Book Reviews

In Print

The New England Journal Of Medicine says    ”  …required reading for anyone who works on HIV and AIDS or in the broad field of global public health…”      and      “…Pisani reminds her readers that the real work of fighting the epidemic is done in these highly specific trenches of sex and drug use. It is a take-home message that is worth remembering.” Read the full text of the NEJM review here (.pdf). The review is by Richard G. Parker, Ph.D. (Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York), and appears in the March 26, 2009 issue of the NEJM.
Nicholas Lezard in The Guardian. “Welcome to a cant-free zone – IIn fact Pisani seems like not only an extremely dedicated and knowledgeable person, but the kind of person you’d like to go for a drink with. There is a lot of her own character in the book – which is just as well, not only because without it we would be looking at a lot of statistics, but also because her character is consistently entertaining.”
Steven Epstein in The Nation “…provides a valuable service by forcing the reader to grapple with inconvenient truths.”
Stephen Lewis in The Globe and Mail, Toronto “This is an utterly fascinating book…It should be mandatory reading: Pisani is lucid, colourful, insightful and impatient.” (Globe and Mail review kindly relayed by Darwiniana)
Carlin Romano in The Philadelphia Inquirer “The Wisdom of Whores, (Pisani’s) rollicking, eye-opening, hilarious account of the underbelly of international AIDS research, awaits the Hollywood producer smart enough to make it into a Brangelina vehicle.”
Andrew Jack in The Financial Times “For the general reader trying to understand what has gone wrong to date, Pisani is the best place to start.”
Alex Renton, in The Sunday Times “an important and a wise book” … It’s hard to think of anyone who shouldn’t read it… the scenes in southeast Asia’s grubbiest sex joints read like a glorious low-life travelogue, and she’s funny, too”
The Economist Elizabeth Pisani’s book packs a greater punch … (she) is best when talking about sex”
Michael Bywater in The Sunday Telegraph “Pisani’s other achievement is to make epidemiology both accessible to the lay reader and as fascinating as it deserves to be”
Emmy Kuswandari in Sinar Harapan“Membaca Kearifan Pelacur, adalah membaca Indonesia kini.”
Denny Ardiansyah in Media Indonesia “Pisani memang mengajak kita untuk menjejak di bumi realitas, bukan terus-menerus terbang mengawang di langit idealitas.”
Joanna Busza in the British Medical Journal “Pisani is renowned for having developed among the best behavioural surveillance methods around, and she describes putting them into practice with poignancy and humour” (Full text here .doc).
Stephanie Merritt, in The Observer “Pisani writes with candour and humour… It is in these stories from the frontline that Pisani’s book really comes to life.”
Laura Blue, in Time Magazine (Europe) “Pisani is … never dull… Few of the arguments in The Wisdom of Whores are new. But it’s rare to see them expressed with such frank simplicity.”
Prof Steve Jones, in The Telegraph Reads The Wisdom Of Whores, on the tube.
Misha Glenny in The Mail On Sunday ( Page 1   Page 2 ) …an admirable lightness of touch…”
Richard Holloway in The Scotsman Pisani is droll on how straightforward it really all is…”
Rachel Holmes, in The Times “Pisani is a charismatic, fun-loving, intellectual boffin nerd, full of joie de vivre and the ability to turn a rip-roaring good story.”
Tony Barnett in The Lancet “…worth careful reading”
Jeffrey Lazarus in the Central European Journal of Public Health“She introduces a greatly needed human perspective to the work of the great army of people engaged in fighting HIV”
Michael Fitzpatrick, in The Guardian “…when it comes to policy recommendations she is explicitly reactionary.”
James Le Fanu, in The New Statesman “It is probably mere illusion to suppose that The Wisdom of Whores will, as it certainly should, cause much heartsearching within the industry.”
Jeremy Laurance, in The Indepdent
“Her pursuit of the sexually extreme and her fluent prose makes for an absorbing read…”
Library Journal, Starred review (Starred review) “…presents a blunt, cynical, and even funny insider’s view of global HIV-prevention efforts… Highly recommended for all collections.”
Will Self in the Evening Standard Boy’s Own Novelist Will Self seems to like the book, (genital) warts and all. And the standard illustrated it with a photo of a British Royal, which is even better than Will Self’s penis, really…
D Murali in The Hindu

On Line

rosyb, from Vulpes Libris “Simply one of most exciting books of any kind that I’ve read all year…My boyfriend (”a book on AIDS – I’m not interested in that”) started reading it over my shoulder on the plane and became totally engrossed, so that we had to do that irritating “you finished?” “Ready to turn a page?” reading-in-tandem thing.”
Ted Gideonse, Books of the Year “I taught four different books this year, and by far the most successful was Elizabeth Pisani’s The Wisdom of Whores. The book is a primer on epidemiology, a history of the fight against Global AIDS™, and a muck-raking, idol-smashing story of public health in the “developing” world. It’s an excellent book.”
Stephen Laniel, from the Unspecified Bunker “The Wisdom of Whores is one of the few books I’ve read that actually lives up to the jacket blurbs. One author describes it as not only a work of science, but also a page-turner. And indeed it is.”
Alex Tabarrok, on Marginal Revolution “Pisani’s vivid account of why AIDS is still being fought ineffectively”
Leap in the Dark “The Wisdom Of Whores is like a gale of fresh air being blown through the musty smelling bullshit that has surrounded the whole HIV/AIDS issue from day one.”
Penelope, on Meanderings of a Young Idealist “I think this should be required reading for any young idealist who believes in changing the world”. “A fascinating mixture of autobiography, exotic seedy adventure, and policy analysis… a witty, humorous page-turner”
Lawrence Hammar at Feminist Review “Pisani pits the “truth” of painstakingly gathered empirical data (doing “good” science in HIV and AIDS work) against the “right answers” that keep politicians elected and funding streams flowing” (but she doesn’t give enough credit to ethnographers).
The Skirt of Alice B Tolkas “Pisani is so terrified of her own power that she is debased to ignoring mine.”
Tom Noir “There’s something in here to upset everybody.. This is the kind of book where alternative lifestyles of every variety or explored without blinking while Jesse Helms and Franklin Graham are name-dropped – positively, I might add.”
This Book is For You: “Science with a Rock & Roll Heart” …exceptionally candid, accessible, and fascinating book…
Portraits of Rambling Thought: “Why aren’t we saving people?”
Democratic Daily “…seamlessly merges the social and the epidemiological”
Tim Worstall, The Globalisation Institute finds pleasure, despair and more excuses for foreplay in “The Wisdom of Whores”
Theodore Dalrymple in The First Post finds the book honest and funny.
Richard Marcus at Blogcritics “… a gale of fresh air.”
New York Sex Worker Will Rockwell Gives a balanced review of the book from a sex worker and activist’s point of view.
AIDS Epidemic? It was a glorious myth “Pisani freely acknowledges her role in manipulating statistics to maximise their scare value,” notes Michael Fitzpatrick.
Santiago Navajas in LibertadDigital (Spain) “La verdad es dura, difícil y duele. Pero también puede ser divertida. Y si no me creen, lean este libro.” (“The truth is hard, difficult and painful. But it can also be interesting. and if you don’t believe me, read this book”)
David Cano in Notodo (spain)

The Kirkus Review of Books
Savvy epidemiologist Pisani takes an eye-opening look at who gets AIDS how, when and where.
The “how” hasn’t changed: HIV infects via the exchange of body fluids in sex, in transfusions and contaminated needles and from mother to infant in birth or breast milk. But the author’s revelations are startling. In the course of developing surveys and collecting blood samples to get an accurate reading of HIV prevalence in Southeast Asia, Pisani got to know the prostitutes, pimps, brothel owners, gays, rent boys, drug injectors and a class of transvestites (with or without genital surgery) called waria, as well as their clients. She discovered that some men and boys who consider themselves straight sell sex to other men, that whores sometimes use condoms with their johns but never with their pimps or boyfriends, that drug injectors also buy sex and have girlfriends who may also be prostitutes, that waria have loving “husbands.” All those questionnaires with check-off boxes to distinguish one high-risk group from one another just don’t make any sense, she concludes. Pisani paints likable portraits of many of the contacts she made as she explored the dives and street scenes in major cities. The whores are not actually very wise, she admits, but neither are the donors and administrators of government programs who demand abstinence, oppose family planning, think they can create a drug-free world and often operate in ignorance of what other groups are doing. A further dilemma goes to the heart of AIDS stigma. People give money to forestall the epidemic infection of all those innocent wives and children, but Pisani makes it clear that they are not the most vulnerable, at least on the turf she has covered (Africa is different). She argues that the money ought to go to needle-exchange programs, condom promotion and other preventives.

Delivers a strong, well-told and believable message—would that it makes a difference.

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