walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Elizabeth Pisani, _The Wisdom of Whores_

Pisani is a really fascinating person, judging by this book. And given how much of her heart and soul flows through her writing, I figure this book is a reasonable way to assess Pisani.

First, she's a communicator. She says she loves to chat. In several languages. She was a reporter, before going back to grad school in epidemiology. And she's the author of every length of writing, for every imaginable audience. In several languages.

Second, she can deal with numbers and science. She can understand them. She can produce them. She can _spin_ them -- and she knows when she _is_ spinning them.

Third, she's a people person, which brings us back to the chatting, but also back to the spinning the numbers, trying to find ways to motivate people.

Ordinarily, you're lucky if you're good at _one_ of these things. The world is lucky when someone is good at two of them (or really, really unlucky, depending on one's perspective as to that person's agenda). To get all three in one package would have struck me -- prior to reading this book -- as flat out impossible. I cannot think of any other author that brings this particular package to the page.

So what is Pisani writing _about_ and what is her goal, in a book with this title? She latched onto AIDS as a recently graduated epidemiologist, as a consultant for the UN. Over time, she morphed into a field person -- going from writing cookbooks for how to do surveillance on the disease to actually mapping where the sex workers were, chatting them up, collecting bodily fluids, getting them off to be tested, massaging the resulting data into a model of what was happening with the disease, etc. That's what she's writing about, and all by itself, that's an incredibly fascinating story worth reading. Her own agenda changed over time, but overwhelmingly, it's apparent that Pisani wants to save lives, and she doesn't much care if that life is currently being lived just for another hit, and whether that's an educated life or whatever. She just wants to save lives, knowing full well we're all going to die eventually, but she especially wants to keep people from contracting a terminal illness when they're at a point in their life when they're doing really dangerous stuff. With the drugs, it's apparent that she's betting most of these people _are_ going to outgrow injecting drugs. With the sex workers, it's apparently she'd like to make sure that people who already have a pretty awful life don't suffer additionally -- and that they don't amplify a disease into the general population.

Secondarily -- and this is perhaps the best thing about Pisani, that this comes _second_ -- she wants to see all this money washing around through the system (and there _will_ be a later post comparing this book to Connelly's) to be spent wisely. Not necessarily the way it was promised to be spent, either. She wants that money to be spent where it will do real good, and comparative good. She's not interested in saving one life for a year if she could save a thousand lives for decades for the same amount of money, and this pretty much makes it impossible for her to be a career person at the UN or any similar place.

Great book. Hard to imagine how to oversell this book. I can imagine that there are people out there who will be offended by this book and the language within it (hey, you _did_ see that title, right?). I can imagine there are even more people out there who think "children" should be protected from the information in this book. I think you should work through that shock and sense of obscenity and read it anyway, if you are an adult. There probably is an age which is too young to read this book; I don't think I'd give it to someone who hadn't yet hit puberty, for example, but trying to protect a 15 or 16 year old from what's in here is doing not only them, but our society, a disservice. If more people encountered this level of thought, experience and analysis at a formative and suggestible age, there really is no problem we couldn't make huge progress on.

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