It's been a big year for managers, one way or another. So why not leave work behind and lose yourself in a good book? It is holiday time, after all

After a long year in health policy, managers are heading off on their summer holidays. Should they use their two weeks off to catch up on Whitehall documents or leave health behind with the latest blockbuster novel? HSJ readers and contributors some suggestions for summer reading.

Michael White, assistant editor (politics), The Guardian

Never be without something to read, I say. So every summer I head off carrying a bag full of more books than I can possibly expect to devour.

Last summer in rural France I read Thomas Mann's tale of the rise and fall of a North German merchant family - Buddenbrooks: the decline of a family - a mere year after I had walked past the "Buddenbrook house" in lovely Lübeck and felt unqualified to enter. I enjoyed it as a complete change from my working life which is all facts and politics.

But thanks to Mann I got no further than 50 pages into the late Roy Porter's Cambridge History of Medicine. I have loved reading history since I was eight and asked for HE Marshall's Our Island Story as a present (what a little creep). I will admit to a sliver of professional calculation that Porter might provide insights for my HSJ column.

This summer I also hope to read (at last) Stendhal's classic Scarlet and Black and John Julius Norwich's The Middle Sea. The trick is to have two or three books on the go, as I do all year round, to pick up depending on mood, time of day, tiredness and white wine.

Alwen Williams, chief executive, Tower Hamlets primary care trust

This summer I will be reading The Motorcycle Diaries, Che Guevara's youthful travel journal, as the film of the same name is my all-time favourite.

For policy makers I would recommend Nelson Mandela's autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, another favourite read and hugely inspiring, moving and absorbing and certain to help them switch off from the day job.

I would also suggest that both the policy makers and I read the Nuffield Trust's new publication edited by Nicholas Timmins, Rejuvenate or Retire? Views of the NHS at 60, to consider how the lessons of the past can help us shape future policies that will best safeguard the NHS for the next 60 years.

Jon Restell, chief executive, Managers in Partnership

As I have lately been reading less than I once did, I plan to try harder this summer.

For homework: the NHS Confederation's NHS Handbook 2008-09, Peter Davies's concise and comprehensive summary of the latest structure and policy for all four health services. Through it I hope to regain a grasp on the vast, shifting NHS, even if the order and coherence that such guides inevitably convey is a little unreal. Trust Me, I'm a (Junior) Doctor by Max Pemberton will complete my summer continuing professional development and should be far more entertaining.

Non-fiction: I will finally get round to The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, a present from a former colleague; The Sentimental Citizen: emotion in democratic politics, by George E Marcus; and Brian Glanville's England Managers: the toughest job in football - in part to replenish my stock of media-friendly NHS manager comparisons.

Fiction: Rose Tremain's The Road Home; The State Counsellor by Boris Akunin (the master of detective and thriller writing) and, on a recommendation from a colleague, Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus.

Owing to an unjust and irrational dislike of its author, Sebastian Faulks, I shall avoid the new James Bond novel.

Karen Jennings, head of health, Unison

Having recently read Khaled Hosseini's commendable The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and having just finished the amazing The Places In Between by Rory Stewart, I have become absorbed by writings on Afghanistan and its people.

My next read is the memoir Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin - one reviewer said they wanted to buy the book for everyone they know.

I also plan to read Kate Atkinson's One Good Turn, a crime novel set in Edinburgh, where all the best detective stories happen.

I will also be reading Death in the Haymarket by James Green, about the first bloody industrial uprising in the US, which took place in Chicago in 1886. Given health secretary Alan Johnson's love of history, I can definitely recommend this as a good read.

Can we jointly seek to ensure industrial peace in the NHS for the rest of 2008?

Mike Cooke, chief executive, Nottinghamshire Healthcare trust

My reading plans include Eric Clapton: the Autobiography, in which the reticent rock god comes clean about his marriages and addictions. I am of an age when I can remember Clapton at the height of his powers and this book promises to tell his story warts and all.

I recommend Robert Harris's The Ghost. A first-class funny thriller about a ghostwriter struggling with the memoirs of a past prime minister, it is a lively and thinly veiled review of UK political life under Tony Blair.

In Boris: the rise of Boris Johnson by Andrew Gimson, an updated look at London's new mayor, I am interested to see how Boris can tackle the really big issues: knife crime, the early release of prisoners and issues for young people and the economic conditions facing the capital and country.

Also, I love Italy and all things Italian, including the food, so although it's not a new release, I shall enjoy rereading Antonio Carluccio's Carluccio's Complete Italian Food. On holiday I enjoy the extra time I have and indulge family and friends with my culinary skills. I might also pack some copies of Decanter magazine to look at a few nice wines to match the food.

Tara Donnelly, chief executive, West Middlesex University Hospital trust

Having spent my last holiday in the snow reading Lionel Shriver's gripping thriller We Need to Talk About Kevin, I will turn to her latest novel The Post-Birthday World and hope it is just as tautly written without being quite so bleak and disturbing.

I adore Isabel Allende's writing style and try to read all she writes, but I am finding that she is more prolific than I can keep up with. Her latest, The Sum of Our Days, is a memoir covering her inspirational and amazing life, so I particularly look forward to that.

I am currently reading a fantastic book with a zany title, If Disney Ran Your Hospital, and hope to finish it on holiday. This book by Fred Lee gets to the very purpose of healthcare and how to get to the compassion at its heart. The author is hugely insightful and argues that in healthcare there is a tremendous opportunity for caring and competent people to turn a frightening and intrusive process into an experience which is memorable for all the right reasons. It is highly persuasive and yet I suspect that attempting to put it into practice is going to feel at times like riding one of the rollercoasters at Disneyland.

My final recommendation would be that all staff in the NHS should read What Matters to Staff in the NHS, published by the Department of Health. It is a rollicking read and beautifully articulates the issues that really matter to health service staff today. It also deals with that intriguing conundrum that despite the NHS getting better, staff still don't act as advocates, or feel happier. It convincingly describes how much we need to do to build relationships across the NHS but also elegantly describes the thoughts, fears and hopes of staff in the NHS's 61st year.

Jane Collins, chief executive, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children trust

I like relatively light books on holiday and particularly enjoy detective stories but also plan to read Ian McEwan's Atonement, having really enjoyed the film.

I would like to recommend Patrick Gale's Notes from an Exhibition. It is not light reading but a gripping story of family members over generations, with the central character a successful artist who has significant mental health problems. The impact on those around her is profound but certainly not all negative.

It might sound rather depressing but it isn't, because of the character's creativity as an artist and the book's largely Cornish setting. Any of us who know Cornwall will appreciate the setting brings light into what could be a dark tale.

Genetic factors and events in childhood and even before birth are recognised by all working in child health to be important determinants of adult health. This book reminds us all of this, which is important when we consider how best to target health and social care.

Tell us what will you be reading on holiday and what you thought of our recommendations. Email hsj.feedback@emap.com