The best exposés leave readers yearning to take action. This one will make them want to gnash their teeth and discard their...

POISONED PROFITS

THE TOXIC ASSAULT ON OUR CHILDREN

Two environmental journalists angrily assert that spineless politicians and lenient regulators defer to rapacious industrialists as their factories drench America in toxic pollutants.

The authors provide an avalanche of anecdotes featuring dreadfully sick children and their devastated parents appealing in vain to guilty industries and getting no help from mealy-mouthed officials. In chapter after chapter, they describe innumerable toxins, their poisonous effects, the researchers who study and denounce them, the regulators who sometimes act but mostly complain that their hands are tied and the industry representatives who defend their products, repeating ad nauseum that the evidence for harm is not conclusive. To those who assume scientists don’t know what causes most birth defects, cancers, allergies, asthma, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, attention-deficit disorder and premature births, this book offers the answer: pollution. Sadly, the Shabecoffs are preaching to the choir, pouring out so many horror stories that shell-shocked readers may grow annoyed with their bias. The authors treat industry representatives with the contempt they deserve, but not every victim or lawyer merits the respectful absence of skepticism accorded them here, and fringe groups given similar hands-off treatment include antifluoridation advocates and people who insist vaccines cause autism. The authors glide right over the unpalatable reality that industrial pollution is now so catastrophically severe that making the bad guys pay will not solve the problem. Taxpayers will end up funding the cleanup, and stricter regulation will mean more expensive goods. Politicians refuse to deliver this news because they want to be reelected, but the Shabecoffs don’t have this excuse. They conclude with sensible instructions for minimizing toxins within the household and good advice for regulatory reform, but neither is likely to improve our environment anytime soon.

The best exposés leave readers yearning to take action. This one will make them want to gnash their teeth and discard their plastic containers.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6430-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2008

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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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