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4 Great Books About Trauma That You Didn’t Know Were About Trauma

_DSC4467I’ve been reading a lot of really good books lately that are teaching me things about trauma and I can’t resist the urge to pass along some of their wisdom. These books are not overtly about personal trauma experiences, but they teach about how systems respond, how people can be resilient and above all, recover and just may teach you something about your own experience.

Destroying Sanctuary: The Crisis in Human Service Delivery Systems

I feel like Sandra Bloom has secretly been following me from job to job. This description of the human services delivery system was filled with “That’s IT—that’s what I was experiencing!” Idealistic pre-professionals read at your own risk—this accurate picture of the challenges and obstacles faced by mental health agencies, hospitals, detention centers, group homes and other organizations that serve people in need is dark. Twelve years into the non-profit world, I found that it vindicated a lot of my responses to what happened. Its follow-up, Restoring Sanctuary, is much more hopeful. That book is a description of what ideal organizations look like, and how she helps them to get there.

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps

This book is a marvel. The concentration camp system was in place for 12 years and eventually grew to hundreds of camps, thousands of staff and millions of people. That Nikolaus Wachsmann manages to describe the change in purpose, structure and character of the camps is in itself amazing, but he does more than that. Virtually every sentence has multiple footnotes but the book is still both comprehensible and interesting for lay readers. He does this with a balance of individual stories that create an image and then an overview of statistics that gives you scope. There are so many lessons about trauma and humanity, from the behavior of inmate “society”, the response of German citizens, the acceptance or rejection of violence by guards and how prisoners adapted to their roles in the camps. It’s a portrait of victims and perpetrators in a culture of ultra-violence.

Be prepared to commit, though. This thing is 627 pages of text, and another couple hundred pages of notes and photographs. And while the horrors of the camps are described matter-of-factly, they can’t be avoided completely and despite some stories of generousity and survival, the book is inherently a downer. The furthest “popular” highlight on the Kindle edition is on page 97, signaling that despite how engaging and fascinating it is, most people probably don’t finish.


Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine

This book by a Duke psychiatrist is more than a memoir and more than a well-researched description of racial inequality in medicine.  His brave self-reflection, humility and care for his patients make this a beautiful, compelling read. This is a portrait of how the medical system can both cause and treat trauma, as well as a depiction of his own personal resilience.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Online shaming could fill dozens of books, each of which would need to be updated daily to stay current. Everytime I blog, I’m excruciatingly aware that there are plenty of sentences that could be yanked from context and flouted as proof that I’m an idiot, a bigot, a jerk, whatever. Fortunately, I’m not enough of a big deal to face such scrutiny. I own a complete collection of MLK’s speeches and what strikes me in 2015 is the repetition. He gave variations of the same speech in different locations because the audience was new every time. Today’s agents of change and educators have to create new material that are devoured and dissected immediately, which means that new material must be created quickly and one misstep has intense consequences. Ronson follows up with a few of the more infamous shamees, who share their symptoms and healing process, and it sounds awfully familiar to people who know PTSD.


For more recommendations, you can see what I’m reading and what I’ve read by following my Goodreads profile

4 Great Books About Trauma That You Didn’t Know Were About Trauma

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2015). 4 Great Books About Trauma That You Didn’t Know Were About Trauma. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Sep 2015
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