Best Food Writing 2012, Bad Pharma: How Drug Companies Mislead Doctors and Harm Patients, The Master Switch, The Collection, Chasing Gideon

Looking back, this was a great week! Let’s start with the ones I liked best.

Bad Pharma is Ben Goldacre’s follow-up to Bad Science, and it is so much better than his previous book. Goldacre argues that our current approach to the science behind medicine isn’t working for a variety of reasons, from non-public trial data to pharmaceutical company malfeasance to doctors not being able to prescribe the best option to their patients. He goes through a lot of the background information you’ll need to understand what he’s talking about - from statistical practices to explanations of corruption. Bad Pharma has this sense of focus and urgency, which added to the compelling intellectual arguments.  I really enjoyed this book, and I think that it’s changed how I think about medicine - can’t recommend it highly enough!

Chasing Gideon was another book that fell into the same category. It totally changed my perspective on public defense, including on funding and how we approach trials, and revealed a gaping hole in how our society (specifically the US, although I suspect the problem is more universal) thinks about justice. It’s engaging and straight forward, while still hitting home pretty hard. 

The Master Switch is Tim Wu’s work on information control and communications platforms. It’s often mentioned along with Code and Future of the Internet as a seminal work of Internet law scholarship, and although I respect Wu’s antitrust and net neutrality work, I wasn’t convinced by it.  Master Switch relies on a set of historical narratives to suggest “The Cycle” - the process by which new technologies spring up organically and then become dominated by a monopolistic provider. Unfortunately for Wu, many historical scholars in the communications area dispute his history - and for me, that’s rather damning. The book is so much geared around telling this story as universal, and it seems easy to exaggerate or pattern match in lieu of really diving into a greater theory about the evolution of communications technology. At the end of the day, I’m not sure I’m convinced that “The Cycle” applies outside the limited circumstances described in the book - and that’s a big problem for Wu’s thesis.

The Collection was a collection of short stories focused on transgender or genderqueer characters. Like many short story collections with a central theme, the quality is a bit spotty, and many of the works included were just not to my taste. However, it’s refreshing to read so many works that take on trans* issues, and I’m happy that I read them together - it gave me a new perspective on how much fiction I read doesn’t incorporate characters of diverse genders and orientations.

Best Food Writing 2012: look, it’s a collection of articles and stories about food. No need to rush out and read it - if you’re into this sort of thing, you already know about it.