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Blood on Their Hands: How Greedy Companies, Inept Bureaucracy, and Bad Science Killed Thousands of Hemophiliacs

Eric Weinberg and Donna Shaw. Rutgers Univ., $34.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8135-7622-0

This insider account from Weinberg, an attorney and visiting lecturer at Rutgers, and Shaw, associate professor of journalism at the College of New Jersey, chronicles the legal battle fought on behalf of hemophiliacs against a pharmaceutical industry that failed to protect them from the potential for contracting hepatitis and AIDS through their blood-clotting medicines. “Most people with severe hemophilia who regularly infused commercial clotting drugs between 1980 and 1985 contracted the AIDS virus,” the authors write. “Few involved in the devastation were willing to accept responsibility.” Weinberg, a member of the legal team behind a 1994 class action negligence lawsuit, lends astounding detail to the suffering of unwitting patients—including a nine-year-old boy—and their frustrating fight for justice. There was never a finding of criminal conduct in the case, though the legal action resulted in tighter product-safety regulations that limited further infections. The narrative can be as complicated and dense as the case it describes, and though the book’s pace suffers for it, the authors make a powerful and important case by unveiling the suffering that devastated families know “could have been entirely prevented.” Agent: Jane Dystel, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Real American: A Memoir

Julie Lythcott-Haims. Holt, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-2501-3774-6

Lythcott-Haims (How to Raise an Adult) has written a bold, impassioned memoir that explores the emotional and cultural divide imposed by American racism on people of mixed race. Born in 1967 to an African-American father and a white British mother, she was proud that her parents “broke the rules” despite the racial sneers and ridicule she experienced growing up in Palisades, N.Y., and Madison, Wis. However, the steadfast support of her loving mother and of her father, an accomplished physician appointed by President Carter as assistant surgeon general in 1977, couldn’t prepare the insecure, mixed-race teen for navigating a white world (“I don’t think of you as Black. I think of you as normal,” says one high school friend while the two were watching Gone with the Wind). Upon graduating from Stanford University (she would serve as dean of freshmen there years later), Lythcott-Haims married a white Jewish man and gave birth to “quadroon children,” which further complicated her quest for self-understanding. Later, she became empowered through her determination not to let hate define her or the lives of her children. Riveting and deeply felt, Lythcott-Haims’s memoir sheds fresh light on race and discrimination in American society. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Under Surveillance: Being Watched in Modern America

Randolph Lewis. Univ. of Texas, $27.95 (276p) ISBN 978-1-4773-1243-8

American studies scholar Lewis (Navajo Talking Picture) offers a wide-ranging set of approaches to assessing the pervasive yet often subtle consequences of modern surveillance technologies in the United States and the West more generally. Pitching his analysis to a general reader, the author draws on popular culture as well as a growing body of scholarship and the details of his own biography to broaden and deepen our appreciation of surveillance’s psychological and social impact. Lewis thus takes in not only government and corporate activities but other forms of surveillance. These include “domestic surveillance,” or the highly gendered and class-inflected systems of supervision and control experienced in childhood, and the “playful surveillance” of online games and other commercial gadgetry conducted in the name of pleasure and social connection. Adding nuance to this generally bleak picture of a all-encompassing denial of privacy, Lewis acknowledges certain (potentially) liberating aspects of the latter category of surveillance, which he dubs “the Funopticon,” after the panopticon, an 18th-century plan for mass surveillance. Not every chapter is equally original or insightful, but this book contributes a clear formulation of key issues at stake while reminding us that technological advances unaccompanied by critical reflection and public discussion risk what Thoreau—one of Lewis’s political and philosophical touchstones—called “but improved means to an unimproved end.” (Nov.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

Maya Jasanoff. Penguin Press, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59420-581-1

Harvard historian Jasanoff (Liberty’s Exiles) undertakes a review of Joseph Conrad’s life and work that broadens into an acute, original study of 19th-century European imperialism and an emergent globalized world. Polish-born Conrad (1857–1924) was an accomplished seaman before he turned to writing, having learned English as an adult and picked up on the craft of fiction in part from reading Charles Dickens. He became one of England’s most celebrated authors and prose stylists. Jasanoff’s vivid descriptions of Conrad’s travels enrich this narrative. From the extraction of ivory to the impact of rubber demand, she describes the dreadful Belgian colonial trade that Conrad knew firsthand, having worked briefly on a Congo riverboat, a job that he detested and in which he encountered a “European regime of appalling greed, violence, and hypocrisy” that informed his novels. But Jasanoff’s more anachronistic language, such as a description of her subject as “a dead white man” who was “alarmingly prejudiced” by contemporary standards, gives the impression that she is judging him by today’s very different moral standards. Despite this, Jasanoff’s skillfully written book makes a persuasive case that Conrad was “one of us: a citizen of a global world.” Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Happier? The History of a Cultural Movement That Aspired to Transform America

Daniel Horowitz. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (312p) ISBN 978-0-19-065564-8

Horowitz (Betty Friedan and the Making of The Feminine Mystique), an emeritus professor of American studies at Smith College, explores the history of the relatively new and surprisingly pervasive discipline of happiness studies and positive psychology. The book uses a 1998 speech by one of positive psychology’s stars, Martin Seligman, as its central axis, but covers the topic from Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book The Power of Positive Thinking up to the current day. Horowitz did extensive research for the book, and each chapter concludes with meaty endnotes. The book maintains a tone of academic formality while nevertheless remaining accessible to a general audience. Some knowledge of psychological schools of thought (such as behaviorism and Freudianism) is assumed, but even those unfamiliar with the field will find the book informative. The book’s first half walks the reader through the field’s evolution, from a set of individual researchers working on studies in isolation into a more cohesive discipline, but examines political and cultural contexts only superficially. This section becomes somewhat repetitive, but the research and methods are compelling. Later chapters illustrate how positive psychology has permeated into everyday American life and engage more thoroughly with criticisms of the field, such as its commercialization and connections to neoliberalism. Horowitz provides a thorough and thoughtful introduction to an influential discipline. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 06/23/2017 | Details & Permalink

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