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Gabor Maté: 5 books that changed my life

07/18/2015 11:00 EDT | Updated 07/18/2016 05:59 EDT
Dr. Gabor Maté worked for 12 years on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental illness, and has more than 20 years of experience in medical family practice and palliative care.

As an author, Dr. Maté has written several best-selling books, including:

- In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction 

- Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder  

He sat down with North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay to share five of the most influential books in his life.  

1. His favourite childhood book

Winnie The Pooh, by A.A. Milne

"I have to say, the English original is almost as good as the Hungarian translation," laughed Maté, who grew up in Hungary and moved to Canada when he was 13.

"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.

​"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."

2. The book he'd give to his young adult self

The Iliad, by Homer

"It doesn't matter how many times I read it. I still don't want the outcome to be what happens in the end, and I know what's going to happen in the end.

"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."

3. The other book he'd give to his young adult self

A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle

"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."

Maté said embracing this world view would have enabled him to escape the unnecessary hostility, depression and dysfunction that he introduced into his life and relationships. 

4. The book that changed his life

The Scourge of the Swastika, by Lord Edward Russell 

This was one of the first books that explored in a public and detailed way the Nazi crimes committed during the Holocaust, said Maté.

The history holds dear for Maté, who was just an infant when his grandparents were killed in Auschwitz.

"My parents had these high bookshelves where there were books that they didn't want me to read.

"I took a chair one day, and there it was. It was full of these horrific pictures.

"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."

5. The book that's his guilty pleasure

Song of Ice and Fire, the Game of Thrones series 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.

"I have to say, I guiltily look forward to the next volume. 

To hear the full interview with Dr. Gabor Maté, listen to the audio labelled: Shelf Life: Dr. Gabor Maté Part 1, and Shelf Life: Dr. Gabor Maté Part 2.

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