Category Archives: Book Reviews

Medical School Book Reviews – the best books in preparation for medical school.

Book Review: Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story

Imagine doing some homework in your apartment on a Sunday afternoon, working like a good medical or pre-medical student on a strenuous assignment, until you suddenly feel the cold steel of a shotgun barrel pressed against the back of your head. This is exactly what happened to Dr. Berk in Amarillo, Texas.

Across a lifespan, a human being has the potential to experience many different things. Things that are beautiful, normal, or terrible. While we all experience birth and death, few of us ever experience a kidnapping.

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story

Dr. Berk is one of those who did. Being a physician, Dr. Berk’s case is particularly interesting because his kidnapping is even more rare than usual. The author – Dr. Berk himself, offers a unique perspective and spectacular insight on the many aspects of his life that surround his kidnapping and his desire to live and protect his family.

His account is both detailed and philosophical. This non-fiction book is interesting for all people, not only people from a medical background. Dr. Berk allows the reader to slip into his mind, the mind of a clinician who has learned and strives to be both reasonable and calm under all circumstances. He calls this ability “aequanimitas” in reference to Sir William Osler the founder of Johns Hopkins University:

On Aequanimtas: Imperturbability means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, and clearness of judgment in moments of great peril, immobility, impassiveness. p. 86


Anatomy of a Kidnapping is a stunning autobiography that centers not only around the kidnapping of Dr. Berk. The author explores his own life intensely; going through medical school, medical residency, becoming the dean of a medical student, getting married and becoming a father. It seems as if all these milestones and experiences have shaped and prepared him for his biggest challenge yet.

Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story is a book that feels utterly complete because it switches between events in the past and his kidnapping in the presence, as it was happening right now. This keeps the reader interested and puts everything into perspective.

The plan was to get him money so he would let me go. But now he wants me to take him back to my house. I begin to panic at the thoughts of taking him anywhere near my family again. A gold sweat overcomes me. I plead with him to let me go. I have one episode of dry heave. p. 55

The Kidnapper

The Kidnapper is a methamphetamine addict, a drug generally linked to violence, homicide, and suicide. As the story unfolds, the reader learns that the kidnapper is on a criminal rampage that will not end voluntarily. He is as unpredictable as ruthless and extremely cautious, he seems utterly desperate.

From the conversations during the kidnapping, the reader gets to know the kidnapper intimately. He learns about his past transgressions and errors, the death of the kidnapper’s wife, and time in prison. It seemed as if Dr. Berk’s carefully crafted life could shatter into a million pieces at any point. This book is truly multi-perspective and covers ethical and legal aspects.

What I enjoyed the most

Dr. Steven Berk

Dr. Steven Berk

What I loved most was the medical lens of this book. Dr. Berk describes his failures and victories which have all helped shape him during medical school, residency, and while being a physician. Later he heads medical schools as faculty and even dean. For example, when he writes about the joys and challenges of doing residency at a Native American reservation in Arizona, he writes about diagnosing a case of diphtheria, an extremely rare but dangerous and contagious disease. In a different case he wrestles an armed homeless person to the ground. Many of these anecdotes are funny and often sad. They are a sneak-peak into the life of a physician.

I highly recommend Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor’s Story. The book is really suited for anyone, everything is understandable and precise, without any jargon or required previous knowledge about medicine. The kidnapping parts of the book read like a thriller and kept me turning pages. See for yourself how intriguing a doctor’s story can really be.

Book Review: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Concentration Camp Prisoners

Concentration Camp Prisoners

The original title of this highly relevant autobiography was “Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager”, which translates as, “a Psychologist experiences the concentration camp”. This book was written by Viktor Frankl, an academic who survived Auschwitz. In this captivating book, Frankl describes both his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and also how he developed his psychotherapeutic method of finding reason to live, no matter the circumstances.

The book is devided into two sections, the first one being his account of his arrival and experiences in Auschwitz, and the second one explaining logotherapy, which emphasizes Frankl’s ideas of finding meaning.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms ñ to chose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” p. 65

You may ask yourself why this book is good for aspiring physicians.

While this book should be of high interest to psychology or psychiatry students because it deals with the psychological and philosophical component of human life, human life needs to be prized in a very special way for physicians. We need to understand how and why any patient faced with wearisome medical burdens or complex anomalies should and can keep their desire to live, or how to create meaning to life, as Frankl would say. I believe it is an excellent book to reference as an answer to the common Medical School Interview Question, “What kind of books have you read lately?” Frankl also “worked” as a doctor in Auschwitz, which, given the poor medical and pharmaceutical resources he had, was an excruciating task. Tears ran down my cheeks several times as I read Frankl’s vivid and detailed descriptions of life in Auschwitz, which was more of a death camp than a concentration camp. People were not only sent to Auschwitz to labor under impossible circumstances, eating thin soup and walking barefoot in the snow – they were sent there to die. Frankl has become a hero to me. His will to live, to encourager others, and to find meaning were purely valorous, brave decisions by a brave man. I must recommend this book. Man’s Search for Meaning is an accurate historic account, a lesson about human cruelty, and a therapeutic encouragement. At times brutal and heart breaking, Frankl’s autobiography describes human dignity even in the most horrible and awful circumstances. Auschwitz was the largest German Nazi Concentration and Exterminationcamp in which an estimated 1.1 million people died, ninety percent Jewish. Among the many books I have read, this is definitely on my top-10 list. Here’s the Amazon Link.

Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

[adsense] In Mary Roach’s “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers”, she explores both the history and science of the dead. Yes, this book is about dead bodies. Mary Roach is outrageously humorous, captivating, yet respectful as she enlightens the reader about the “Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” in her New York Times Bestseller. Before reading this book, I had no idea in how many ways cadavers were and are used for science.

Medical School Prep

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Indeed, cadaver’s lives (an oxymoron as that is) are quite peculiar. Each chapter in the book describes a different aspect about medical research on cadavers, or what happens to bodies that were donated to science. I was comfortable reading a chapter and then putting down the book for some other time. Even Mary Roach’s footnotes are enthrallingly fascinating and witty.

Previously, the common view of life after death was that a body goes to heaven, so dissection on corpses was only done on executed murderers; however, when the 1800s came around, anatomy professors had to resort to other means of teaching their students besides using pictures and textbooks. Body snatching from graves became a means of obtaining “subjects” to work and teach with, but today it is common to donate your body to science and medical research.

Have you, however, honestly sat down and done your research? Do you know all the crazy things your body might be used for after you die? How about letting it sit on a farm to decompose into an oozy, smelly, maggot-filled pile for forensic research? Or would you prefer for your body to be tested upon impact in crash and safety research? Would you prefer your body to be cannibalized? These are just a few of the many subjects that Mary Roach addresses in this book. After reading, you may find yourself reconsidering the plans you have had for your body after you pass on. I certainly did.

This is an excellent book to read when preparing for medical school, an interview, or if you are already in medical school. It’s easy to start an attractive conversation when mentioning the lives of human cadavers and what you have learned and laughed at in “Stiff”.

Here’s the Amazon Link: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Hope you all have a great week!


Book Review: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

I just finished reading Cutting For Stone, by Abraham Verghese, and it was fantastic! My mom actually read it and recommended it to me, but it turns out that as of March 13, 2011, Cutting for Stone ranks #2 on the New York Times trade paperback fiction list! My mom told me she has come to understand and admire me and my vocation by reading the book; it really shows the reader what a passionate, patient-focused physician thinks like and strives for.

Although it’s written as a fiction book, it’s based on a lot of autobiographical and historical information that is nonfiction. For instance, Dr. Verghese writes in the book how he grew up in Ethiopia with Indian parents and was greatly impacted by the political unrest in Ethiopia. That’s all true, and he uses many real, thrilling, and inspirational experiences in his book. He writes with such style; I was totally absorbed in his book! This novel is written in Marion Praise Stone’s voice as he narrates an impressive story of his birth along with that of his twin brother, of life growing up in the shadow of a missionary hospital in Ethiopia, of gradually increasing political turmoil in the country, and ultimately the life of an migrant American physician.

I don’t want to give away too much, but this novel really gave me a peak into what it might be like as an outsider, a foreigner to the field of medicine in a different country. Cutting for Stone deals with both the personal and professional aspects of Marion’s life; it gives the reader a good idea of what studying and/or actively working physicians deal with as crises arise both in one’s family and workplace. It exposes everyday hospital life to the reader as well as gets into the personal mind of a physician, something very unlikely to accomplish by simply shadowing physicians.

Life is an interesting journey and a breath-taking adventure for those who pursue their dream in the medical profession, and Cutting for Stone does an excellent job of encapsulating that in a page-turning way. This is an excellent read to prepare one for medical school! You can get an inexpensive copy of Cutting for Stone on Amazon.