Happy Bastille Day, y’all. In a day when we enshrine rebellion—and liberation, naturellement—I am pleased to celebrate a revolutionary healthcare thinker, and book.
The thinker is Sandro Galea, Dean of the Boston University School of Health. The book is entitled Healthier: Fifty Thoughts on the Foundation of Population Health, which was published by Oxford University Press last month.
What makes this book so radical—and thought-provoking—is its ingenious composition: fifty dart-like essays that shoot to the heart of an equal number of components of public health in the current age. From the modern epidemic of suicide among middle-aged Americans to the lessons we can draw from the undrinkable drinking water in Flint, Michigan, Galea has produced a compendium of teachable surprises.
Most of these ruminations are just a few pages long—the longest are six pages—and nearly all seem to be brimming with eye-opening factoids: “Between 2003 and 2012, natural disasters killed an average of 106,654 people per year.” (A shockingly large number to me.) There are “300 definitions” for the word “culture.” (Who knew?)
But the statistics are mere kindling to Galea, a means for starting a fire of argument and ideas. Take those natural disasters. As horrific as the tolls from Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy—or those from the tsunamis in Japan (2011) and the Indian Ocean (2004)—were, Galea reveals how the social context in each affected region transformed the population’s health, in ways good and bad, for years afterward.
A clear and incisive writer, Galea seems ever to be connecting things: linking handwashing to courage; or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 to the ongoing civil war in Syria. (The connective tissue in the latter, as readers discover, is the role human empathy plays in the public response to the tragedy.) There are ample footnotes to these short essays, but the writing is anything but academic. Galea, a physician and epidemiologist by training, is quick-to-the-point and unflinching—even brutal, at times, in his directness, particularly in the chapterettes on firearms, substance abuse, and incarceration.
The inescapable thesis that emerges from these 50 “thoughts,” as Galea frames them, is that our own individual health and longevity—as private as that destiny may seem—is connected to the broader public’s well-being in ways unseen and surprising. Health culture (there’s that word) is a shared resource, like water and air. And Galea’s latest book is one that’s eminently worth sharing as well.
This essay appears in today’s edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.
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