The Wisdom of Whores, By Elizabeth Pisani

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The Independent Culture

Elizabeth Pisani became an epidemiologist by accident – but it was a fortunate one, for in this book, subtitled "Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of Aids", she sheds much light on the Aids prevention industry. In a lively narrative, she also interweaves the story of how she became fascinated with this subject. Aged 15, she visited a schoolfriend in Hong Kong and became "hooked on Asia", returning years later with a degree in Chinese and a job at Reuters. "I did grow tired of trying to reduce human experience into 600 words," she admits, and so returned to London to study medical demography.

Human experience in this book is not reduced but opened out in all its complexity. Pisani concentrates not only on causes and effects but on cures; how the virus might be contained if the billions of pounds spent on Aids prevention were invested in the people most at risk. She vividly portrays the people she meets on her journeys during a decade of research, and does not forget to ask: "What the hell difference are we making, anyway?"

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