Chicago Connection

Chicago Connection

Five books about medicine with a Windy City link


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Chicago has seven medical schools, multiple highly rated hospitals and academic medical centers, and numerous healthcare associations. This hub of medical excellence has also played a role in key events in medical and public health history. If you’re curious about Chicago’s role in healthcare, check out these five medical-themed books with ties to the city.


A Piece of My Mind

An essay collection from The Journal of the American Medical Association, edited by Roxanne K. Young (2005)

Chicago is home to the American Medical Association, which publishes the highly respected, industry staple Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). A popular feature in JAMA is its “Piece of My Mind” column — essays by physicians and other healthcare professionals chronicling memorable moments, wry observations, and thoughtful reflections on the practice of medicine. This volume compiles the best of those essays written over the past decades.


Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters

Alice Hamilton: A Life in Letters 

By Barbara Sicherman (2003)

Physician Alice Hamilton, MD, practiced at Chicago’s Hull House for more than 30 years, while also serving as a professor of pathology at the Women’s Medical School at Northwestern University. During her time at Hull House, Hamilton became interested in how exposure to industrial chemicals affected workers’ health. She was a pioneer in the emerging field of industrial medicine and a leading voice on the dangers of lead poisoning. Sicherman interweaves the story of Hamilton’s career with more than 100 letters that Hamilton wrote throughout her long, remarkable life. 

Image courtesy of the University of Illinois Press.


Heat Wave book cover

Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

By Eric Klinenberg (2015)

A weeklong heat wave gripped Chicago in July 1995. More than 700 people, most of them Black, poor, and elderly, died from its effects. Here, Klinenberg explores how a lethal mix of extreme heat, frayed social connections, and a poorly designed built-environment led to the surge of deaths. The book also serves as a learning tool, focusing on what can be done to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.     

Image courtesy of the University of Chicago Press.


The Emergency Book Cover

The Emergency: A Year of Heartbreak and Healing in a Chicago ER

By Thomas Fisher (2022)

In this captivating memoir, emergency physician Thomas Fisher describes the tension, exhaustion, and heartbreak of working in the emergency department at a hospital on Chicago’s South Side during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. A former White House Fellow, Fisher centers the stories of the patients he cared for within the challenges and complexities of the U.S. healthcare system.

Image courtesy of Penguin Random House LLC


The Secret of Life book cover

The Secret of Life: Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, Francis Crick, and the Discovery of DNA’s Double Helix   

By Howard Markel (2021)     

In 1962, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. Watson was born and raised in Chicago, and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago. Decades after Watson and Crick’s landmark paper was published in Nature, chemist and X-ray crystallographer Rosalind Franklin was belatedly recognized for her important contribution: creating the X-ray diffraction images of DNA on which Watson and Crick based their model. In this compelling book, Markel explores the sexism, competitiveness, and academic politics behind one the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th century.

Image courtesy of  W.W. Norton & Company, inc.

Above photo by Erin Sullivan
Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2024 print issue.