University of Sourthern California


Top 15 Public Health Book List from USC Online MPH Faculty

Women reading a book on a tablet.

USC’s online Master of Public Health (MPH) program is proud to share its reading list for leaders in public health based on recommendations from program faculty in 2022. Read more and discover how you can promote equitable, effective public health by enrolling in USC’s online Master of Public Health (MPH) program. Learn from expert faculty members and incredible fellow students. The USC online program is the only MPH in the country delivered by a top-ranked medical school with a world-renowned faculty. Learn more about how an MPH from USC can propel your career in public health today.


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks 

Author: Rebecca Skloot

Recommendation by Tracy Bastain

This is an important story of modern medicine, the birth of bioethics, and race.


Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century

Author: Dorothy Roberts

Recommendation by Ricky Bluthenthal

This book examines the myth of race as a biological concept and how that has led to inequality and social injustice.


Start with Why

Author: Simon Sinek

Recommendation by Rita Burke

Although not a public health book per se, it is an important book as it tells the story of how leaders should lead.


A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future 

Author: Perri Klass

Recommendation by Farzana Choudhury

This book focuses on one of public health’s biggest achievements: its impact on reducing infant and child mortality. Only one hundred years ago, in even the world’s wealthiest nations, children died in great numbers from preventable deaths. This book pays tribute to the scientists who rewrote the human experience so that early death is now the exception rather than the rule for the first time in human memory.


Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

Author: Erving Goffman 

Recommendation by Mariam Davtyan

This seminal work conceptualizes stigma related to health conditions and the devastating impact of stigma on social interactions.


For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts Advice to Women 

Authors: Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English

Recommendation by Sofia Gruskin

This is a women’s history classic that exposes the constraints imposed on women in the name of science and the myths used to control them. Historically, among the experts’ diagnoses and remedies: menstruation was an illness requiring seclusion; pregnancy, a disabling condition; and higher education, a threat to the long-term health of the uterus. From clitoridectomies to tame women’s behavior in the nineteenth century to the censure of a generation of mothers as castrators in the 1950s, given current realities, it is worth revisiting some of the ways the health profession has intervened in women’s sexual, emotional, and maternal lives.


The Cider House Rules

Author: John Irving

Recommendation by Susanne Hempel

This novel offers an insightful view into abortion, healthcare services, and choices.


Mountains Beyond Mountains

Author: Tracy Kidder

Recommendation by Jakub Hlavka 

In this book, Tracy Kidder tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer (1959-2022) and his mission to provide care to people around the world. At the heart of the book is the Haitian proverb, “Beyond mountains there are mountains” (as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself.) Paul Farmer lived a truly selfless life. As a student, his story inspired me to choose my next career steps.


The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance

Author: Laurie Garrett

Recommendation by Sue Ingles

Thirty years ago, Laurie Garrett explained what’s happening today.


And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic 

Author: Randy Shilts

Recommendation by Roksana Karim

This is one of the classic and essential books of our time that takes us back to the early 80s to see for ourselves how the AIDS epidemic influenced our society and how politics influenced the epidemic. The science prevailed, nonetheless. It is a must-read for anyone willing to have a public health career. The movie based on this book is also highly recommended.


Smallpox: The Death of a Disease – The Inside Story of Eradicating a Worldwide Killer 

Author: D.A. Henderson

Recommendation by: Roberta McKean-Cowdin

This is a fascinating story of controlling smallpox with the odds stacked against Henderson and the public health workers amidst small budgets and political games set to see them fail.


The Premotion: A Pandemic Story

Author: Michael Lewis

Recommendation by Jane Steinberg

This is a brilliant nonfiction story about a group of health care experts and the Santa Barbara public health officer trying to communicate accurate information about the beginning of the COVID outbreak during the Trump administration and being stymied at every turn.


Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas

Author: Roberta Ness

Recommendation by Melissa Wilson

It’s about how to think creatively in the sciences.


The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

Author: Jacqueline Novogratz

Recommendation by Heather Wipfli

Jacqueline Novogratz explains how traditional charity often fails and how to find better ways to address poverty by promoting self-sufficiency instead of dependency.


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Author: Anne Fadiman

Recommendation by Mellissa Withers

This is a well-researched and moving story of a Hmong family’s struggles to navigate the healthcare system in the US. Even though this book is now 25 years old, it is a timeless classic, and the issues brought to light are still very relevant in today’s world.