Tuesday, 17 February 2015


“There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.” - G.K. Chesterton

Although I teach in a medical area, and most of my book-listed material for my subjects comprises books that are related to science, biology and medicine, I often recommend other books for reading to my students, books that are found in the literature section, rather than the medical and science shelves of the Library. These books I think are essential for their education as they concern themselves with social and moral issues, pose important questions about society and people, relationships and human interactions.

Some other books relate to the practice of medicine and how it fits into society. Anyone working in the medical field must have a very broad education and be familiar not only with their science, but also know something of people and the forces that motivate their actions, the emotions that colour their lives, and the thoughts and deeds that ultimately may relate to the diseases they present with.

When discussing HIV infection and AIDS for example, I recommended they read “April Fools Day” by Bryce Courtenay. When I talk about the pathology of birthmarks, I refer to “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy, with my tongue in my cheek. “The Plague” by Albert Camus gets more than one mention as not only does it talk about ills of the body but also about sickness in social systems. Anthony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange” is an old standard amongst my recommendations and “The Elephant Man” (the play by Bernard Pomerance) is recommended, but read by the odd one or two in my class, while most prefer to watch the movie.

For the romantic and idealistic young things in my classes that wish to change the world, the rather old fashioned novels by A.J. Cronin (physician and author) still appeal. Novels such as “The Citadel” and “Shannon’s Way”, and his short stories “Adventures of a Black Bag”. Similarly old-fashioned, but still an entertaining read is Axel Munthe’s “The Story of San Michele”, which appeals to many of them. Albert Schweitzer’s writings are often on my “unorthodox” reading list, especially his autobiography “Out Of My Life and Thought”. Kafka is recommended to a select few and read by even fewer. Philosophers’ works figure prominently and also some by famous essayists.

Something that I often recommend to them is “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. This is excellent when one is teaching cloning, genetic engineering, in vitro fertilisation, use of fertilised ova in medical research, stem cells, etc. Huxley’s work, wonderfully prophetic (as all good science fiction is) is ever germane.

Huxley wrote “Brave New World” in 1932 and set it in a futuristic society the whole existence of which is based on pleasure without moral repercussions. Eugenics is the novel’s theme and the title is taken from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, where Miranda says, "O brave new world, that hath such people in’t." The novel is replete with references to “free sex” and drugs and this explains why it was consecutively banned in many countries around the world.

Huxley wrote the book after a visit to the USA and in his novel he expressed his outrage towards the culture of youth, inane cheeriness, crass commercialism and parochial nature of many Americans he observed. In many respects, the novel can be regarded as Huxley’s way of ringing the alarm bells against what he saw as the americanisation of British society, and the world at large. His brutal dystopia is extreme and designed to shock, but at the same time is one that poses important moral questions and generates ethical dilemmas in his readers.

Although “Brave New World” was condemned when it was first published, it has since become a modern literary classic. If you haven’t read it, go to your public library and borrow it – an excellent book!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Nicolas. I think that, as a teenaged reader, Brave New World (and 1984) had a profound effect on me as only great books can. And it is no less potent today!
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