ASSUMING THE RISK by Michael Orey

ASSUMING THE RISK

The Mavericks, the Lawyers, and the Whistle-Blowers Who Beat Big Tobacco
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Combining brilliant scholarship with a novelist’s feel for human drama, Orey recounts how a determined group of lawyers and whistle-blowers brought the tobacco industry to its knees. Wall Street Journal editor Orey opens his odyssey in rural Mississippi, where in 1986 attorney Don Barrett began a decade-long holy war against Big Tobacco. Confronting an undefeated foe with seemingly limitless resources, Barrett was in for a long but ultimately successful struggle. He faced two major obstacles: first, the delaying, war-of-attrition tactics used by the tobacco companies to wear down plaintiffs, and, second, the tendency of juries to blame smokers for their own predicaments. Orey lucidly explains the complex legal and medical issues involved in tobacco litigation, but he’s even better at describing the maddeningly complex personalities involved. Barrett, a former segregationist, built his reputation representing African-Americans in front of Mississippi juries. Like Captain Ahab, the Bible-pounding Barrett viewed his foes as “truly forces of evil to be vanquished.” Merrell Williams, an ex-actor who stole documents proving that the tobacco industry had systematically deceived the public about smoking, is a fascinating blend of hippie idealism and self-promoting opportunism. Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore is a smart politician who knows a good issue when he sees one. Just as public sentiment was turning against Big Tobacco in the early 1990s, Moore (and other state attorneys general) decided to sue the industry to recoup Medicaid funds spent on smokers. In 1996, Moore, Barrett, and other antitobacco advocates won a historic victory when Liggett became the first cigarette maker to settle a smoking-related lawsuit. Within a year, the whole industry had cut a deal, agreeing to pay $368.5 billion to smokers and their lawyers. Unfortunately, Congress rejected the settlement, and the tobacco wars continue. A tale of breathtaking, even Homeric, scope, filled with greed, good intentions, and a collection of deeply flawed “heroes”; scholars and the general reader will find ample reasons to rejoice.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-316-66489-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999