Perhaps my favorite part of being a minimally trained health writer is that it provides the perfect excuse to read! And reading is something that I did a lot of in 2014. With no further adieu, here are the top 10 books in the realm of health -- defined broadly as the harmony of physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs -- from the past year.
Note: although not all of these books were first published in 2014, they are all recent works, and are listed in no particular order.
Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande: Underneath the primary subject of death and dying in America, Being Mortal is really a beautiful examination of what it means to live a "good day," and how the health care system can be redesigned so that we can live more of them. Gawande seamlessly weaves heartfelt personal stories with hard data to create a book that is relevant for everyone -- from hospital CEOs to anyone with an aging parent.
Slim By Design, by Brian Wansink: It is fascinating that the most effective diet book I've ever read has almost nothing to do with food! In Slim By Design, Wansink draws upon years of research to illustrate the enormous influence that our enviornment has on what and how we eat. In addition to being super interesting, Slim By Design includes numerous step-by-step guides and easy to implement tips for your own life (e.g., keep your cereal out of sight).
Give And Take, by Adam Grant: Are you a giver, a taker, or a matcher? Grant will take you on an engaging and fun journey to find out, and along the way, demonstrate how giving to others might be the best thing that you can do for yourself. I learned that whether you are an athlete fighting burnout, an analyst trying to get promoted, or just someone struggling to get out of a rut, giving is your best bet.
The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg: Whether or not we want to believe it, we live much of our lives on auto-pilot, creatures of routine and habit. Some habits can be good for health, others the opposite. Duhigg breaks down the cycle of a habit into its component parts -- cue, routine, reward -- and then details how we can create or break habits by taking advantage of what we know about our brain, our bodies, and our friends.
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin: I was hesitant to read this, there is just something about self-help books that rub me the wrong way (though I often tell my wife I aspire to write one) but I'm glad I did. Far from a typical self-help book, Rubin takes us on her one-year journey to optimize her happiness. I learned about the science of happiness, found a definition of happiness that works for me ("feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth"), and even took away a fair share of help for myself (which I guess is self-help).
The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal: If you want to resist the cheesecake, read this book. McGonigal tells us everything we need to know about willpower, how we can grow more of it (it works like a muscle) and when it is likely to be running low. The Willpower Instinct incorporates insights from across numerous disciplines (even performance physiology) to make this not only informative, but also an especially interesting read.
The Success Equation by Michael Mauboussin: Does skill or luck play a larger role in your life? Mauboussin untangles the two, using examples from business and sports. You may be thinking "what does this have to do with health?" and my answer would be everything. By understanding the relative weight of skill and luck in our pursuits, we become better equipped to set realistic goals, and judge ourselves and others more honestly and accurately.
Me, Myself, And Us by Brian Little: The subtitle of this book, "the science of personality and the art of well being," pretty much sums it up. Be prepared to learn tons about yourself -- from what types of activities you should participate in to whom you should date. You'll also learn a lot about how you relate to others, and what to do if you find yourself in a bathroom stall next to an extravert (what used to be my worst nightmare). With a better understanding of your personality and how it evolves, you'll be better able to foster your health by engaging in the right projects and surrounding yourself with the right people.
On Purpose by Vic Strecher: Having a purpose, and ideally one that transcends your "self," may be right up there with diet, exercise, and not smoking when it comes to enhancing both the quantity and the quality of our lives. Strecher's unconventional graphic novel details his own recent past -- which included losing a daughter who was at the center of his life -- and how finding a renewed sense of purpose was his saving grace.
Disease Proof by David Katz: Dr. Katz is one of my favorite public health thinkers. This book is the compilation of years of his research in an easy-to-read format that helps you disease-proof your life and the lives of those you love. You'll learn about the importance of our fingers, feet, and forks, and how we can empower ourselves to reduce our risk of disease by over 80 percent.