Books of the Year

Books of the Year

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Nov 30, 2011

It’s now time for my books of the year. Book lists are always personal: what I like isn’t what you’ll like or even what you would be willing to read. And what I enjoy doesn’t always make the list: I love mindless trash as much as the next person, but I would never inflict it on anyone. So no guilty pleasures here.

I also don’t always get to books in a timely fashion. I’m an oncologist, not a professional book reviewer, and not every book races to my local library’s bookshelves. So I can’t guarantee these all came along in 2011.

I’m light on fiction this year, for some reason: while I read a great many novels, none really knocked my socks off. So, in no particular order, my books of the year:

The Beginning of Infinity, by David Deutsch. A wide-ranging view of modern science, creativity, and society, written by a physicist-philosopher. Deutsch is a fan of Karl Popper’s basic insight, that the beginning of wisdom is “falsification,” the progressive testing of our biases.

Molotov’s Magic Lantern, by Rachel Polonsky. A mixture of Russian political and literary history, beginning in the Moscow apartment of Stalin’s henchman and spreading out from there through time and space. Quite fascinating.

Moral Combat:Good and Evil in World War II, by Michael Burleigh. Most histories of the greatest war in history focus on battles and leaders. Burleigh concentrates on the ethical issues faced by leaders, soldiers, and civilians in the face of almost inestimable evil.

Lives Like Loaded Guns, by Lyndall Gordon. The fascinating story of the poet Emily Dickinson and her raucously dysfunctional family.

When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know That She Is Not Playing With Me? By Saul Frampton. I am a huge fan of Michel de Montaigne, the inventor of the essay as a literary form. This wonderful book describes Montaigne’s life and thoughts. A charming introduction to one of history’s wisest men.

The Information, by James Gleick. A history of the information age and how it has come to dominate our lives. An absolutely brilliant treatise, written by one of our best science writers.

In the Plex, by Steve Levy, is a fine complement to Gleick’s more comprehensive history, focusing on Google, the company that best defined the information age’s past decade. Something of a hagiography, in that Levy can’t help falling in love with the company and its founders, but fascinating nevertheless.

Quantum Man, by Lawrence Krauss. Subtitled Richard Feynman’s Life in Science, this scientific biography focuses on the great physicist’s many contributions to our understanding of nature.

The Innovator’s Prescription, by Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, and Jason Hwang. Christenson, the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, tackles health care. You will not agree with all of the authors’ “prescriptions,” but they will fascinate you.

Boomerang, by Michael Lewis. We are in a world of hurt economically, and we caused it through short-term thinking, greed, and political cowardice. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Michael Lewis visits the epicenters of financial disaster: Greece, Iceland, Ireland, and California. Even Germany. By our foremost popular writer on economics.

A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle fiction award, and the only novel book to make my list.

What were your favorite books this year? Please share them with me.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.


Lisa Greaves

Nov, 30 2011 4:41 PM

Thank you so much for the wonderul list. I'll be adding several of these to my reading list.
Two of my favorite books of the year (both nonfiction) have in common, curiously, that the author enters a contest, something I don’t recall reading about before. In neither case is the contest itself what makes the book compelling, but in both cases it adds a genuine infusion of fun into well-written explorations of humanity and the human brain in the age of technology.
Brian Christian’s The Most Human Human. What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive examines artificial intelligence and what it truly means to be human, recounting his entry into the annual Loebner Prize Competition, in which a panel poses questions to humans and computers and tries to determine which is which. Christian notes early in the book, “In the twenty-first century, the human math whiz is ‘like a computer.’ An odd twist: we’re like the thing that used to be like us. We imitate our old imitators, one of the strange reversals of fortune in the long saga of human uniqueness.” If the Loebner contest continues, I hope Jeopardy’s Watson will enter.
Josh Foer is a freelance science journalist who surprises himself by entering the U.S. Memory Competition in the delightful Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. Throughout his journey, Foer engages the reader with considerations of the value of memory, along with portraits of the people he encounters along the way. Added bonus: I memorized a store list with 15 items on it by building a memory palace in the yard of the house I grew up in. That in and of itself is worth the price of the book!

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Dec, 02 2011 9:52 PM

Dear Lisa: Thanks for the additions--they both look quite interesting. The last time I would have been capable of entering a memory competition would have been several decades ago, and my memory palace collapsed on me the first time I tried to build one.

Sailaja Kamaraju, MD

Jan, 09 2012 1:06 PM

Dr.Sledge, I love your style of flat out honest opinion on active issues. Your recent article ( I think it was in Oncology Times)about use and misuse of liver transplants in necessary and unnecessary situations.
On a different note , I would love to know your thoughts on SABCS /Dec/2011 abstracts on epigenetic modulation  to overcome ER resistance and your thoughts of their future.(Entinostat).
Sailaja Kamaraju

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Jan, 09 2012 2:33 PM

Dear Sallaja: First, a conflict of interest statement: in the past I served as an advisor to the company that ran the entinostat trial, and my institution participated in the trial. Having said that, I find the data interesting and the biology fascinating.  I would not call HDAC inhibition or epigenetic modulation targeted therapy--it isn't all that specific--but at one level it seems to me that it might be a possible escape from the problems related to drug resistance that I see shadowing the growth factor field in general.  I am always a bit sceptical regarding randomized Phase II trial results, but these are sufficiently impressive that I await the Phase III results with genuine interest.
Thanks for your kind words, and best regards,
George Sledge

Sarah B. Temin

Mar, 22 2012 4:32 PM

Dear Dr. Sledge,

Thank you for this great list and another way you provided colleagues and me with reading inspiration (i.e. from your Annual Meeting 2011 slides, the $1,000 Genome - too inside baseball for me, but provoked a great discussion).  Some of us just read Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee - though some things have changed since its 2007 publication (especially in HIT), but hopefully not to the point of You've Got Mail.  Also provoked interesting discussion.  Have you read it?


p.s. your list helped me with some last minute holiday gifts, too - thanks, again!

Back to Top