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Science Books

March 27, 2008

Our Daily Meds: How The Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves Into Slick Marketing Machines And Hooked The Nation On Prescription Drugs
Melody Petersen (2008)
ISBN: 0374228272

Prevention is better than cure, or so the old adage goes. But according to award-winning medical journalist Melody Petersen, previously of the New York Times, cures take a backseat when it comes to the next wonder-pill produced and marketed by trans-global pharmaceutical companies. According to Petersen, 65 percent of Americans pop some form of prescription medicine everyday. But how did we reach this alarming point in medical history? Instilling and heightening our fears of disease, while simultaneously presenting themselves as our saviors, big drug companies have become masters of marketing and publicity campaigns. Presenting a new drug as though it were a new car or soft drink, argues Petersen, drug company advertising uses locations such as parks, churches, and sporting events that normalize and play down the fact that such drugs are potentially lethal. The upshot is that while big pharma executives are enjoying the dizzying heights reached by drug company stock prices, the public has become blasé about prescription medicine. Petersen writes that prescribed medicines kill one American every five minutes, and this is before taking into account the number of heavily medicated people out there on the roads. Our addiction to prescription medicine is not a consequence of science or modern medicine, says Petersen, but is instead a marketing coup that needs to be reigned in.

Panama Fever: The Epic Story Of One Of The Greatest Human Achievements Of All Time - The Building Of The Panama Canal
Matthew Parker (2008)
ISBN: 0385515340

Panama Fever is an example of how many of history's greatest technical and engineering achievements were in part the product of regrettable cultural prejudice and social inequity. And as far as engineering achievements go, the isthmus-spanning Panama Canal is one of the greatest and most challenging the world has ever seen. So why build it at all? Matthew Parker, The Battle of Britain and Monte Cassino, writes of the enormous impact that the canal has had on shipping since its development. Before the Panama Canal existed, a ship traveling from New York to San Francisco would had to have traveled over 14,000 miles, while a ship using the canal cuts this distance to less than half. Dating back as far as the 1600s, history is littered with those who had conceived of a plan to carve a route through the isthmus connecting North and South America, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of such a project. Parker discusses the problems that frustrated the French as they began to cleave the isthmus in 1880, and the many hurdles that had to be cleared before its eventual completion by the Americans in 1914. But Parker also captures the human cost of the "Panama Fever" that gripped the world at the time, and reveals how racial prejudice, social inequity, perilous working conditions, and disease dominated the project. Parker's Panama Fever is an excellent account of one of the world's most ambitious and deadly projects, couching a brilliant technical and engineering accomplishment within a social context.

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