Cornered

Peter Pringle, Author
Peter Pringle, Author Henry Holt & Company $27.5 (52p) ISBN 978-0-8050-4292-4
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Taking a classic David and Goliath story, veteran newspaper reporter Pringle turns in a superb piece of reporting written with all the texture, detail and intrigue of a fine legal thriller. Pringle sees a hero in the events that led to the landmark legal settlement that compels top U.S. tobacco companies to pay $369 billion over 25 years to help the states pay for cigarette-related health care costs. Multimillionaire lawyer Wendell Gauthier of New Orleans dared to weld a coalition of the nation's leading liability lawyers, who, allied with public health activists, took on Big Tobacco. The dramatic events that led to the settlement make for a remarkable story, and Pringle gets the human details just right. His riveting canvas is peopled with dying cancer patients, angry ""tobacco widows,"" smugly overconfident tobacco industry lawyers, compromised scientists, mendacious public relations executives and courageous whistle-blowers. He searchingly delves into the motives of the anti-tobacco lawyers--some driven by social conscience, others by guilt, still others by a religious conviction that their crusade involved doing God's work. His hard-hitting report is strewn with juicy tidbits, like this 1972 memo from a Philip Morris psychologist: ""Think of the cigarette as a dispenser for a dose unit of nicotine."" Not merely a thumb-wagging expose of corporate venality, this is an exceedingly well-wrought account of legal sparring and the slow awakening of federal and state government to a public health issue. Photos not seen by PW. (Feb.)
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