Books – Memoirs, Essays, & Nonfiction

As posted on AOTA CommunOT.


The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida

A Japanese boy diagnosed with autism when he was 5 learned to communicate using a handmade alphabet grid and began writing poems and short stories. He wrote this memoir when he was 13 years old. An AOTA member says it is insightful reading and good to learn from a cultural standpoint, too.

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor

A brain scientist’s stroke in her left hemisphere givers her insight into the different functions of the two brain hemispheres. An AOTA member says the author has wonderful suggestions for working with stroke patients based on neurology.

Educated by Tara Westover

Westover’s parents were survivalists in the mountains of Idaho and the first time she set foot in a classroom was when she was 17 years old. AOTA members are loving this book saying that it’s helpful to learn about people and cultures in our own country that are drastically different from ourselves.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland

An AOTA member said this book is a difficult read and contains a lot of trauma that the author experienced as a child in Sierra Leone, but she says, “I was especially touched by a line in the book where she says how she lost her hands but realized she could still touch others through her heart…She has the attitude of enduring in her life!”

H is for Hawk by Helen MacdonaldPart memoir. Part nature writing. You will learn a lot about hawks. If you’re like me, you’ll start imagining yourself owning a hawk. But this book isn’t just about hawks. If anything, it’s more about a young woman grieving after her father’s unexpected death and struggling with a life transition. Helen starts training a goshawk, and that task becomes a way for her to seclude herself from family, friends, and life. It’s a story of bereavement but also how a hawk changed Helen’s life.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiA neurosurgeon finds out at 36 that he has stage 4 lung cancer. Paul began writing this memoir as he went from being a physician treating the dying to a patient struggling to live. He tackles subjects like morality, being a parent, and what makes life worth living in the face of death. Paul died in March 2015 while writing the book but his words continue to challenge and inspire.


Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli

The author is an immigrant from Mexico who has spent time volunteering to help children in the immigration court system. Her heartfelt essay about the the children who get caught up in the immigration courts tries to answer the question her daughter asks her about the children she is working with—tell me how it ends? In most cases, Luisielli cannot answer that.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum             

If you like laughing out loud but then walking away with a really profound conclusion, this collection of personal essays is for you. Daum covers everything from losing her mother to the decision to not have children in an honest (but also hilarious) way.


The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman

An AOTA member says it’s the one book that made them go into health care. The story of a refugee family’s experience with the U.S. healthcare system and their culture conflicts that obstructed treatment.

An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks

Sacks explores seven medical case histories of individuals with neurological conditions such as autism and Tourette syndrome.

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

Michael Roberts on Twitter said he loved the main character’s focus and steadfastness. “I don’t think I would have liked to do her worksite eval, though.” This is the untold story of the American spy who helped win World War II.

The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Mukherjee tells the history of the gene in the style of an engaging, readable biography. How did we get to where we are today in genetics? Learn about the science and social history, and get a personal narrative of one of the most important modern scientific breakthroughs.

Being Mortal by Atul GawandeIn Being Mortal, Gawande explores what he describes as the hardest challenge of medicine—dealing with death. Instead of carrying out devastating procedures to extend life, Gawande challenges the medical profession to focus more on quality of life and how to make a person’s last weeks or months be rich and dignified.

Patient H.M. by Luke DittricFollowing a lobotomy in 1953, Henry Molaison was unable to create long-term memories. This book tells the story of Patient H.M., as Henry was known, and how he became the most studied individuals in the history of neuroscience. Patient H.M. is readable and a page-turner, combining biography, memoir, and science journalism.