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A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health

Leana Wen

Metropolitan Books

Lifelines Download image

ISBN10: 1250186234
ISBN13: 9781250186232


352 Pages



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“Public health saved your life today—you just don’t know it,” is a phrase that Dr. Leana Wen likes to use. You don’t know it because good public health is invisible. It becomes visible only in its absence, when it is underfunded and ignored, a bitter truth laid bare as never before by the devastation of COVID-19.

Leana Wen—emergency physician, former Baltimore health commissioner, CNN medical analyst, and The Washington Post contributing columnist—has lived on the front lines of public health, leading the fight against the opioid epidemic, outbreaks of infectious disease, maternal and infant mortality, and COVID-19 disinformation. Here, in gripping detail, Wen lays bare the lifesaving work of public health and its innovative approach to social ills, treating gun violence as a contagious disease, for example, and racism as a threat to health.

Wen also tells her own uniquely American story: an immigrant from China, she and her family received food stamps and were at times homeless despite her parents working multiple jobs. That child went on to attend college at thirteen, become a Rhodes scholar, and turn to public health as the way to make a difference in the country that had offered her such possibilities.

Ultimately, she insists, it is public health that ensures citizens are not robbed of decades of life, and that where children live does not determine whether they live.


Praise for Lifelines

“Leana Wen’s book about her journey into the world of public health is a moving eye-opener. We follow her as she delves into the lives of the citizens that she hopes to protect; we endure her frustrations and rejoice in her victories. This book is ultimately about transformation— and Wen’s own journey is a metaphor for the long awaited transformation of public health in America. This is a must-read from one of our finest medical writers.”—Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene

"Our best doctors aren’t created in medical school, they are born through remarkable life experiences with a desire and capacity to end the injustices others accept. Dr. Leana Wen is a public health superhero, destined to make profound changes in our world. This is her origin story."—Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

"Captivating, inspiring, and refreshingly honest, Lifelines takes you on an unforgettable journey to understand the power of public health to transform society. Dr. Wen's hopeful and wise account is a reminder of why she has quickly become one of America's most important physician leaders."—Dr. Vivek Murthy, 19th Surgeon General of the United States

"In this powerful book, Dr. Wen tells the compelling story of her journey to a career in medicine while giving a crash course in the nuts and bolts of policy and politics. Along the way, her writing will turn any reader into a believer in the power of public health and an advocate for getting off the benches and into the trenches."—Senator Barbara Mikulski

"With its brave candor and clarity, this book is for people who might not know all the ways in which public health has saved their lives, but they will once they've read Lifelines. It is also for all the people who do know the importance of investing in public health, of prevention and treating everyone with dignity, and who want to learn how Leana Wen has accomplished this throughout her career as a doctor, public servant, and writer."—Chelsea Clinton, author, advocate, and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation

"Lifelines is a truly special book. Dr. Wen takes us with her not just on her remarkable life journey but also into an exploration of the life-and-death implications of a system that too consistently leaves people behind. Here Dr. Wen shows that she is not only one of our great medical minds—she is also one of our great storytellers and changemakers."—Wes Moore, author of The Other Wes Moore and Five Days, CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation

"During the pandemic, I came to count on Dr. Leana Wen’s calm presence, tempered advice, and explanation of the science. Now that I’ve read her captivating and important Lifelines, I cannot begin to express how inspired I am by her personal journey. Many people are ambitious and smart, but few among them seek to improve life for others. Leana Wen’s empathy and concern for the world around her shines through with every word."—Lisa See, author of The Island of Sea Women and Shanghai Girls

"A provocative exploration of public health from an immigrant physician and expert’s point of view [and] a moving account of an impressively fruitful life."—Kirkus Reviews

"A stirring call for greater investment in public health programs to combat racism, poverty, gun violence, and other social ills . . . Readers will be inspired by Wen’s belief in the power of public health to make America better."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Chi Ku

Chi ku. In Mandarin, it means “to eat bitter”—to sacrifice and go through great hardships. My grandparents always added a second part: that one eats bitter in order to taste sweet.

I was born...

About the author

Leana Wen

Dr. Leana Wen is an emergency physician, public health professor at George Washington University, and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is also a contributing columnist for the Washington Post and a CNN medical analyst. Previously, she served as Baltimore’s health commissioner, where she led the nation’s oldest continuously operating public health department. She is the author of the patient advocacy book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. Dr. Wen lives with her husband and their two young children in Baltimore.

Courtesy of Dr. Leana Wen

Dr. Leana Wen

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