Public Health Reading List

There are three distinct reading lists on this page: a book list, a list of recommended classic journal articles and a list focussed on leadership in public health.

They have all been collated from recommendations by public health experts and you are more than welcome to recommend more titles by finding me @benjanefitness or emailing me at

The Book List*

Antanovsky, A. (1987). Unravelling the Mystery of Health. Jossey-Boss

Ashton, J. (2019). Practising Public Health: An Eyewitness Account. Oxford University Press. [publisher page]

Bergstrom, C. T., & West, J. D. (2020). Calling bullshit: the art of skepticism in a data-driven world. Random House.

Boseley, S. (2014). The Shape We're in: How Junk Food and Diets are Shortening Our Lives. Faber & Faber.

Briggs, C. L. (2003). Stories in the time of cholera: Racial profiling during a medical nightmare. Univ of California Press.

Carson, R. (2002). Silent spring. Penguin Classics

Cederström, C., & Spicer, A. (2015). The Wellness Syndrome. John Wiley & Sons.

Colgrove, J. (2011). Epidemic City: The Politics of Public Health in New York. Russell Sage Foundation.

Crofton, S. J., & Simpson, D. (2002). Tobacco: a global threat. Hong Kong: Macmillan.

Davies, S., & Pearson-Stuttard, J. (2020). Whose Health Is It, Anyway?. Oxford University Press.

Dorling, D. (2015). Injustice: Why social inequality still persists. Policy Press.

Epstein, H. (2007). The invisible cure: Africa, the West, and the fight against AIDS. Macmillan.

Farmer, P. (2004). Pathologies of power: Health, human rights, and the new war on the poor. Univ of California Press.

Foege, W. (2011). House on Fire: The Fight to Eradicate Smallpox. University of California Press.

Freudenberg, N. (2014). Lethal but legal: corporations, consumption, and protecting public health. Oxford University Press

Galea, S. (2017). Healthier: Fifty thoughts on the foundations of population health. Oxford University Press. [google books] [blogs by the author]

Garrett, L. (2003). Betrayal of trust: the collapse of global public health. Oxford University Press

Goldacre, B. (2010). Bad science: quacks, hacks, and big pharma flacks. McClelland & Stewart.

Halpern, D. (2015). Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference. Random House.

Heyman, G. M. (2009). Addiction: A Disorder of Choice. Harvard University Press.

Johnson, S. (2006). The ghost map: The story of London's most terrifying epidemic--and how it changed science, cities, and the modern world. Penguin.

Keshavjee, M. S. (2014). Blind spot: how neoliberalism infiltrated global health. Univ of California Press.

Kessler, D. A. (2001). A question of intent: A great American battle with a deadly industry. Public Affairs.

Kidder, T. (2003). Mountains beyond mountains: healing the world: the quest of Dr. Paul Farmer. Random House

Marmot, M. (2004). Status Syndrome: How Your Social Standing Directly Affects Your Health and Life Expectancy. Bloomsbury

Marmot, M. (2015). The health gap: the challenge of an unequal world. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Meadows, D. (2012). Thinking in systems: a primer. Chelsea Green Publishing Co

McCartney, M. (2016) The State of Medicine: Keeping the Promise of the NHS. Pinter & Martin

McNeill, W. H., & McNeill, W. (1998). Plagues and peoples. Anchor.

Moss, M. (2013). Salt, sugar, fat: how the food giants hooked us. Random House.

Nestle, M. (2015). Soda politics: taking on big soda (and winning). Oxford University Press, USA.

Offit, P. A. (2007). Vaccinated: one man's quest to defeat the world's deadliest diseases. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Books.

Oreskes, N., & Conway, E. M. (2015). Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. London: Bloomsbury

Perez, C. C. (2019). Invisible Women: Exposing data bias in a world designed for men. Random House. [google books]

Palmer, G. (2009). The politics of breastfeeding: when breasts are bad for business. Pinter & Martin Publishers.

Pendergrast, M. (2010). Inside the outbreaks: the elite medical detectives of the epidemic intelligence service. HMH.

Phillips, B. (2020) How to Fight Inequality: And Why That Fight Needs You. Wiley. [Publisher Site]

Pinker, S. (2014). The village effect: Why face-to-face contact matters. Atlantic Books Ltd.

Pisani, E. (2010). The wisdom of whores: Bureaucrats, brothels and the business of AIDS. Granta Books.

Prasad, V. K. (2020). Malignant: How Bad Policy and Bad Evidence Harm People with Cancer. JHU Press.

Quinones, S. (2015). Dreamland: the true tale of America's opiate epidemic. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

Rayner, G., & Lang, T. (2012). Ecological public health: reshaping the conditions for good health. Routledge.

Rhodes, J. (2013). The end of plagues: the global battle against infectious disease. Macmillan.

Ritchie, S. (2020) Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science. Random House

Roberts, I., & Edwards, P. (2010). The energy glut: the politics of fatness in an overheating world. Zed Books Limited.

Rose, G. A., Khaw, K. T., & Marmot, M. (2008). Rose's strategy of preventive medicine: the complete original text. Oxford University Press, USA.

Rosling, H., Rosling, O., & Rönnlund, A. R. (2018). Factfulness: Ten reasons we're wrong about the world–And why things are better than you think: Sceptre. (and the accompanying website )

Scheidel, W. (2017). The great leveler: Violence and the history of inequality from the stone age to the twenty-first century. Princeton University Press.

Schrecker, T., & Bambra, C. (2015). How politics makes us sick: Neoliberal epidemics. Springer.

Shilts, R. (2007). And the band played on: Politics, people, and the AIDS epidemic, 20th-anniversary edition. Macmillan.

Spinney, L (2018) Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World Paperback. Penguin

Stephens-Davidowitz, S. (2017). Everybody lies: big data, new data, and what the internet can tell us about who we really are. HarperLuxe.

Thompson, M (2016) Enough Said: What's gone wrong with the language of politics? Bodley Head

Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008) Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Penguin

Waltner-Toews, D. (2020) On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases from Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus. Greystone Books [publisher site]

Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2010). The spirit level: why equality is better for everyone. Penguin UK.

Wilkinson, R., & Pickett, K. (2018). The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone’s Wellbeing Allen Lane

* There are plenty of good textbooks around and my institutional reading lists include many of these. This list is intended to be a list of affordable, readable titles that can inform and educate across a range of public health sub-disciplines.

* Many of the titles on the list are relevant and contemporary yet there are a few older titles that have earned their place by being recommended or repeatedly cited as being important in the field.

* The original list has been improved significantly thanks to a number of generous twitter contributors and my thanks go out to Harry Rutter, Mark Petticrew, Ash Paul, Piers Simey and Anne Murphy for getting involved. (update...4/11/16...thanks to all of those that RT'd this tweet and further thanks to the following people that also contributed to this list...@rkfmiller @jonny1990 @C_rouzell and @sridhartweet. (further updated June, 2018)

Classic Public Health Papers

This tweet by Tim Elwell-Sutton @tim_esPH was titled, "10 Classic Papers Everyone in Public Health Should Read" and then invited others to add their own papers. There were some great recommendations throughout so I took the liberty of capturing as many as possible in one place to add to this page.

Alonso, Y. (2004). The biopsychosocial model in medical research: the evolution of the health concept over the last two decades. Patient education and counseling, 53(2), 239-244.

Almedom, A. M., & Glandon, D. (2007). Resilience is not the absence of PTSD any more than health is the absence of disease. Journal of loss and Trauma, 12(2), 127-143.

Bauer, G. R. (2014). Incorporating intersectionality theory into population health research methodology: challenges and the potential to advance health equity. Social Science & Medicine, 110, 10-17.

Blaxter, M. (1997). Whose fault is it? People's own conceptions of the reasons for health inequalities. Social Science & Medicine, 44(6), 747-756.

Byrne, D., & Callaghan, G. (2013). Complexity theory and the social sciences: The state of the art. Routledge.

Calman, K. (2009). Beyond the ‘nanny state’: stewardship and public health. Public Health, 123(1), e6-e10.

Cochrane AL (1972) Effectiveness and efficiency: Random reflections on health services. Nuffield Trust. Available at:

Doll, R., & Hill, A. B. (1950). Smoking and carcinoma of the lung. British Medical Journal, 2(4682), 739. doi: 10.1136/bmj.2.4682.739

Incredible insight into how humans make sense of a world which includes illness and death.

Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1937). Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande (Vol. 12). London: Oxford. [pdf]

Farmer, P. (1999). Pathologies of power: rethinking health and human rights. American Journal of Public Health, 89(10), 1486-1496.

Galea, S., Riddle, M., & Kaplan, G. A. (2009). Causal thinking and complex system approaches in epidemiology. International journal of epidemiology, 39(1), 97-106.

"Those who need it most, have the worst healthcare." - The Inverse Care Law

Hart, J. T. (1971). The inverse care law. The Lancet, 297(7696), 405-412.

Hill, A. B. (1965). The environment and disease: association or causation? Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine or

“The major threat to health in the world is modern medicine.” Ivan Illich

Illich, I. (1976). Limits to medicine: medical nemesis: the expropriation of health. London: Marion Boyars. [Review]

Huber, M., Knottnerus, J. A., Green, L., van der Horst, H., Jadad, A. R., Kromhout, D., ... & Schnabel, P. (2011). How should we define health?. Bmj, 343, d4163.

Krieger, N. (1994). Epidemiology and the web of causation: has anyone seen the spider?. Social Science & Medicine, 39(7), 887-903. [www]

Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of health and social behavior, 80-94. DOI: 10.2307/2626958

Maibach, E. W., Nisbet, M., Baldwin, P., Akerlof, K., & Diao, G. (2010). Reframing climate change as a public health issue: an exploratory study of public reactions. BMC Public Health, 10(1), 299.

Michael Marmot on the concept of a social gradient.

Marmot, M. G., Stansfeld, S., Patel, C., North, F., Head, J., White, I., ... & Smith, G. D. (1991). Health inequalities among British civil servants: the Whitehall II study. The Lancet, 337(8754), 1387-1393.

Morris, J. N., Heady, J. A., Raffle, P. A. B., Roberts, C. G., & Parks, J. W. (1953). Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work. The Lancet, 262(6796), 1111-1120.

Robinson, W. S. (2009). Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38(2), 337-341.

Rose, G. (2001). Sick individuals and sick populations. International Journal of Epidemiology, 30(3), 427-432.

Sartorius, N. (2006). The meanings of health and its promotion. Croatian medical journal, 47(4), 662.

Schwartz, S. (1994). The fallacy of the ecological fallacy: the potential misuse of a concept and the consequences. American journal of public health, 84(5), 819-824.

Smith, G. D. (2011). Epidemiology, epigenetics and the ‘Gloomy Prospect’: embracing randomness in population health research and practice. International Journal of Epidemiology, 40(3), 537-562.

Smith, R. (1985). " Bitterness, shame, emptiness, waste": an introduction to unemployment and health. British Medical Journal 291(6501), 1024. doi: 10.1136/bmj.291.6501.1024 or

Sydenstricker, E. (1935). The Changing Concept of Public Health. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly, 13(4), 301-310.

Screening is intuitively appealing. But it can sometimes do more harm than good.

Wilson, J. M. G., Jungner, G., & World Health Organization. (1968). Principles and practice of screening for disease. . Also see a more recent opinion piece (2019)

Leadership in Public Health

Thanks to @jimmcmanusph , @RupertSuckling and @KelechiNnoaham for responding so generously to my tweet request for favourite PH Leadership titles.

Atkinson, J., Loftus, E., & Jarvis, J. (2015). The art of change making. [Full text] Interactive version available at [presentation] [The Leadership Centre's Article Library]

Block, P. (1993). Stewardship: Choosing service over self-interest. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. [GoodReads]

Heffernan, M., Twitter - @M_Heffernan - Books

Huxham, C., & Vangen, S. (2013). Managing to collaborate: The theory and practice of collaborative advantage. Routledge [GoodReads]

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The leadership challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (6th Ed) John Wiley & Sons [Amazon]

Kotter, J. (2020) 8 Steps to accelerate change (updated for a COVID world) e-book

Poole, E. (2017). Leadersmithing: Revealing the Trade Secrets of Leadership. Bloomsbury Publishing. [GoogleBooks] [prompt cards]

Scharmer, O. (2018). The essentials of theory U: Core principles and applications. Berrett-Koehler Publishers. [@ottoscharmer1] [GoogleBooks]

Seddon, J. (2008). Systems thinking in the public sector. Triarchy Press. [GoogleBooks]

Tate, W. (2013). Managing leadership from a systemic perspective. Centre for Progressive Leadership, A White Paper. [www]

Wiggins, L., & Hunter, H. (2016). Relational Change: The Art and Practice of Changing Organizations. Bloomsbury Publishing. [GoogleBooks]

Further Recommended Lists

Original Post date: 02-Nov-2016

Last updated: June 2021