Summertime… and the Readin’ Is Easya book illuminated by the sun

A Guggenheim for Greene

Johns Hopkins medical historian Jeremy Greene, the Leslie and Scott Jacobs and Stephen Rosenthal CIM Scholar, is one of 171 scientists, writers, scholars and artists awarded Guggenheim Fellowships this year, a prestigious distinction that recognizes achievements and exceptional promise. His fellowship is in the category of the history of science, technology and economics.

Guggenheim Fellows receive financial awards and were selected from a pool of nearly 2,500 applicants. The Guggenheim Foundation was established in 1925 by U.S. Sen. Simon Guggenheim and his wife, Olga Guggenheim, in memory of their son John. Since their creation, the foundation has provided nearly $400 million in fellowships.

Whether you’re unwinding at the beach, the mountains or in a hammock in your backyard this summer, here are three thought-provoking books — by authors with CIM connections — that you won’t want to miss.

The Transformative Power of the Arts

“Many of us tend to think of the arts as either entertainment or as an escape. But what this book will show you is that the arts are so much more. They can be used to fundamentally change your day-to-day life. They can help address serious physical and mental health issues, with remarkable results. And they can both help you learn and flourish.” 

So write Susan Magsamen, founder and director of the International Arts + Mind Lab, and Ivy Ross, Google’s vice president of design for the hardware product area, in the introduction to their new book, Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us.

Magsamen and Ross take a broad approach, talking to fascinating people from all walks of life, including a traumatized firefighter who found solace through art, famed biologist Edward O. Wilson (before he died), musician David Byrne, and Susan’s husband, Richard Huganir, director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience. 

Magsamen, whose International Arts + Mind Lab is part of the Pederson Brain Science Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is also an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins, co-director of the NeuroArts BluePrint Project in partnership with the Aspen Institute, and author of seven previous books about art and learning, many for children. 

“You don’t have to be an expert or have a particular talent for art in order for it to have a tremendous positive impact on your life,” Magsamen says. “You can start right away. You don’t have to spend a lot of money.” — Karen Nitkin

Lighting the Path to Healing

“To treat, even to cure, is not always to heal.” That is the guiding credo of Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Kay Redfield Jamison’s newest book, her ninth, which offers an expansive cultural history of the treatment and healing of mental suffering.

Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind, due out in May, “is very much about psychotherapy. It is also about war and the trauma of war,” says Jamison, the Dalio Professor in Mood Disorders, MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient and a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist for biography.

In Fires in the Dark, Jamison weaves in her own experience with bipolar illness, demonstrating how effective psychotherapy can be when it is done well. She also argues that not only patients but doctors must be healed, using as one example W.H.R. Rivers, the psychiatrist who treated poet Siegfried Sassoon and other shell-shocked World War I soldiers.

Artists and writers also have a role in our healing, Jamison notes in her book, which examines the role that Paul Robeson — bass-baritone, stage and film actor, and activist — played in helping us to heal as a people.

“Jamison’s elegant prose, imbued with personal warmth and deep humanity, is itself a solace,” writes Lori Gottlieb, New York Times best-selling author, “lighting the way on the path that leads us to a more peaceful present and imaginative future.”

Technology in Medicine: Empty Promises?

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeremy Greene, the Leslie and Scott Jacobs and Stephen Rosenthal CIM Scholar, like other clinicians, turned to telemedicine as a way to keep his patients at an East Baltimore community health center safe from the contagious disease. 

Telemedicine wasn’t new in March 2020, but the pandemic made it ubiquitous. The technology’s grand promise, that it would increase access to care, particularly for disadvantaged people, would be tested in real time. 

Greene, an internist who is director of the Department of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins and a member of CIM’s Advisory Committee, has long been fascinated with the powerful and often-overlooked ways that the doctor-patient relationship is mediated by technology. He quickly saw that telemedicine was tremendously useful for patients with the technology and skills to log into the electronic system and use home-based equipment like blood pressure cuffs or pulse oximeters. 

But patients without those advantages lost out, he writes in The Doctor Who Wasn’t There: Technology, History and the Limits of Telehealth, his new book tracing the history of remote care. 

“Telemedicine, a technology that initially promised greater access to care to patients of color in poor urban areas, had in the crisis of the early pandemic come to serve more well-to-do, white patients who needed assistance least,” Greene writes.

For his latest book, Greene steps into the way-back machine and examines how four technologies — the telephones of the 1920s, radios of the 1940s, closed-circuit televisions of the 1950s and the connected computers of the 1960s — changed health care. Grand promises to the contrary, they didn’t erase health disparities and often made them worse. 

That historic perspective helps Greene see the promise of the present moment and how easily it can slip away. As his book shows, each innovation was promoted with claims that it would improve access to care, particularly for disadvantaged urban and rural patients.  

However, technology alone can’t bridge the stubbornly persistent divide between medical haves and have-nots, he notes. That requires sustained logistical and financial support from politicians, the medical community and technology companies. — Karen Nitkin