Dimensions reading groups provide a break from academic literature and the opportunity to interact outside of class with others who share similar interests. Each academic year, students help select three books that address some aspect of healthcare and/or medicine. Through lively discussions, students are challenged to think about medicine from many different perspectives. The reading groups are limited in size, to foster meaningful discussion, and the Dimensions program purchases the books. The reading groups are generally held from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the block from late September through December. Book authors frequently travel to Cornell to lead the discussions.

Recent Selections

Mountains Beyond MountainsMountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder 

During medical school, Paul Farmer found his life's calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder's magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that the only real nation is humanity.

Immortal Life Cover


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. As the first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, HeLa cells became vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovering secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects. Henrietta remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Her family still lives in poverty having received none of the profits from the multimillion-dollar industry spawned by the sale of HeLa cells.


Ghost Map CoverThe Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

The book describes the most intense outbreak of cholera in Victorian London in 1854 and what it means to us today, from the way we understand cities, science, disease, and the modern world. The two central protagonists are Dr. John Snow, who created a map of the cholera cases, and the Reverend Henry Whitehead, whose extensive knowledge of the local community helped determine the initial cause of the outbreak. The book is an intriguing historical account of the beginnings of epidemiology.


Ghost map book cover

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee 

The book is a magnificent, profoundly humane "biography" of cancer--from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles of the twentieth century to cure, control and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. The book enters the mind of this immortal illness to understand its personality and to demystify its behavior.



Farm City by Novella Carpenter

Farm City:  The Education of an Urban Farm by Novella Carpenter; Ms. Carpenter delivered the convocation address to the 2011 entering class.

Novella started off with a few chickens and a raised bed or two. A beehive, a turkey, ducks, geese, rabbits, and, eventually, pigs joined her farm in Oakland, California. Along the way she learned about animal husbandry, her neighbors, and herself. The book is her account of GhostTown Farm – why she started raising her own food and how she did it in what is often thought of as one of the worst neighborhoods in a very urban city.