Top 5 Books Featuring Uncommon Veterinarians for 2012

I am a reader. How could I not be, with cozy slippers and a fireplace like that?

But seriously, it’s a real part of my identity. I always feel some silly pride in this fact, even though I really don’t have much to do with it. My parents were incredibly faithful in reading to my siblings and me and in encouraging our own reading for pleasure all through my childhood. I know that this instilled a habit that seemed completely right and natural as I began deciding what to do with my own leisure time, and this habit has continued to mature with me as I’ve become an adult.

Now that I’m raising my own little daughter, I can better appreciate the discipline and commitment that this must have taken on the part of my parents. Thanks, Dad and Mom!

Although I love exploring the world in all its beautiful and gritty reality, I also derive much pleasure from engaging in these explorations in the comfort of my own bed or favorite coffee shop. My wife Becca and I decided for the first time to take advantage of Goodreads’ 2012 Reading Challenge, and we both made it to our goals on Christmas Eve! 30 for me and 52 for her, if you must know. I would love to connect with any and all on Goodreads through my profile here.

I’ve also started to delve into the other side of reading this year. Yep, you guessed it: I’m writing a book. It’s still in the very early stages, but I’m excited about the idea of contributing to the grand world of stories as a creator and not just a consumer. I’ll be writing more about this process over the months ahead. Stay tuned!

So without further ado, here are my favorite books of the last year by or about uncommon veterinarians. I’m cheating a little bit because only two of these books were actually published in 2012. The other three are ones that I read in 2012, even though they’ve been around for a while. I chose them not just for the veterinary connection but also as background research for my own work in progress. I’ll start off with the non-fiction and then treat you to a couple of novels at the end.

1. Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

How’s that for a title? I got this book for Christmas and finished it on New Year’s Eve, so that should give some indication of how much I liked it! This page-turner is co-authored by a DVM/MPH like myself, Monica Murphy, and it also features a number of veterinarians who have been involved in rabies research and programs over the last few hundred years. Highly recommended. 2012 release.

2. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

David Quammen‘s new book is a must-read for all current and future uncommon veterinarians. His contribution to the growing popular literature on emerging zoonotic diseases is easy to read while remaining intellectually rigorous and staying away from some of the exaggeration and fear-mongering that sometimes seem to characterize the genre. Spillover features a number of uncommon vets doing exactly the type of work I would love to get into one day. Quammen is an accomplished author and Contributing Writer for National Geographic Magazine, which makes him a pretty cool guy in my eyes. 2012 release.

3. Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detective of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

This is one of several books that have come out in the last ten years featuring the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. Author Maryn McKenna follows the stories of a number of EIS officers, including a few veterinarians, who fly around the world trying to get to the bottom of some pretty exciting infectious disease mysteries. I’ve considered applying for the EIS myself, and I’m also planning to feature a fictional EIS officer as a character in my novel, so this book was an especially relevant read for me.

4. Altar of Eden

Did you all know that the incredibly successful thriller author James Rollins is a veterinarian? I had seen his books on various bestseller lists and shelves over the years, but I never picked one up until I learned that very important fact earlier this year. I’m not really a connoisseur of his style of pop action-adventure, but if you look through my recent Goodreads’ books you’ll probably notice that I’ve been reading a bunch of this genre over the last few months. They are quick, fun, and easy reads, and I’m trying to learn from the style as I delve into my own writing adventures.

But back to Altar of Eden. This is the first of Rollins’ books to feature a veterinarian as the protagonist, so that’s why it was also the first one I decided to read. The vet in question, Dr. Lorna Polk, finds her work at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species rudely interrupted by a fast-paced adventure involving mutant killer creatures, mysterious bad guys on Caribbean islands, and even the war in Iraq.

I also read the first book in Rollins’ acclaimed Sigma Force series, mostly so that I could move on to the 2012 release Bloodline, which features a military working dog (near to my heart, as you can imagine!).

5. Jurassic Park

Yes, an oldie but a goodie! If you have never read Michael Crichton’s classic dinosaur thriller, do yourself a favor and find a used copy sometime soon. You may have forgotten that the park veterinarian, Dr. Gerry Harding, plays a small but important role through the story. I actually first read this book back in middle school after the movie came out, but I picked it up again this year to try to learn some biological thriller craft from the expert Crichton. How cool would it be if one of us ends up being the first dinosaur vet a few years down the road?

So there you have it! I hope you’ll take a break from whatever other activities you’re busily engaged in to dive into some of these inspiring stories.

But enough from me. What did I miss? Any good recommendations on books by or about uncommon vets?

Note: The book links above are Amazon Affiliate links which will literally pay me pennies if any of you happen to buy a book on my recommendation. Although this isn’t going to make me a millionaire anytime soon, I still really appreciate the support.

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31 Responses to “Top 5 Books Featuring Uncommon Veterinarians for 2012”

  1. Kathryn Elliott Stegall January 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks for the good recommendations, Elliott. I will add them to my wish-list. It will be a good way for me to learn more about what you do and aspire to do as well. Your list made me curious – What would your list of Top 10 All Time Books About or By Veterinarians look like?

    • Elliott January 2, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

      Hmmm, very good question! Sounds like a great idea for another post sometime in the future, so I’ll keep thinking about it for now. Any recommendations from you?

  2. Kate January 2, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I am very excited about the first three books you recommended! I love to read, but mostly non-fiction titles. It really takes a lot for me to get into fiction. I have already added Rabid, Spillover and Beating Back the Devil to my Amazon wish list, I just need more time in the day to actually sit down and read. Thanks for the recommendations!

    • Elliott January 2, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      I think that’s everyone’s problem, but alas, there will always only be 24 hours to work with. Let me know how you like those books — maybe you can review them on your blog?

  3. Joe January 3, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Hmmm, definitely some titles to consider. I think it’s also worth noting that, like Rollins, Crichton also comes from a medical background.

    • Elliott January 3, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

      Whoops, totally forgot to mention that! Yes, I’ve always appreciated the fact that Crichton was a physician by training. I think that gave him some credibility in the eyes of his readers along with making the science and medicine in his books more realistic.

  4. Meg January 4, 2013 at 4:53 am #

    Thanks for the shout out, Elliott. Yes, we always loved reading with you all, and it warms our hearts to know that you’ve kept that love very much alive. <3

    • Elliott Garber January 4, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      Thanks Mom! We’re getting a little bored with the baby board books over here for Lena, so I’m definitely looking forward to the transition into the children’s books we grew up with.

  5. Rayya January 5, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Hey Elliott. Happy 2013. I also love reading and often find the only time I can is when I’m on holidays. Goodluck with your book. It is quite inspiring to see a few vets have successfully delved into the writing world. 🙂

    • Elliott January 5, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

      Rayya, great to hear from you here. I definitely do a lot more reading when I am traveling for work or on vacation. I’ve been wondering if you might have a book up your sleeve too… we should chat about it sometime!

  6. Don Woodman DVM January 8, 2013 at 8:29 pm #

    I would suggest the Cryptid Hunters by Roland Smith. A children’s book that I enjoyed reading to my boys. Thanks for your list.

    • Elliott January 8, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

      Hey Don, thanks for your recommendation! I hadn’t heard of Roland Smith but just did some reading and see that he’s written a lot of animal-related books. I will probably get this one myself (for some reason I still haven’t grown out of juvenile fiction…) and then hold on to it for when my own kids are a little older!

  7. Linda January 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

    Cool post! I’ve never heard of ‘goodreads’ before, but have already picked a few books I’d like to read from their website! It’s by no means a veterinary book, but if you haven’t yet read it, I have to suggest Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (Currently in the media thanks to its Hollywood transformation). It’s a book filled with exotic animals and lots of adventure- one of my all time favourites 🙂 Linda. http://www.becomingdolittle.blogspot.ie

    • Elliott January 17, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Glad I helped you discover Goodreads! It’s definitely given my wife and me some inspiration as we track our goals over the course of the year, and it’s great for reviews from other readers too. I loved Life of Pi, and can’t wait to see the movie version! I was living in southern India near where the book starts when I read it so that made it even cooler.

  8. Daniela M January 17, 2013 at 5:54 pm #

    Just finished reading Rabid. Loved the history with Luis Pasteur and bringing the idea of how sci-fi monsters could have originated from this virus. Great recommendation! I just started reading Spillover 🙂

    • Elliott January 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Nice! Yeah, I loved Pasteur’s story also. What an incredible time of discovery that was. The book kind of made me want to take on as a life goal the quest to eradicate rabies in the dog population. Probably won’t happen, but it would be a great legacy. Now you’re going to Love Spillover…

  9. Jenna Kalleberg January 18, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    I really enjoyed The Rhino with Glue on Shoes by Lucy H. Spelman; It has lots of cool stories from wildlife vets that will make you laugh and cry. I’m also in the process of reading Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species, which is about some very unique careers and experiences. While not a book, I’d highly recommend the documentary The Elephant in the Living Room. Elliott, do you have any documentaries/movies about non-traditional vets you’d recommend?

    • Elliott Garber January 19, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Hey Jenna, thanks for reminding me about Lucy Spelman’s book! I really enjoyed that one and felt a little bit of a special connection since she had been a vet and then director of the National Zoo back when I volunteered there. I haven’t read the second one about wildlife forensics but it looks like one that I would love — going on my Amazon wish list! Good question about the movies… Off the top of my head I would say Contagion, obviously, but I’ll have to think on that to come up with a better list.

      • Jenna K. February 15, 2013 at 12:22 am #

        Yes, everyone mentions Contagion, but I have yet to see it. I’ll have to see if I can rent it. Thanks!

  10. Laura McLain DVM February 8, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

    I loved RABID. Fascinating account. Another cool infectious diseases book is THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston. (I don’t remember if there are any veterinarians in it, but there probably are.) It’s about Ebola and a near-outbreak in Virginia.
    And, of course, ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL is probably a reason many of us are in this profession. I re-read James Herriot every few years and am always amazed that although he was a rural mixed-animal vet in 1930’s Yorkshire and I am a suburban small-animal vet in 2010’s Utah, our patients and clients are the same.

    • Elliott March 30, 2013 at 10:27 am #

      Laura, great to hear from you! I loved The Hot Zone as well, and it was actually one of the first in this genre of biological thrillers that I’m now trying to emulate in my own book. Of course, Preston’s story is non-fiction, but it’s written like a novel. There are several veterinarians featured in the book, including a husband and wife pathologist and lab animal medicine couple who are Army officers working at USAMRIID.

      And yes, I’m looking forward to another read of Herriot’s books in a few years when my kids can appreciate them. We’re already delving into the picture books now for my two-year old daughter.

  11. M.A. February 17, 2013 at 4:09 am #

    I am definitely a reader too, but I’m not big into non-fiction … however I will definitely check out your recommendations! I recently found out one of my favorite Sci Fi trilogies (Griffin’s Daughter) was written by a veterinarian in LA, Leslie Ann Moore. It made me feel like after I finish accomplishing dream #1 (becoming a veterinarian obviously!! 😉 someday I might actually get around to writing that book floating around in my head …
    -M.A., 3rd Year Vet Student

    • Elliott March 30, 2013 at 10:17 am #

      Hey M.A., thanks for this information! I’ll have to look up her books, because I’m especially interested in discovering other vets who have succeeded in writing fiction. I’m beginning to explore the writing process myself so it’s fun to hear of others who have been successful from the same background. You’ll have to chime in again as you think more seriously about your own book!

  12. Kendrah Rose Jensen March 30, 2013 at 6:00 am #

    One that was an easy read, tear jerker, and has to do with animal research is Ape House by Sara Gruen. She also wrote Water for Elephants, which I didn’t read but watched the movie. Thanks for your suggestions!

    • Elliott March 30, 2013 at 10:05 am #

      Kendrah, thanks for your recommendations! I haven’t read either of those by Sara Gruen yet but they are on my list.

  13. Emily Martin May 18, 2013 at 2:59 am #

    I am an aspiring pre-vet student, applying for vet school come June 5th and I am so excited I found this website. It is extremely helpful to learn about all the options for vet school loan repayment as well as the different sectors to work in. I have of course as others had said “reread Herriot” over and over again. I have been looking for some good reads to inspire and I am so happy you posted this list. I have ordered two used versions from the list as well as another book somewhat related by Mary Roach. She writes about some pretty interesting human subjects and having heard her writing before I read it, it is absolutely hilarious. Just an idea if you are ever in the need of a good laugh. On another note, do you have any suggestions for uncommon pre-veterinary experiences? I over 2000 hours of small animal, 1000 of equine and 60 of laboratory animal and I am applying to zoos and aquariums that have pre-vet or medically focused animal husbandry programs. Other than that I haven’t been able to find anything to latch on to. Any help is appreciated!

    • Elliott May 22, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

      Thanks for this suggestion, Emily! I hadn’t heard of Mary Roach but will definitely add her to my “want to read” list.

      Many of the organizations I’ve written about here on my site will accept pre-vet as well as veterinary students in different types of positions. Some of the general areas of the vet field that you haven’t covered yet include public health, agricultural development work, and research of all sorts. You could get in touch with your state public health veterinarian or a local APHIS vet to see if they would let you shadow them for a few weeks. Lots of fun options out there — it’s just a matter of reaching out and making connections. Good luck and stay in touch!

  14. Dawn Freeman June 26, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    What books would you recommend for a 12 year old who want to be a vet?

  15. VetChangesWorld (@VetChangesWorld) August 9, 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Fantastic recommendations. Rabid is particular fascinating. I’m especially excited to read the Jim Rollins – see what fiction with a veterinary flavor reads like. Thanks for putting this out there!

    • Shannon Finn November 13, 2015 at 7:03 pm #

      Emperor of all Maladies: Biography of Cancer (Siddhartha Mukherjee) is a great one too! Along the lines of the Rabid book by the looks of it, just a tad longer.
      LOVE this list, I aspire to be an “uncommon veterinarian” so this list is PERFECT

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