Public Health canon?
May 4, 2009 4:58 AM   Subscribe

What books and journal articles are considered to be part of the public health canon?

I'm going to be starting an MPH program soon and would like to stock up on some "classic" public health books while I still have a job and some discretionary income. I'm looking for the types of books/articles that will be routinely referenced in my classes even if they're not necessarily on the syllabus. Global health (international development, humanitarian aid, etc.) and mental health are of particular interest.

Any other suggestions or advice you might have for a new MPH student would also be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by zharptitsa to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend reading Paul Farmer, particularly his books Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues and/or Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor. You can also find some of his lectures floating around the 'net and iTunes.

As for journal articles, you might want to visit the American Journal of Public Health site and poke around the "Articles in Demand" and "Subject Collections" sections.

The Global Health Council's Publication section has a pretty good sampling of policy briefs, summary sheets, etc to start you off. Paying particular attention to the reference sections for some policy papers in your particular area of interest might also give you a feel for the researchers/articles that are referenced most often.
posted by yeoja at 5:41 AM on May 4, 2009

I should clarify that my suggestion about reading Paul Farmer is personal opinion rather than a part of any overall public health canon. My public health background is in Behavioral Health/Health Education (MPH) and Management, Policy & Community Health (DrPH) and I've never taken a course that referenced his work, although his books certainly address issues relevant to many/most areas in public health.

That said, public health is a pretty diverse field and I think who/what are defined as "key" researchers and articles will vary across both concentrations and MPH programs. I'm getting my doctorate at a different university from where I got my MPH, and although there's a lot of overlap between the two fields, there hasn't been any overlap in the books I've used in courses. Another example, one of the professors in my doctoral program authored a book on health surveys and her book is recycled in a number of courses in my department. It's a good book, but I don't know to what extent other schools are using it. What might be helpful is contacting your advisor or professors in your program to ask for their recommendations.

posted by yeoja at 6:23 AM on May 4, 2009

seconding Paul Farmer - don't miss The Uses of Haiti - for what it's worth, both this & his Pathologies of Power have been used in courses for universities around here (western MA)

(Tracey Kidder wrote a good book on Farmer: Mountains Beyond Mountains)

for the history of public health there's George Rosen's aptly named History of Public Health - you can preview it here

an excellent case study is Eric Klineberg's Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, which looks at the institutional response (or lack of it) to the heat wave that hit Chicago in 1995 - here's a good interview with the author

Anne Fadiman's The Spirit Catches You & You Fall Down has also been adopted by more than a few courses at universities in my area - another common title for such courses is Mama Might Be Better Off Dead: The Failure of Health Care in Urban America by Laurie Kaye Abraham
posted by jammy at 6:44 AM on May 4, 2009

I know you were asking for book recommendations... but I thought that you'd be interested in this blog called Effect Measure. It's really well-written and discusses a variety of public health issues. Best of all, the main site ( has a ton of science-related blogs, many of them also related to public health.

Good luck in your MPH program! I've been considering going back to school to study the same thing.
posted by jacquilinala at 4:36 PM on May 5, 2009

We read "And the Band Played On" by Randy Shilts in one of my classes--awesome, awesome book about the emergence of AIDS in the US.
posted by elisynn at 11:31 AM on May 11, 2009

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