The SimpleHealth Reading List: 10 Books to Read by Black Authors and the History of Health Care

Published: December 1, 2020Updated: February 17, 2021

A lot of Black History Month education is centered around learning the ways systemic racism has invaded our society, and understanding how to be an advocate for meaningful change. But, we also believe in using this month to celebrate Black excellence—and one of our favorite ways to incorporate that is by reading (or maybe re-reading) books by Black authors. 

Need inspo for your own reading ritual? Here’s a list of our favorite books by Black authors, as well as the books we’re reading to learn more about influential Black leaders in health care (and we encourage buying these books from Black owned bookstores, too—here’s a list to reference!). 

5 Books by Black Authors

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett 

When the Vignes twins disappear from their small town at age sixteen, their paths diverge but their fates remain intertwined. One eventually moves back to her childhood home with her Black daughter in tow, while the other passes for white on the other side of the country, with no one in her new life any the wiser. 

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Spanning multiple generations and locations, Homegoing follows two half-sisters born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana: Effia, who marries a white Englishman and lives in luxurious comfort, and Esi, imprisoned mere floors beneath Effia and eventually sold into slave trade and transported to America. 

Becoming, by Michelle Obama

From the moment Michelle Obama entered our lives, we were major fans of her down-to-earth personality, her commitment to family and career, and the strength she showed as the first Black First Lady. Becoming tells Michelle’s story in her own words, as she grew up in South Side Chicago and eventually made her way to the most famous address in America. 

Luster, by Raven Leilani

Edie, a Black editorial assistant in her 20s, gets involved with an older white man who’s in an open marriage—just the latest in a long line of bad decisions that lead to her getting fired. When she moves in with her lover’s family, she becomes even more intertwined in his life through a friendship with his spouse and a relationship with his adopted daughter, who’s also Black. 

My Sister, The Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite

A short read but one that sticks with you, My Sister, The Serial Killer is a book that’s better experienced without knowing the full plot reveal—it’s enough to say that the title is accurate. This dark comedy will have you questioning just how far you’d go for your family.

5 Books About Inequality and Health Care

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

In 1951, doctors took a tissue sample of cancerous cells from a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks, eventually using them to conduct unprecedented research on genetics, disease, vaccinations, and more. But, they did all of this without the knowledge or consent of her family; with the help of journalist Rebecca Skloot, the Lacks learn the true extent of their mother’s impact on medical research.

Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine, by Louis W. Sullivan, M.D.

In this memoir, Dr. Sullivan shares what it was like growing up in the segregated South and how he broke down barriers to be the founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine—the U.S.’s first predominantly Black medical school. You’ll also get a glimpse into his tenure as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President George H. W. Bush's administration.

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine, by Damon Tweedy, M.D.

Damon Tweedy thought medical school would help him leave his segregated background behind—only to realize that his race stood out more than ever on campus. He shares his reflections on how race intersects with medicine, and he dives deep into the different economic, social, and cultural factors that contribute to systemic racism in health care. 

The Good Doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the Struggle for Social Justice in Health Care, by John Ditter

When the Medical Committee for Human Rights was formed in 1964, they immediately went to work exposing racism within the American Medical Association, desegregating hospitals in the South, and setting up free clinics in inner cities. In The Good Doctors, you’ll learn more about how these idealists became advocates and fought to preserve the idea that health care is a human right.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, by Harriet A. Washington

A tough read, but a necessary one: Washington writes the first full history of medical experimentation forced onto Black Americans. Read this to become more informed about the history of public health and racial injustice.

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