Close to my heart: my favourite five books

Sapan Pandya MD, DM
RheumaCare Clinics, Ahmedabad

Reading, as a hobby, is slowly vanishing and we will have to endeavour to keep it running. One of the ways is to have book reviews once in a while and also sessions on ‘humanities and medicine’. Following are the top five books that I’ve read that I would recommend everyone:

Book 1 :

The difficulty of being good : the subtle art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das (2009)

Why I chose to read the book :
I found the title interesting and relevant today for goodness seems to have taken a backseat, more because of time constraints (and resulting dis-interest in another) rather than an inherent human mal-evolution.

Gurcharan Das relates the epic ‘Mahabharata’ to the current issues. It is not a summary of the epic but each character in the epic is represented by some kind of human element eg envy, kindness, morality, vengeance etc. Two things stood out were the character of Yudhishthira and his ‘I act because I must’ and the theory of ‘Nishkama Karma’ which incidentally I strongly believe in.

My Take :
All in all, I’d strongly recommend the book to all those who think the world will be a better place.Goodness can be learnt – we all have ‘goodness Memory T and B cells’ that will fish out goodness every time there’s a need based antigenic trigger !

Book 2 :

1984 by George Orwell (1949)

Why I chose to read the book :
This book seems very relevant in today’s times when totalitarianism is the rule rather than exception everywhere in the world.

It makes an engaging read when the author brings in the chief character Winston Smith who works for the ‘Ministry of Truth’ – there are many such words in the novel – some of which seem cynical e.g.‘Newspeak’ ‘Thought Police’ – meaning even your thoughts are policed. If you follow George Orwell’s brilliant writing, you’ll almost never rebel against any ‘dadagiri’.

My take:
Sometime this book scares you and in your minds it brings you analogy to many a leader today, it also somewhere prompts you to at least stand with those who rebel. After all, if IL10 is anti-inflammatory, TNF alpha and IL-1 had to rebel to bring in inflammation to protect the body from harm !

Book 3 :

Man’s search for meaning by Viktor Frankl (1946 – in German)

Why I chose to read the book :
Recommended by one of my mentors in ‘humanities and medicine’: incidentally a club we’ve started together at the medical college I visit. And then it was written by a doctor who survived the Nazi camp!

Highlights :
The real life plot itself is the biggest plus. It is a real story and not fiction. Of a holocaust survivor – Dr Viktor Frankl – a psychiatrist and neurologist by training. At Auschwitz where he was sent along with many others – since he was a doctor and could understand the mind – he observed closely how co prisoners and the guards behaved. He also concludes there will be two kinds of men/women – decent and indecent – everywhere.

My Take :
Read it before you lose sight of what you want in life. Let us try and eliminate the bar between our innate and adaptive immune system to respond more meaningfully – or is it a continuum ?

Book 4 :

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922 in German)

Why I chose to read the book :
I’d been fascinated by the section on Buddhism in ‘Discovery of India’ by Nehru. And so when I picked the book up from an Airport Book Shelf I had in mind Gautam Buddha and his preaching’s. It turned out fiction but close to what I thought it was.

Highlights :
Siddhartha, which was also the Prince’s name who later on in life became the legend ‘Buddha’ leaves his rich home somewhere in Nepal (again similar to Gautam Buddha) with his friend Govinda in search of more meaning to life. They become disciples of the Great Buddha and live a hermit’s life for some time. Siddhartha continues beyond as he feels this was not enough experience in life and crosses a river with the ferryman playing a very important character in the book – perhaps the most important.

My Take :
Short and sweet reading. It would be best to imagine yourself as Siddhartha and read it – many of us perhaps actually do that. After all, antibodies are formed only after going through many a somatic mutations and the class switch before negotiating the antigen in question ! The journey of the immunoglobulin has to be worthwhile !

Book 5 :

When breath becomes air by Paul Kalanithi (2016)

Why I chose the book :
It was recommended by the NEJM and those years was there in every ‘book lists of the year’. Written by a neurosurgeon made it more appealing to me, as a doctor.

Highlights :
He writes about his real life story and about his beginnings – his stint with English literature which he graduated in first and then slowly his inclination to medicine and finally graduating as a neurosurgeon. In between at medical school he meets his future wife. Soon after graduation he’s diagnosed with lung cancer and that too stage 4 ! He dies eventually and the book is actually completed by his wife – this part shall not prevent any tear falling from any eye !

My Take :
This is a must read. At least most certainly for everyone in the field of medicine or dealing with patients. There can be no immunological metaphor to death. Live well, till then.