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Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations [Paperback]

John Diamond , Richard Dawkins , Dominic Lawson
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 July 2001 A Vintage original
At the time of his death from cancer on 1 March 2001, journalist and broadcaster John Diamond had completed six chapters of what was to be "an uncomplimentary look at the world of complementary medicine". These chapters, based on his own experience and on researched fact, which were emailed each week to his editors at Random House, are both personal and poignant, hard hitting and controversial, tackling the issues raised by alternative medicine with total candour and his usual wit. The second half of this book features some of the best of Diamond's writing, including a selection of emails to colleagues and friends, articles from "The Times" and the "Jewish Chronicle" and other publications, together with excerpts from his final notebook. For seven years he wrote an immensely popular weekly column in "The Times" which, following his diagnosis with cancer, was given over to following the progress of the disease. As well as gaining him a Columnist of the Year award, it resulted in an avalanche of mail from thousands of his readers.

Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st Paperback Printing edition (5 July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099428334
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099428336
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 388,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Author of Snake Oil, John Diamond, believed journalism to be an ephemeral thing: "If I wanted to write for posterity's sake, I'll start another unfinishable book." Sadly, he did. At the time of his death, on March 2, 2001, Diamond had written six chapters of Snake Oil. Intended to be "an uncomplimentary view of complementary medicine", he was spurred into writing the book by the 5,000 letters he received suggesting alternative cures for his terminal cancer.

In the book Diamond sets out to prove that the protagonists of alternativism are, at best, gullible and misguided, at worst, con-merchants and quacks. The uncompleted book ends with the words: "Let me explain." Unfortunately, he wasn't given the chance. The remainder of the book is made up from a selection of Diamond's articles and columns, which, edited by brother-in-law Dominic Lawson, were chosen on "the basis of his humour rather than his tumour". As a freelancer, Diamond wrote about anything for anyone. Consequently, the "preoccupations" cover every subject under the sun, including soggy bread, middle age , donor cards, first dates and bottled water: " ... the perfect accompaniment to good food and fine wines, it can even be served as a refreshing drink in its own right". But, post diagnosis, it's Diamond's columns for The Times which hit home hardest. As his condition progresses, Diamond remains stoically reflective without ever sounding resentful; always moving, but never maudlin, his insouciant prose conveys a humbling bravery. John Diamond may have considered journalism to be a transitory art form, but as this collection of his work shows, his writing makes an indelible impression. --Christopher Kelly

From the Back Cover

John Diamond died on March 2nd, 2001. He was one of Britain’s most prolific journalists, columnists and broadcasters, having worked for most of the national papers and presented numerous radio and television series. For seven years he wrote an immensely popular weekly column in The Times which, since his diagnosis with cancer, was given over to following that disease’s progress.

At the time of his death, he had completed six chapters of what was to be ‘an uncomplimentary look at the world of complementary medicine’. These chapters, based on his own experience and on researched fact, are both personal and poignant, hard hitting and controversial, tackling the issues raised by alternative medicine with total candour and his usual wit.

Including a selection of articles and his columns from The Times, the Jewish Chronicle and other publications, Snake Oil and Other Preoccupations, compiled and edited by Dominic Lawson, contains the best of John’s writing.

By author of the bestselling C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 8 Aug 2001
By A Customer
The first third is JD's well written attack on the alternative medicine scene.
The collection of articles selected by the editors, which follows, are a mix of some that deal with his failing health and some that don't. All very readable and witty.
Disappointing that there appears to be some overlap between this and "C" (or do I remember some pieces from elsewhere?), given the huge amount of great work he produced you would have thought this was unnecessary.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 26 Aug 2001
By A Customer
A rigorous but accessible de-bunking of alternative medicine, which is a great contrast to the credulous coverage of the issue in most of the popular media.
As one reader said, prepare to be preoccupied -- and disapointed and saddened that the main part of the book stops after six chapters.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something important to say 11 Mar 2002
By A Customer
John Diamond's unfinished book about alternative medicine is excellent and a much-needed antidote to the ubiquitous newspaper columns which tell you how selenium, avocado oil, echinacea, aromatherapy, colonic irrigation and all the rest of the phoney alternative treatments will make you well and keep you healthy, provided you have total faith and are willing to comply with the associated rituals.

I am tempted to say that it is a pity that many of the essays and articles with which the book is padded out, are of inferior quality. But on reflection, I think that is all to the good. Frivolous articles written by Diamond from one week to another, intended for momentary amusement only, gradually give way to his profound and moving articles on the subject of his cancer. It all makes you think about what sells newspapers and what's worth reading. Should you enrich your life with a jokey article about a boring hotel room, or a harrowing article about having your tongue removed? Crystal therapy or chemotherapy? By offering us logic and reason, Diamond may strike some readers as pessimistic and negative. For those who want to know the truth, however painful, his book is a valuable tonic. By the end of his life, when his tongue had been removed, Diamond had at last truly found his voice and he had something important to say.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Last Words from the Journalistic Maestro 15 July 2001
By A Customer
Before he died of throat cancer, John Diamond started work on this, his last book, in which he critically assesses the world of 'alternative medicine', which, as many of his Times Magazine readers were well aware, he dismissed as unscientific and phoney (hence 'Snake Oil'). It was to become his 'unfinished symphony', and the 'meat' of the text lasts just 80 pages; before it suddenly stops. The rest of the book is padded-out with selected essays from his Times articles, which range from his earlier, lighter, works depicting the various stresses and strains of modern life; before descending down a darker road, describing his own personal decline and fall in the grip of his cancer. Whether these essays ('Other Preoccupations') should have been appended is a matter of opinion. I think they detract from the message of the book, which should have been published as it was, and the essays collected for a separate publication. Perhaps the publishers thought that the public would have felt cheated with just the 80 pages...? They shouldn't have worried - The book is yet another tour-de-force of his unique writing style and skill; he demolishes the various charlatans at work extracting money from the gullable, and it is only to be regretted that he was unable to finish this important job, as the world of 'alternative medicine' is only very rarely (if at all) confronted for what it is. So read it, enjoy his wonderful writing skills, inform yourself about the phoney world of alternative medicine, but don't, whatever you do, think of John Diamond as 'brave' - he would have hated you for it (and if you want to know why then please read his seminal work: "C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too").
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to be preoccupied 8 Aug 2001
By A Customer
It's quite likely that if you want to read this book you have previously tackled John's earlier publication C: Because Cowards get Cancer Too. This offering, be prepared, is a totally different animal. By the time he embarked on the writing of Snake Oil, John knew his days were numbered; the first part of the book has an almost 'political' quality to it...John, dying from throat cancer, argues the toss between orthodox and alternative medicine. The tone is altogether more serious...the implications of his arguments reaching far beyond his own experience and suffering although, as you would expect, he brings both to bear in support of his views. Sadly, John died just six chapters into the book. The publisher, wisely, pushed ahead with it's issue, and filled the rest with some of John's best literary offerings...some dating as far back as 1988. Prepare to howl. Orthodox or alternative?? Well, these snippets of John's genius were all the medicine I needed! The front cover picture of the author is indeed a painful one, wracked as he evidently is, with the disease that was to kill him, and by the orthodox medical treatment he so eloquently champions...but his wry smile says it all. What a fine epitaph this publication is to a brilliant and gifted journalist and broadcaster. RIP.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I am so pleased I read this book. I work in audit and research in the Health Service and I found that I have been asked to an awful lot of 'complementary medicine' groups in recent years, attended and run mainly by apparently orthodox nurses. I was beginning to worry that I was old-fashioned in demanding some sort of evidence base for these so-called 'alternative' therapies. John Diamond has brought me soundly back to earth to the extent that I felt angry today to note that our hospital library devotes more shelf space to homeopathy and other 'alternative' practices than it does to child abuse. Some mistake, surely, and I will not go along with this any more!
Meantime John Diamond acknowledges the common sense that a massage and nice smells may well help you to feel better but these are not healing or curative per se.
I do feel that tis book should not have included pieces of work on subjects other than complementary medicine and his cancer. On the other hand, his writing is such a delight that I can hardly be sorry - his story of the Yiddish computer repairer, for example, was excellent!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Big C
John Diamond is the author of this book and a profilic journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He was also the first husband of Nigella Lawson, and said to be the driving force... Read more
Published 7 months ago by The Pegster
5.0 out of 5 stars very good read
This is a compilation of some of the journal articles by John Diamond who was diagnosed of Cancer . Read more
Published 15 months ago by T L
2.0 out of 5 stars A tale of two books
I came to this from a recommended book list in Richard Dawkins' "A Devil's Chaplain" and I must say that I found it disappointing. Read more
Published on 5 Aug 2009 by ianscardiff
5.0 out of 5 stars A skeptic replies
Tony Dougan - all Prof. Dawkins is asking is whether some of the huge profits generated by these "therapies", which have no scientific basis, could be put back into testing whether... Read more
Published on 19 Dec 2007 by Mark Till
4.0 out of 5 stars poignant but padded
Having just read those terse words on page 82- 'let me explain' followed by the terminal silence, it is difficult to be critical. Read more
Published on 18 April 2002 by Chris Potter
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
It's about time that someone wrote a book debunking the popular myth of "alternative" medicine. There can surely be no better person to write such a book. Read more
Published on 21 Aug 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars A beacon of humanity and common sense
How do you review such a book? The content is as has been indicated by other readers: touching; funny; intelligent; scathing. Read more
Published on 20 July 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Because the brave get cancer too...
John Diamond was famous for a few things. He was a famous British journalist. He was famous because he was married to domestic goddess Nigella Lawson. Read more
Published on 19 July 2001
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