DEATH IN MUD LICK

A COAL COUNTRY FIGHT AGAINST THE DRUG COMPANIES THAT DELIVERED THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC

Timely, depressing, engrossing reportage on an issue that can’t receive too much attention.

A Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter delivers his entry in the (sadly) growing literature about the opioid epidemic ravaging the country.

As a reporter at the small-circulation Charleston Gazette-Mail in Charleston, West Virginia, Eyre won the Pulitzer for his writing on the huge shipments of opioids entering his region and how opioid manufacturers, wholesale distributors, and unethical doctors and pharmacists combined to put fatal doses of the dangerous painkillers into the hands of desperate patients. There have been numerous recent books about the opioid crisis—readers can’t go wrong with Sam Quinones’ Dreamland, Beth Macy’s Dopesick, or Chris McGreal’s American Overdose—and Eyre covers some of the same ground. However, what distinguishes his book is the author’s emphasis on the massive but nearly anonymous wholesale distributors Cardinal Health, AmerisourceBergen, and McKesson, among others. Those companies shipped millions of pills to small-town pharmacies that never could have needed such volumes; for instance Kermit, which has a population of less than 400 and was “drowning in prescription painkillers.” Eyre clearly explains how the Drug Enforcement Administration and the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy could have ameliorated the flood of pills but did nothing. Another powerful actor who enabled the epidemic was West Virginia’s attorney general, Patrick Morrisey, a Republican politician who lied about his involvement and failed to recuse himself while his wife received payment from Cardinal Health as a lobbyist. While battling for disclosures via freedom of information lawsuits in the courts, Eyre located numerous victims of the indiscriminate pill shipments, including many users who had buried multiple family members and friends after they overdosed. Unsurprisingly, his accounts of his interactions with them are disturbing, moving, and heart-wrenching. Portions of the narrative feature first-person narration, as the author illuminates how time-consuming, budget-busting investigative journalism functions despite circumstances that mitigate against it. The drama ratchets up as Eyre battles early-onset Parkinson’s disease.

Timely, depressing, engrossing reportage on an issue that can’t receive too much attention.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0531-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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