ICE Book Review – The Books of 2017, A Year End Review

By Rob Cooney (@EMEducation)

Welcome to 2018 fellow readers! For this month’s review, I thought I would try something a little different and go back through my reading list from the past year and share some of my favorite reads (and listens) with you that I haven’t yet covered!  I hope that you’ll browse the list and discover a title or two that speaks to you!

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Writing is not a skill that comes easily to me. I tend to procrastinate, ruminate, type, delete, type, delete… You get the idea. Bird by Bird is a poignant and witty guide to becoming a better writer. Ms. Lamott covers observation, voice (and vulnerability), routines, embracing the “shitty first draft,” dealing with the dreaded writer’s block, and getting feedback on your work.  All in all, a fun read that will make you smile and possibly laugh, so caution if reading in the library.


Turn the Ship Around! by L. David Marquet
Tues_Marquet_Turn the Ship Around
Have you ever had to work with a disgruntled, poor performing team? That was the situation Captain Marquet inherited when he assumed command of USS Sante Fe, a nuclear fast-attack submarine. At the time he transitioned into the command role, the Sante Fe was the worst performing submarine in the entire US Navy.  Needless to say, he had his work cut out for him.  In Turn the Ship Around, Captain Marquet dissects the problems with the “leader-follower” approach to management that remains pervasive in business and how he transitioned to a “leader-leader” system through a combination of empowerment, deliberate action and “certifying” competence, and the shared understanding of core values.  Under his command, the Sante Fe went from worst to first in their performance metrics. If you want to get a sneak peak, check out Captain Marquet speaking at Google. (


Creativity, Inc. by Ed CatmullTues_Catmull_Creativity

It would be hard to argue against the success of Pixar with a record of 13 Academy Awards, 11 Grammys, and 9 Golden Globes. Creativity, Inc catalogs the journey from a small studio to the powerhouse that Pixar is today and the leadership lessons gleaned by co-founder and company President Ed Catmull.  In this book, you’ll learn why hierarchy creates impediments to being a learning organization, how to balance risk/fear of failure with learning, how to derail confirmation bias and actually listen to your team, why environment is critical to success, and much more.


Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed

Tues_Syed_Black BoxDo you like making mistakes? Neither do I. Failure is one of the scariest things out there, yet if we can extract the right lessons from failure, perhaps it is actually beneficial? Black Box Thinking opens with the story of Elaine Bromiley, a healthy and vibrant mother and wife who died during a routine surgery.  The case has been widely described in the lay press (, literature (, and #FOAMed (  With this case as the backdrop, Mr. Syed explores the reasons we fail, why we resist learning from (or even admitting to) failure, and how we can fine-tune the learning process in order to reach our potential.


Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Tues_Scott_CandorWhat makes the best boss? This is a topic that is oft debated. Kim Scott argues that the best leaders are those who can display what she refers to as “Radical Candor.”  Radical candor represents a combination of caring personally about your people and not being afraid to directly challenge them about their work.  Caring personally means opening up, sharing more than business and developing a personal relationship with your people.  However, to be radically candid, you must also be willing to challenge people when they aren’t meeting the expectations.   It requires the ability to balance being honest, willing to criticize but taking care not to offend.  Within the book, Mrs. Scott includes a wonder 4-quadrant figure that outlines this balance.  The four quadrants are: manipulative insecurity (neither caring personally or challenging directly), obnoxious aggression (lots of direct challenge but not caring at all), ruinous empathy (lots of caring but unwilling to challenge), and finally, the sweet spot of radical candor.  I think that in medical education, we too often fall back into ruinous empathy, caring deeply about our learners, but not always willing to confront them for fear of hurting their feelings.  Mrs. Scott explains the dangers of this habit and many methods to move towards radical candor.  This is a book I intend to explore in more detail for a later review.


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiTues_Kalanithi_Air

This book received a LOT of attention when it was published, and rightfully so. Dr. Kalanithi was a neurosurgical resident who, at age 36, was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air is his posthumously published memoir about life, death, meaning, purpose, and medicine.  The book is filled with profound insights and, as a physician, provoked many moments of quiet introspection in addition to the occasion tears.  A few of the passages I found meaningful:

While reflecting on a friends death:
“In that moment, all my occasions of failed empathy came rushing back to me: the times I had pushed discharge over patient worries, ignored patients’ pain when other demands pressed. The people whose suffering I saw, noted, and neatly packaged into various diagnoses, the significance of which I failed to recognize…” (pg 85)

In discussing the process of his mentor’s pancreatic cancer treatment:
“How little do doctors understand the hells through which we put patients.” (pg 102)

In reflecting on his close friend’s suicide after a bad surgical outcome:
“Death comes for all of us. For us, for our patients: it is our fate… Our patients’ lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins. Even if you are perfect, the world isn’t. The secret is to know the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients. You can’t ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving.” (pg 114-115)

A must read for all medical professionals.

Featured image via Pexels