Books·My Life in Books

7 books that inspired astronaut Dr. Dave Williams to reach for the stars

The physician and author of Defying Limits talks about his favourite literary works.
Dave Williams is a Canadian astronaut. (NASA/Simon & Schuster Canada)

Dafydd Rhys Williams — also known as "Dr. Dave" — is a Canadian physician and retired astronaut raised on the West Island of Montreal. He's set records for spacewalking, saved lives as a ER doctor and performed surgery in zero gravity. 

His memoir, Defying Limits, is an ode to the exploration of everything life has to offer from the perspective of one of the country's most accomplished astronauts.​ 

Here are the books that have shaped Dr. Dave's life and work. 

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Mark Twain was the pseudonym for American novelist and publisher Samuel Langhorne Clemens. (Wikimedia Commons/Tor)

"I read and re-read Tom Sawyer more than Huckleberry Finn and the other Mark Twain novels. There were parallels between what I had read in Tom Sawyer and what I would be able to live as a kid growing up in the West Island part of Montreal. I remember going rafting, fishing, making campfires and exploring the outdoors like Tom. It was a pretty incredible book."

The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau

Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, scientist, photographer, author and researcher. (Getty/National Geographic )

"I grew up in the 1960s and as the decade went on, underwater and space exploration became more prevalent and came to the forefront. A book that really was quite pivotal for me at that time was The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau. It was quite incredible for me. I haven't read it as many times like Tom Sawyer, but well over five times." 

The Lonely Sea and Sky by Sir Francis Chichester

Sir Francis Charles Chichester was a pioneering aviator and solo sailor. (Getty/Summersdale)

"This book was quite remarkable. I mean there were other books about the topic [aviation and sailing] and events such as the Kon-Tiki expedition, but this book really captured a passion for the ocean and aviation. It was great. I really, really enjoyed that one."

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a physician and the creator of the Sherlock Holmes character. (Bantam Classics)

"I read Sherlock Holmes and all of the collected works in university maybe a bazillon times! What is exciting and interesting about the Sherlock Holmes books was the power of deductive reasoning. Physicians have to be able to use the physical signs that are associated with illness to help put together a whole story. Nowadays we have more sophisticated laboratory and imaging diagnostic tools so the reliance on these physical tests is certainly a lot less. But back in the day we didn't have these diagnostic capabilities.  As a physician, it's so important to develop that skill. When I was in medicine, I really enjoyed the ability to begin to use deductive reasoning to come up with a diagnosis."

The Citadel by A. J. Cronin

Archibald Joseph Cronin was a Scottish novelist and physician. (Getty/Little, Brown and Company)

"It's about a country physician practicing in a small town and moving to London. He moves away from what he initially went into medicine for and the book is about him returning to his roots. I really enjoyed that. It's a bit of a bittersweet story, but hits home and is told in a very compelling manner."

No Man Alone by Wilder Penfield

Wilder Graves Penfield was an American-Canadian neurosurgeon. (Little, Brown and Company)

"It's a biography and an amazing book. I read it before I got into medical school and I was doing neuroscience research at the Montreal Neurological Institute. I really enjoyed reading this. There are many other similar books, but this one comes to the forefront." 

The Life of Sir William Osler by Harvey Cushing

Sir William Osler was a Canadian physician and one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Getty/Severus)

"I was very lucky going to McGill as they had the Sir William Osler library. Every now then the library would sell old copies of books. For 25 cents I picked up a book of the life of Sir William Olser by Harvey Cushing. I still have it in my library. It's a compelling story about him and his major contributions to medicine. It was a book that really stood out for me."


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