With his empathetic insights into human suffering, healing, and recovery, Hungarian-Canadian physician and author Gabor Maté has reshaped the dialogue surrounding mental health and holistic care. Born in Budapest in 1944, he is an infant survivor of the Holocaust, which killed his maternal grandparents and profoundly shaped his understanding of trauma and the mind-body connection in adult life.
Maté emigrated to Canada in 1956, and studied at the University of British Columbia during the Vietnam War era. After decades of working with patients with co-occuring mental health and substance use disorders, he began writing books in the late 90s, advocating for a trauma-informed, harm reduction approach to care. Groundbreaking works like 2003’s In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and 2008’s When the Body Says No garnered international acclaim for their exploration of the relationships between early-life experiences, emotional well-being, and addiction. His latest tome, 2022’s The Myth of Normal, takes on the cultural causes of trauma and illness in Western society.
In a 2015 interview with the CBC, Maté reflected on the books of his life. For a childhood marked by mass atrocity, literature was an early source of solace and escape:
”For many people, [books] are the source of inspiration, information, knowledge about the self, excitement of fantasy, and for me as a child, I realized an alternate universe which was in some ways more inviting than the real world.”
From A.A. Milne to Eckhart Tolle, dive into Gabor Maté’s book recommendations below.
Gabor Maté’s Reading List
Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne
“Everybody thinks it’s for children. Actually, adults find it screamingly funny, because it’s so full of irony, humour, wry observations on life and absurdity.” -GM
“It’s so ancient, and it’s so human, and it’s so eternal — that people way back, 3,200 years ago in mythical Greece and near Asia were struggling with issues of love, and honour, and fear of death, and dignity, and making decisions under tough circumstances, and it’s all in this beautiful poetic language. If I don’t read it for two or three years in a row, I start missing it, and I have to go back and read it in whatever translation.” -GM
“The problem is, if I had given it to myself when I was 18, 19, 20 or 21, I would’ve disdained it or thrown it away, given the consciousness I had then, because I was so externally focused and so uncomfortable looking internally. Eckhart really invites you to look inside, to see how we create our world through our mental processes and our emotional predispositions which are programmed into us before we know it. If I deal with my mind and the unconscious pain that I carry, and the attachments that I have to things, and the identity that I’ve adopted…you gain liberation.” -GM
The Scourge of the Swastika by Lord Edward Russell
“It opened up all kinds of emotion in me. It also left me pondering a whole lot of questions. One of them was, how can people do this? How can people stand by and allow it to happen? How do we prevent it from happening again? Those questions have been motivational questions all my life.” -GM
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
“The characters are vivid. There are no bad guys and good guys. The seemingly heroic types turn out to have their flaws, and the seemingly villainous types turn out to have their humanity.” -GM
(via CBC; photo by Gurudayal Khalsa)
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