Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.

AMERICAN PLASTIC

BOOB JOBS, CREDIT CARDS, AND OUR QUEST FOR PERFECTION

Essig (Sociology/Middlebury Coll.; Queer in Russia: A Story of Sex, Self, and the Other, 1999) looks at the American obsession with plastic surgery and the cultural and economic forces that drive it.

“In the first decade of the twenty-first century,” writes the author, “Americans had more than 10 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures”—at a cost of around $12.5 billion annually. Few Americans, it seems, especially aging women who make up the bulk of cosmetic-procedure customers, have not at least contemplated breast implants, liposuction, face-lifts, Botox injections and even vaginal rejuvenation. Plastic surgery is no longer seen as a luxury but a necessity. The reasons for this are complex and interconnected, writes Essig. As photography, the beauty industry, advertising and celebrity culture developed, an unreal and unobtainable image of (white) female beauty was internalized and thus sought after by most American women. While improvements in medical technology made plastic surgery safer and cheaper, two seminal events from the Reagan era contributed greatly to its mass popularity—allowing doctors to advertise their services and the deregulation of credit. Suddenly, plastic surgery was more visible to potential customers, who could pay for their plastic procedures with credit cards. Massive consumer debt ensued, not only for plastic surgery but for any consumer product that might make us happy. As the American economy declined in the late-’90s, many searched for personal solutions to problems that were essentially structural. If we could not remake the economy, we could remake ourselves, a line of logic that followed the quintessential American ethic of the endless possibility of personal reinvention. Thus, we have become trapped in an endless cycle of debt. The author suggests that we should resist the endless demands for perfect beauty and demand the regulation of banking and medical industries.

Will likely be controversial, but Essig offers fascinating and troubling insights into the American psyche.

Pub Date: Dec. 28, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0055-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 8, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2010

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“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. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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