A shocking, rousing condemnation of an industry clearly in need of better policing.



Of nightmare germs, sleazy dealings, and the big money that fuels the (legal) drug trade.

Investigative journalist Posner writes that big pharma “resides at the intersection of public health and free enterprise,” sometimes capable of lifesaving acts but often an agent of unbridled greed. The industry emerged in the 19th century with the need to care for wounded soldiers and new strains of epidemic diseases such as yellow fever and cholera. In the early days, firms had a lock on certain broadly applied medicaments—morphine, in the case of Pfizer. A century later, when physician Arthur Sackler came onboard, Pfizer had just a handful of salespeople; Sackler forged an army of thousands of them, fanning out to sell drugs he had developed, such as Valium, to a waiting audience. In time, Sackler came under federal scrutiny, a bête noire of crusading Sen. Estes Kefauver, who “was bothered by an industry where only a few firms dominated sales and had unfettered discretion to set prices.” Moving on to the family-owned Purdue Pharma, Sackler and kin refined techniques of secrecy and underreporting. As Posner notes, it was a firing offense for a salesperson to make notes on visits to doctors in writing, and what went on behind closed doors were all sorts of spoken inducements and rewards for prescribing and overprescribing the firm’s products, including OxyContin. Even in Kefauver’s time, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry was making many multiples more profit than other sectors of the economy, charging far more to American consumers and insurers than to those in other parts of the world. This was true of the AIDS-battling AZT, “the highest priced drug on the planet.” This remains true today, even as Purdue, heavily fined for its role in an epidemic of opioid-overdose deaths, tiptoes into bankruptcy, one ploy in the “complex corporate chess game in which Arthur Sackler excelled.”

A shocking, rousing condemnation of an industry clearly in need of better policing.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5189-7

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Bernstein and Woodward, the two Washington Post journalists who broke the Big Story, tell how they did it by old fashioned seat-of-the-pants reporting — in other words, lots of intuition and a thick stack of phone numbers. They've saved a few scoops for the occasion, the biggest being the name of their early inside source, the "sacrificial lamb" H**h Sl**n. But Washingtonians who talked will be most surprised by the admission that their rumored contacts in the FBI and elsewhere never existed; many who were telephoned for "confirmation" were revealing more than they realized. The real drama, and there's plenty of it, lies in the private-eye tactics employed by Bernstein and Woodward (they refer to themselves in the third person, strictly on a last name basis). The centerpiece of their own covert operation was an unnamed high government source they call Deep Throat, with whom Woodward arranged secret meetings by positioning the potted palm on his balcony and through codes scribbled in his morning newspaper. Woodward's wee hours meetings with Deep Throat in an underground parking garage are sheer cinema: we can just see Robert Redford (it has to be Robert Redford) watching warily for muggers and stubbing out endless cigarettes while Deep Throat spills the inside dope about the plumbers. Then too, they amass enough seamy detail to fascinate even the most avid Watergate wallower — what a drunken and abusive Mitchell threatened to do to Post publisher Katherine Graham's tit, and more on the Segretti connection — including the activities of a USC campus political group known as the Ratfuckers whose former members served as a recruiting pool for the Nixon White House. As the scandal goes public and out of their hands Bernstein and Woodward seem as stunned as the rest of us at where their search for the "head ratfucker" has led. You have to agree with what their City Editor Barry Sussman realized way back in the beginning — "We've never had a story like this. Just never."

Pub Date: June 18, 1974

ISBN: 0671894412

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1974

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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