Petersen aims her barbs directly at Big Pharma, but the stories she tells about the companies’ relations with physicians and...

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HOW THE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES TRANSFORMED THEMSELVES INTO SLICK MARKETING MACHINES AND HOOKED THE NATION ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS

A no-punches-pulled indictment of the pharmaceutical industry in the United States.

Big Pharma has been making money but doing harm ever since it shifted a quarter-century ago from research to marketing, asserts Petersen, a business reporter for the New York Times. She paints a black-and-white portrait of drug companies as bad guys, obsessed with making money and willing to use shady, if not illegal means to do so. These “medicine merchants,” she charges, sell their products with slick television ads aimed at adults and appealing cartoon characters aimed at children; their advertising is ubiquitous, showing up everywhere from NASCAR races and state fairs to churches and spiritual guides. Big Pharma has gained unprecedented power over the practice of medicine, Petersen contends, spending enormous amounts of money to entice doctors into prescribing its products and turning medical continuing-education courses into virtual sales bazaars. The drug companies now have “a stranglehold on medical science.” They form alliances with universities; research studies are paid for by the industry; and articles and editorials ghostwritten by PR firms appear over the names of academics. Petersen names specific pharmaceutical companies, executives and drugs, devoting entire chapters to the marketing of Detrol, Ritalin, Neurontin and Zantac. The harm they do to the public is not just economic, she notes; Americans spend more on medical care than on housing or food, and the resulting over-medicalization poses health risks of its own. In addition, as companies concentrate on blockbuster lifestyle drugs like Viagra and copycat medications for chronic conditions (one more statin to lower cholesterol), much-needed drugs for rare diseases are not being developed.

Petersen aims her barbs directly at Big Pharma, but the stories she tells about the companies’ relations with physicians and scientists willing to be bought makes it clear that there’s plenty of blame to go around. For more specific information about the marketing of antidepressants, see Charles Barber’s forthcoming Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Medicated a Nation (2008).

Pub Date: March 26, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-374-22827-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY

A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.

Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, à la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it’s a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to “non-European trifunctional societies,” Chinese-style communism, and “hypercapitalist” orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and “every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice.” In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are “the most enterprising, deserving, and useful.” In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there’s more to inequality than the mere “size of the income gap.” Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a “participatory socialism” in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word “socialism,” he allows, is a kind of Pandora’s box that can scare people off—and, he further acknowledges, “the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go.” Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.

A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-674-98082-2

Page Count: 976

Publisher: Belknap/Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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