World Book Day 2022: 10 great books about global justice
Sick Money: The Truth About the Global Pharmaceutical Industry
As an investigative journalist for the Times, Billy Kenber has covered more than his fair share of Big Pharma scandals. In Sick Money he weaves these shocking examples of Big Pharma greed into a bigger story: the financialisation of the industry, which has distorted research priorities and turned medicines into little more than commodities, the price of which can be virtually unlimited. Kenber can at times be a little too rosy-eyed about the industry’s past, imagining companies run by socially conscious scientists dedicated to the improvement of public health. In fact, Big Pharma has profiteered from public research for many decades. But he is right that changes in the 1980s, including ever harsher intellectual property laws, have not only produced an endless wave of scandals, but created an industry which is failing in what should be its core mission – providing vital new medicines in an affordable manner. A compelling read.
Review by Nick Dearden
Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice
Rupa Marya and Raj Patel
“Our bodies”, write Rupa Marya and Raj Patel, “are part of a society inflamed”. Inflammation underlies all the leading causes of death in industrialised places, and we urgently need a balm to soothe us. This can’t come from the usual doctor-patient route – it involves huge structural changes to society as a whole. With humanity, animals and plants seen largely as economic inputs, we have produced a world that results in deep health inequalities. Marya and Patel point to over-representation of people of colour in Covid-19 deaths. Drawing on the medical concept of the ‘exposome’ – the cumulative and non-genetic health impacts of a life lived – they describe how oppressed bodies are more prone to the overwhelming inflammation seen in the worst cases of Covid-19. While acknowledging modern medicine’s success in preventing and treating disease, they criticise its focus on individualistic solutions. Instead they call for a ‘deep’ medicine that addresses the societal and historical roots of health problems.
Review by Tim Bierley
The Ministry for the Future
Kim Stanley Robinson
This book should have been handed out to every delegate at COP26. Readers beware – it is not your typical sci-fi novel. The world it describes is painfully familiar and the main characters are a bunch of bureaucrats, activists and scientists around the Ministry for the Future, founded in 2025 by the Paris Accords signatories. The book opens with an extreme heatwave in India in about 2050 in which 20 million people die over the course of two weeks. It’s deeply affecting to read and process precisely because the magnitude may be unimaginable but the setup is not. The story explores a multitude of solutions that the Ministry is working through, while at the same time exposing the contradictions in our existing economic, legal and social practices. Yes, it deals with systems change, but does not glance over the moral and ethical implications of such change. It remains a deeply humanist novel, as imperfect in its writing at times as our collective responses to the climate crisis continue to be. Yet the overall message is one of hope.
Review by Alena Ivanova
New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives
Alex de Waal
Taking in the Covid-19 pandemic, 19th-century cholera outbreaks, the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918 and the surprisingly upbeat story of how sufferers and activists responded to the HIV-AIDS crisis, Alex De Waal’s important new book helps to situate Covid-19 within the broader arc of humanity’s efforts to control infectious diseases. Foregrounding the socio-economic contexts that facilitate disease spread, the book is particularly informative on how western imperialism enabled the spread of cholera in India and HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. In the chapter on cholera, De Waal recounts how in 1831 a correspondent for the medical journal The Lancet wrote that the (at the time disputed) contagion theory of cholera transmission was “a humbug got up for the restriction of our commerce.” It’s a detail that highlights his central thesis – that although viruses are subject to dramatic change, the political responses to pandemic disease are often depressingly familiar.
Review by Alex Doherty
Left Populism in Europe: Lessons from Jeremy Corbyn to Podemos
Left populism is a concept often associated with Latin America, where the late 1990s ‘pink tide’ brought to power governments determined to challenge neoliberalism in the name of ‘the people’. The term is often seen as less relevant to European politics, but former UK spokesperson for Syriza Marina Prentoulis encourages us to rethink this. By exploring the wave of radical politics in the wake of Europe’s financial crash – specifically the experiences of Greece, Spain and Britain – Prentoulis compares the strengths and failings of Syriza, Podemos and Labour under Corbyn, particularly examining the role populism played. Ultimately, none of the movements have transformed Europe in the way they intended, but they have shifted the dial. To shift it further, Prentoulis urges us to reconsider how we engage in politics in a fundamental way, embracing a form of populism which avoids identification with the nation state and instead looks down to the municipal level and up to the international level.
Review by Nick Dearden
AZADI: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction.
I once said to a friend that reading anything by Arundhati Roy feels like a simultaneous punch to the stomach and the warmest hug. This collection of essays is no different. Reflecting on the meaning of freedom (azadi) in a world of growing fascism, Roy provides her shocking (and beautifully penned) commentary. From the violent stifling of Kashmiri struggles for independence from Indian occupation to mass protests against Hindu nationalism, these words are not written to appease. Every line brings a horrendous realisation of the barriers to freedom. These are the punches. But through snippets of her fictional writing you begin to imagine how it could be different. ‘The Pandemic Is a Portal’, written as coronavirus halted life as we know it, is a rallying call for hope and resilience. This pandemic “is a gateway between one world and the next”. We must be “ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it”. And there’s the hug.
Review by Radhika Patel
Trade Wars Are Class Wars: How Rising Inequality Distorts the Global Economy and Threatens International Peace
Matthew C. Klein and Michael Pettis
Donald Trump sees trade as a zero-sum game: I win when you lose. While misunderstanding how trade actually works, Trump’s strategy is not irrational. It convinces the American public that China (not Trump) is the source of all of their problems, and it helps Trump bully other countries into giving in to his unreasonable demands. Klein and Pettis’ book helps activists see through this strategy. Even though they occasionally fall into an anti-China narrative themselves, a sign of how entrenched this position is even on the American left, their starting point is extremely helpful, namely that the vast problems with the global economy are generated by enormous inequality within countries, be they the USA or China. The trade system has as much to do with tax dodging, corporate power and financialisation as with traditional trade in goods, and the book points to the transformational national policies necessary to generate a more stable and equal international economy.
Review by Nick Dearden
Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World
When New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Arden, announced that her government would deprioritise economic growth in favour of improving wellbeing, she generated considerable excitement. As Jason Hickel lays out in Less is More, economic growth is not only driving us ever closer to the breakdown of the natural systems on which we depend, but beyond a certain level it actually adds nothing to human wellbeing, and can even reduce it. Yet while Arden’s new government spending priorities are certainly welcome, there’s a reason why it has been anathema to reject growth among mainstream politicians for many decades. As Hickel eloquently explains, our economic system is hard-wired for growth not by accident, but because it is how the powerful accumulate wealth. The change we need, then, is more fundamental. Hickel’s alternative is ‘radical abundance’ – redistributing income and investing in public goods, while reducing the material throughput of the economy. It’s a clear and compelling case for a post-growth economy.
Review by James O’Nions
On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
This collection of essays written between 2016 and 2019 is filled with stories that don’t easily leave your mind. These are the words of someone who has moved past warning of future climate apocalypse to producing dispatches from the climate emergency as it hits across the globe today. The predominant feeling you get is no longer one of possible catastrophe – you realise our world is on fire right now. But the book isn’t just about catastrophe. It’s about renewal and about recognising we are one of the most important generations who have ever lived. Why? Because we have the chance to end not only climate breakdown, but unequal societies and continuing colonialism – because we have no other choice. The urgency of the emergency means that we can’t put off muchneeded change, the time is now. The message? It’s time to focus and push our governments for a Green New Deal.
Review by Cameron Joshi
Hostile Environment: How Immigrants Became Scapegoats
This book’s title is derived from the set of Tory policies intended to turn teachers, doctors and landlords into border guards. The author, Maya Goodfellow, interweaves interviews, political analysis, and personal stories to demonstrate how the hostile environment is the crystallisation of over 100 years of anti-migrant sentiment in the UK. One of the book’s central arguments is that we must not reduce migrants to their economic value, as Blair’s Labour did, nor pander to the right and support controls on immigration (think back to Labour’s infamous mug). Though the majority of the book paints a grim picture of racism and xenophobia in Britain, Goodfellow’s accounts of migrant solidarity action against the hostile environment gives us hope for the future. With human rights for migrants as a cornerstone we can successfully build a fairer system which puts people before profit and where we have freedom of movement for all.
Review by Rosanna Wiseman
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These reviews first appeared in Ninety-Nine, the magazine for Global Justice Now members.
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