A Year (or so) of Books

One of the things I decided to do during my latest ‘sabbatical’ from clinical work was to read more. I deliberately chose books that might have some relevance to my personal and professional development but weren’t primarily medical texts. These are the titles that I read over the last year, a short summary of what I thought about them and my totally unique Reading Triage Category!

Reading Triage Category (RTC):

  1. This is the next book you should read.
  2. Buy this book now and read it this year.
  3. If you’ve got a holiday coming up, this would do nicely.
  4. Worth a shot if you’ve read the others.
  5. Pop it by the loo… for when you run out of paper.


Make it Stick is a great little book for anyone involved in teaching… including parents of school kids! It deals with some of the myths about learning and uses some real life stories to help illustrate a better way to learn. Not only that, it isn’t very long, is written in short chapters and is very readable. Sure it becomes a bit repetitive at times and some of the anecdotes are a bit hokey but the message at the heart is great and it has made a huge difference to how I teach, how I help my students and how I support my kids.

RTC – 3 for most doctors (2 if you are an educator!)


Thanks for the Feedback is just brilliant. The premise of the book is to help us receive feedback and to make the best of it, even if it isn’t always delivered well. Through a series of often humorous vignettes, the authors lay out the common problems with feedback, how we respond incorrectly to it and then how we can turn these situations to our advantage. I really can’t recommend this book highly enough and if you have to help others receive feedback, as an educational supervisor for instance, it should be mandatory reading.

RTC – 1

81RWGFLlAvLAn Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is written by Chris Hadfield, one of NASAs most experienced space crew. In this book he takes us through how he became an astronaut, his training for space flight, his missions and how he is adapting to life after. It is a fascinating story of life in a high pressure, high performance environment and the mindset he had to adopt to be successful. There are many parallels that can be drawn with how we train and work in healthcare… not usually favourably… so there is plenty for us earth bound doctors to get from this book!

RTC – 3


Thinking Fast and Slow is a classic read when it comes to all things metacognitive. If you want to get an insight in to how we humans make decisions, for better or worse, Kahneman’s book is a great place to start. Each idea is backed up with stories of experiments which help explain and clarify the genuinely fascinating points being made. It isn’t always easy to read but it is designed for non experts so don’t be put off by the subject matter. It has certainly changed how I think about my thinking!

RTC – 3


How to Predict the Unpredictable makes a big deal about the fact that the world is not as random as we may first think. Chapter after chapter looks at different aspects of people, financial markets and other data heavy parts of modern life and shows that there are patterns hidden amongst them that ‘potentially’ could be exploited. We are clearly entering the era where big data will drive much of our future but if you are interested in that this book probably isn’t going to satisfy. Ultimately, whilst mildly interesting in places, I only finished it because I felt I should!

RTC – 5


Playing to the Gallery is Grayson Perry’s attempt to demystify ‘art’ for the masses. It is funny, irreverent and most of all accessible so it worked for me. I bought it after hearing about how being involved in art appreciation improved medical student observation skills and as I began considering how the arts in general can be useful to the practice of medicine. If you are interested in a non scientific perspective on how we observe the world, relate to what we find and try and make sense of it, this book is a great place to start. After all, there is a lot of art in the science of medicine!

RTC – 4 (3 if you’re bored of the science of medicine)


The Secret Barrister is at the same time incredibly interesting and mind bogglingly terrifying. As the author walks us through the UK criminal justice system, they stop to point out the flaws, failures and casualties of an increasingly strained system. For those of us working in healthcare this will sound all to familiar, even though we have been relatively protected from the worst of the austerity cuts. This book can perhaps helps us to be a little less self centred about our circumstances, even whilst we rage against the inadequacies of NHS resources, and consider the wider implications of current national policies.

RTC – 3 (2 if you are planning on doing something criminal!!)


Just Culture by Sidney Dekker is one of those books you wish everyone in the NHS would read and understand. In a series of short, clear chapters, he walks us through the concept of what ‘justice’ might look like when errors occur and the consequences of getting our response to these situations wrong (spoiler – it pretty much looks like most of the NHS). It is written in simple language, uses real life stories to illustrate the points and although you can read it in less than a couple of days, it will stay with you for a lifetime. If healthcare is ever going to get better for patients and staff, this is how it will happen.

RTC – 1

9780262534291Sources of Power by Gary Klein looks at the high pressure decision making of experts across various professions, such as firemen, police and the military, and tries to work out how it is different to that of novices. For me it helped me understand how I think and gave me ideas as to how to help develop this type of thinking in trainees. It is often placed in opposition to Thinking Fast and Slow whereas it is probably better read as a companion piece. If you are a developing senior clinician I think this book gives a fascinating insight to our thought processes and if I’m honest is probably an easier read than Kahneman’s book.

RTC – 2 (3 if you aren’t in a critical care specialty)

intelligent-kindness-reforming-the-culture-of-healthcareIntelligent Kindness was the first of the books I read as part of my new reading strategy, after it was recommended to me by my appraiser and we put it on my PDP. The author looks at what kindness actually is, what it looks like in practice and traces how it becomes squeezed out of healthcare. The early chapters which deal with individuals and local teams were the most powerful for me, opening my eyes to what had probably happened as I headed towards my breakdown. The latter chapters on bigger systems issues are a bit less engaging, become a bit more ‘wordy’ and felt more of a grind to get through.

RTC – 3 (2 if you think you’re beginning to burnout!)

9780241208779The Mind is Flat takes an unusual and potentially quite unsettling view of our minds. Rather than a traditional psychological view of us having depths of subconsciousness under our conscious thoughts, the theory here is that we essentially create every thought from scratch, in the present. This view is backed up with some fascinating neurosensory experiments about how we perceive the world, not as a great sweep of awareness but moment by moment in tiny windows of focus. This has implications for how we work as clinicians, trying to make sense of the symptoms and signs of our patients and the hustle and bustle of our work spaces. It can be a bit repetitive in places but definitely worth a read.

RTC – 3 (2 for those of you in to metacognition or human factors)

9781473613805_ZBlack Box Thinking by Matthew Syed takes a look at how we can learn from error, making progress from our failures. He starts with the airline industry (hence the black box of the title) but then applies the principles of learning from when things go wrong to all sorts of areas. It is essentially a more pop culture version of Just Culture and indeed some of the examples are common to both books. If healthcare systems are to move forward, having a positive view of failure is an essential part of that and the same is clearly also true for individuals within that system. A genuinely good read with an important message for us in all aspects of our lives.

RTC – 2

GTDGetting Things Done is one of those books that I suspect divides opinion. If you buy in to the principles of productivity David Allen espouses then you’ll be a zealot for them… he certainly doesn’t shy away from telling you how awesome he is! On the other hand, if you prefer your life a little more ‘relaxed’ then you probably won’t enjoy this and in all honesty I’d wonder why you picked it up in the first place. I found it interesting and tried to implement some of his concepts but it is the only book on this list that I still haven’t managed to finish, so whether that says more about me or the book I’m not quire sure.

RTC – 4 (2 if you yearn to be organised and are IT savvy)

1*jWEeNZykeAAlvRmRB7ruQQThe Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman is a fascinating read… honestly it is the book on this list that took me most by surprise. It takes a little bit of getting in to and a little new vocabulary to learn but there is so much that is relevant to our work it is worth the effort. The main thread is that when humans make mistakes interacting with ‘stuff’ it is because the stuff is designed badly and this is true whether it be a door handle or an electronic health records (yep, he goes there!). A refreshing view on human factors that will really change the way you look at the manmade world you live in, whether it is trying to order an x-ray at work or turning the gas down under your frying pan at home.

RTC – 3 (2 for Human Factors enthusiasts)


I hope you find something you might like to try and please, if you’ve got any ideas for books for me, I’d love to hear from you!



3 thoughts on “A Year (or so) of Books

  1. Mike Cameron says:

    Thanks for the recommendations Simon. And thanks for the blog, by now you must know how much your experience has resonated across the specialty and more generally. I am of your generation, my first UK Consultant job was in 1993. I have a book to recommend and a more general recommendation. The book is called ‘The Five Invitations’ by Frank Ostaseski. It is Zen based. I noticed that you were unimpressed by mindfulness while you were most in trouble, I wonder if you were too far gone then. I think Zen is more prophylaxis than cure but can be both. This book came at the right time and said the right things for me. My more general recommendation is that you don’t write off mindfulness. As an aid to coping in the moment I have found it enormously useful. As Emergency Physicians, coping in the moment is what we do. And finally, as someone who has burned out then reignited several times now (including in the NHS, God love it) I want to say don’t despair.


    • drsimonmc says:

      Thanks for the feedback and encouragement Mike. Glad to hear you’re still going!

      As far as mindfulness goes, I think it has its place but I think like resilience it has got a bit of a bad name because it gets misused. Whilst I’m sure it can be used as part of cure and rehabilitation, I think prophylaxis is the major place for it.

      Anyway, I’ll take a look at the book you’ve recommended and perhaps my current view will change!



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