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The 50 All-Time Best Books for Doctors

Considering the amount of schooling necessary to become a doctor — any flavor — anyone wishing to enter the profession must overindulge in a glut of reading and studying. Not surprisingly, many books on the medical sciences haven risen to prominence in both classrooms and offices alike. Whether textbooks, references, diagnostic manuals, popular science literature or something completely different, these reads have contributed greatly to the understanding of how the human body and mind work (and work together).

It probably goes without saying that tastes differ from professional to professional, and different doctors need different resources at their disposal. This list tries to combine a diverse selection of reads for a wider range of interests and proficiencies, so obviously plenty will agree and disagree with the selections. Just remember that none of this is meant to be taken as definitive.

Anatomy and Physiology

  1. Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical by Henry Gray and Timothy Holmes: While not the only anatomy and physiology resource by any stretch of the imagination, Gray’s is probably the most famous, owing to its popularity in both medicine and art.

  2. Atlas of Human Anatomy by Frank H. Netter: Keep up with the latest volumes of Frank H. Netter’s highly detailed anatomical drawings and photographs, labeling each bodily nuance with care.

  3. The Human Body Book by Steve Parker: Along with the accompanying DVD, The Human Body Book makes for an excellent reference accessible to students, professionals and families alike.

  4. Principles of Anatomy and Physiology by Bryan Derrickson and Gerard J. Tortora: Both authors make sure to include commentary on abnormalities in anatomy and physiology of interest to the medical community.

  5. Clinically Oriented Anatomy by Anne M.R. Agur, Arthur F. Dalley and Keith L. Moore: Aimed at first-year medical students and new allied health professionals, Clinically Oriented Anatomy thoroughly analyzes the human body with excellent case studies, illustrations, photos and plenty more.

  6. Grant’s Atlas of Anatomy by Anne M.R. Agur and Ming J. Lee: Doctors and medical students generally prefer either Netter’s or Grant’s anatomical references, oftentimes entering into some pretty deep debates over their advantages and disadvantages.

  7. Human Anatomy by Michael McKinley and Valerie Dean O’Laughlin: Although the authors hope to target students, even seasoned medical care professionals can still look to as a great refresher.

  8. Atlas of Anatomy by Anne M. Gilroy, Brian R. MacPherson and Lawrence M. Ross: All of the Thieme Anatomy books make for amazing additions to a medical bookshelf, so doctors can pick and choose the ones they need most.

  9. Color Atlas of Anatomy by Elke Lutjen-Drecoll, Johannes W. Rohen and Chihiro Yokochi: Photographs of dissected cadavers provide readers with an up-close and personal view of how everything in the human body works together.

  10. Clemente’s Anatomy Dissector by Carmine D. Clemente: When it comes time to dissect bodies or perform surgery, this handy guide provides everything students and doctors need to know about all the wee squishy details.

Biology and Evolution

  1. The Symbolic Species by Terrence W. Deacon: Neurology, anthropology and biology collide in an obscenely interesting read about the co-development of language and the human brain.

  2. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin: As one of the most important scientific books ever published, is The Origin of Species is absolutely essential for anyone working with living organisms.

  3. The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould: Despite Stephen Jay Gould’s covering of evolution in a broader sense than the merely human, his research still warrants consideration.

  4. The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins: Another general, yet valuable, evolution book, this time by one of the most celebrated names in the scientific community.

  5. Sustaining Life edited by Aaron Bernstein and Eric Chivian: Doctors with an interest in ecology and green issues might enjoy exploring how sustainable initiatives and biodiversity improve overall human health.

  6. What Evolution Is by Ernst Mayr: Harvard zoologist Ernst Mayr makes the argument that evolution should be accepted as scientific fact rather than just a theory.

  7. Darwin’s Ghost by Steve Jones: Darwinists and doctors alike might very much enjoy reading a more modern perspective of the seminal The Origin of Species, which explores its relevance in today’s world.

  8. Our Inner Ape by Frans De Waal: One of primatology’s most lauded names showcases the intimate biological relationship between humanity and its close simian relatives.

  9. The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan: Though known largely for his astronomy and physics work, Carl Sagan still wrote some incredible insight into the origins of human brains.

  10. Extinct Humans by Jeffrey Schwartz and Ian Tattersall: Get a generous glimpse at ancient human history through some of the most startling archaeological finds of all time.


  1. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins: One of the most respected reads on genetics ever published, The Selfish Gene challenges reader perceptions on DNA and the unused strands clogging the human body.

  2. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters by Matt Ridley: The amazing Human Genome Project completely changed the ways in which science viewed mankind, and Matt Ridley’s fascinating book painstakingly chronicles both its lessons and the resulting impact.

  3. The Double Helix by James D. Watson: As one of the (supposedly) two founders of DNA’s actual structure, this Nobel Prize winner is in a prime position to expose the politics and personalities behind the science.

  4. Cracking the Genome by Kevin Davies: Pick up another perspective on the Human Genome Project, this time analyzing its relationship with politics, economics and society as well as science.

  5. Genes, Peoples and Languages by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza: In this controversial read, a Stanford geneticist traces the entirety of evolution and looks at the way DNA split off into different races and cultures — and illustrates how he thinks they have far more in common than initially believed.

  6. Lewin’s Genes X by Elliott S. Goldstein, Stephen T. Kilpatrick and Jocelyn E. Krebs: New editions of Lewin’s Genes get printed every once in a while, so be sure to pick up the latest when searching for a detailed reference on life’s very building blocks.

  7. Genetics: From Genes to Genomes by Leland H. Hartwell, Leroy Hood, Michael L. Goldberg, Ann E. Reynolds, Lee M. Silver and Ruth C. Veres: Students just beginning their medical courses form the core audience of this lauded textbook, although seasoned professionals can still benefit from using it as a nice supplement or quick refresher.

  8. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA by Brenda Maddox: Like many female scientists of her time, Rosalind Franklin never received any real recognition for her accomplishments — even if they included photographing DNA.

  9. Deep Ancestry by Spencer Wells: Spencer Wells opens up about National Geographic’s Genographic Project, which peels back the layers of human history to discover how its biological core gradually changed (or stayed the same) over time.

  10. The Impact of the Gene by Colin Tudge: Anyone, especially doctors, with an avid interest in natural history and philosophy might like this accessible rumination on genetic history and possible futures.

Pharmacology and Medicine

  1. Toxic Psychiatry by Peter Breggin: This book is old, thus rendering some of the research invalid, but its core theme remains the same — haphazardly prescribing psychiatric medications (which seems to be the case even now) can be exceptionally counterproductive, even dangerous. Especially when mixed in a cocktail with other drugs, thus making this a provocative read for anyone in the medical industry.

  2. The Greatest Benefit to Mankind by Roy Porter: Taking the time to understand medical history is not only extremely educational (not to mention professionally beneficial) but absolutely fascinating as well.

  3. Tarascon Pocket Pharmacopoeia edited by Richard J. Hamilton: Allied health professionals sanctioned to prescribe medication should keep the latest edition on hand as a quick resource on some of the essentials.

  4. Lexi-Comp’s Drug Information Handbook edited by Lora L. Armstrong, Morton P. Goldman, Charles F. Lacy and Leonard L. Lance: Another medication manual doctors must take pains to update whenever a new edition comes out — provided they find it to their liking, of course.

  5. Pocket Emergency Medicine Notebook edited by Richard D. Zane: Pretty much everything anyone needs to know about this book — suitable for anyone in the healthcare industry – can be found right there in the title.

  6. Pharmacotherapy Handbook by Cecily DiPiro, Joseph DiPiro, Terry Schwinghammer and Barbara Wells: Along with serving as quick pharmacopeia, this reference also serves as a diagnostic manual for some of the most common (and not-so-common) ailments.

  7. The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat by Eric Lax: It doesn’t take a PhD to know that penicillin completely revolutionized healthcare the world over. The Mold in Dr. Florey’s Coat presents a compelling biography of this miraculous medicine’s history.

  8. Pocket Medicine edited by Marc S. Sabatine: Hailing from the Massachusetts General Hospital, this easy-to-carry guide covers a nicely wide range of internal medicine topics.

  9. Complications by Atul Gawande: Whether a surgeon or professional working closely with one (or more!), Atul Gawande’s insightful look at the field and its myriad issues will prove an incredibly useful, educational read.

  10. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy: International healthcare conglomerate Merck regularly prints one of the most critically acclaimed diagnostic manuals of all time.

Psychology and Sociology

  1. The Lonely Crowd by Reuel Denney, Nathan Glazer and David Riesman: For doctors working with American patients, this seminal work explores the culture’s perpetual struggle between individuality and conformity.

  2. The Freud Reader by Sigmund Freud: While many of Sigmund Freud’s theories have fallen out of fashion, he remains an undeniably important figure in the history of psychology and psychiatry.

  3. The Portable Jung by Carl Jung: The other major name in modern psychology pioneered the theory of the collective subconscious, analyzed common symbology and plenty more highly influential concepts.

  4. The Rules of Sociological Method by Emile Durkheim: Whether a sociologist or physician trying to better understand patients, the field’s most impactful book is incredible, intelligent and very, very educational.

  5. The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker: Steven Pinker uses science to debunk the popular tabula rasa theory, touting the very core of humanity as a blend of nature and nurture.

  6. The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo: Temporal psychology and perception form the core theme of the controversial Philip Zimbardo’s ruminations on proper management — a skill every healthcare professional must master.

  7. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl: The compelling story of the author’s Holocaust survival opens up some provocative insight into the human mind — both its resilience and the gruesome corners few want to acknowledge.

  8. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychological Association: Even doctors working outside the psychology and psychiatry fields must still contend with mental health issues every once in a while — especially when one considers that many involve physical components – so taking the time to understand the latest diagnostic criteria will probably prove valuable at some point.

  9. The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons: The authors challenge preconceived notions of perception and cognition in a manner even those without degrees or careers in psychology can still understand.

  10. Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam: Another incredibly insightful look at American society and the way staunch conformity breeds further isolation from social justice, politics, events and more.

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