Photo: Dustin Raben
When Toronto Doctor and Humanitarian Samantha Nutt Travels, There’s Usually a Book in her Bag
The War Child founder loves literary fiction, but a non-fiction book on Medical Assistance in Dying captured her attention this year / BY Shinan Govani / February 23rd, 2023
There is hardly a war zone she has not visited, and very few honours she has not received, but what really drives Dr. Samantha Nutt are people’s stories. The author of the bestselling 2011 book, Damned Nations, and founder of War Child in Canada and the U.S. – a highly regarded relief organization that protects vulnerable children and their families in conflict zones – she studied drama and 19th-century literature in the U.K. before veering, later, to medical school. It’s a duality the Toronto-based humanitarian sums up in this way: “People think it’s a bit of a deviation to go from drama to medicine, for example, but I think drama is fundamentally about empathy and understanding another person’s life experience and how that manifests itself, and this applies to medicine as well.”
Whether on the road to Yemen or Uganda, a book, she says, is usually there to keep her company. Nutt recently filled us in.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
The Last Doctor by Jean Marmoreo and Johanna Schneller. The book deals with an incredibly complex issue – Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) – with compassion, courage and beauty. It’s such an important topic, death, and yet we spend most of our lives avoiding such conversations until the very end. As a doctor, I also found the book to be an incredibly useful tool. It is not an easy read by any measure, but a necessary one.
What book can’t you wait to dive into?
I still have my copy of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light on my bedside table and have yet to crack it. Though I want to, I really want to. It’s just that, at almost 900 pages, it’s a commitment, and I’m going to want to take my time to enjoy her always perfect prose, but life has kind of gotten in the way.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
THAT is an impossible question to answer. I love different books for different reasons. I love the exquisite detail of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the unassailable conviction of Rachel Carson, the raw character portraits of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. I have always been a huge fan of Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, reading and rereading them since high school. I’m a word nerd. Stick me in any room with any author and I just about lose my mind – sometimes in ways I have to apologize for afterwards.
What book completely changed your perspective?
Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, which is a comprehensive account of Belgian imperialism in former Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), the evolution of the humanitarian movement and the price Congolese civilians continue to pay for the vast mineral and other resource wealth that lies beneath their feet.
If you could have dinner with any author, living or dead, who would it be?
Christopher Hitchens. I know we did not agree on more than a few things, but next to Oscar Wilde, there was never a better conversationalist, wit or literary savant.