related to health, health care or health care policy — the ethics, economics, politics, history…. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to health are or health care policy that the rest of us may have missed. Or just some random health-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make someone’s day. Or to cement in your mind something really important.