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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex, drugs and statistics, 14 July 2009
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This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
I met Elizabeth Pisani in one of her earlier lives when she was a business journalist. She was pretty impressive at that, but she would end an email with "got to get back to sexual networking now". She was already a medical demographer moonlighting as journalist. Now she has written a remarkable book about her life and work. It's partly a hard-nosed statistical account of why so much of what we are told about AIDS is wrong, backed up by 40 pages of footnotes and references and a website. In particular how little AIDS actually spreads among heterosexuals outside southern and eastern Africa; but telling people that everyone was at risk was the way to mobilise public attention. It's also the story of the author's nights doing "qualitative research" in dodgy bars and street corners in the sleaziest parts of Asia, which is often very funny as well as shocking. And the politics of the AIDS Industry. The book was written while the Bush administration was pushing its "faith-based" programmes while insisting that drugs available at $1.50 a dose be bought from US suppliers at $71. Meanwhile funding was rolling in on massive scale, but very often, Pisani tells us, for spending on the wrong things. East Timor had a big AIDS budget and plenty of other public health problems, but no AIDS. Despite the grim theme it's actually a very funny book with a lot of sympathy for the people she meets. There are positive messages. There are some very dedicated people in health ministries across Asia; and there are programmes that do seem to work. The UK DfID and the Chinese government also come out of the story better than many other players. One is left with great admiration for the author. She has done a very tough job and has written a marvellous book about it, with many lessons for the world.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very cheerful book about AIDS, 12 Oct 2009
By 
A. Feruglio Dal Dan "afdd" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
I've just finished reading The Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani and it is a wonderful book. Ok, a wonderful book especially if you find yourself compulsively turning the pages of popular science books more than novel, but still - a book written by a real expert who also happens to have been a journalist before becoming an epidemiologist, and can write vividly, entertainingly and with passion about fairly obscure statistical points. Most of all, I loved the sense of fun, and genuine liking for people, that came across from the book: despite the fact that it deals with a disease that has killed millions and will kill more, it's a book that celebrates the lives of the people it destroys, gay guys, whores and junkies to use Pisani's definition: not with a funeral but with endless descriptions of wit, spirit, dinner parties and shared meals, cigarettes and drinks.

It makes quite a number of vibrant points, that boil down to "to stop HIV spread you need to do nice things for whores, junkies, and gay guys, and lots of people don't want to." And there are wonderful anecdotes, like the erotic Chinese classic novel she appropriated for a lesson in relationship networks and reality check for a Chinese apparatchnik, or how she rescued a night's worth of samples from a couple of Indonesian policemen...

I'll just say, go out and buy this book, it will entertain you and outrage you and leave you with a faint sense of hope in the human race.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Provocative look at the public health response to HIV/AIDS, 10 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
An interesting and provocative look at the HIV epidemic and the public health response. With stigma on the one side and political correctness on the other it's perhaps not surprising that many interventions have lacked effectiveness. Even if, like me, you find Pisani's writing style grating you'd do well to persevere with this book: you will learn something. Her arguments for the impact of long-term concurrent relationships (not promiscuity) on the spread of HIV within Africa were especially interesting.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Marvellous description of a decade's work saving lives, 3 Sep 2014
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This is a really interesting book about the whole subject of public health, based on a decade's work on HIV in south-east Asia (particularly Indonesia). You learn how difficult it is to pin down the problem, how everything effects everything else, the frustration of finding that the things donors are willing to fund are not the things that would actually help, and the ways in which being perceived as a mad Westerner can let you solve problems.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wise and witty book., 28 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
This book is a monument to the public health workers who gather the evidence and set out to implement it. Elizabeth Pisani writes deftly and her compassion for the individual turns statistics into individuals.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Pop-Science title masks a Good Science read, 18 Jun 2014
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Pisani's book doesn't get off to the strongest start - I had the impression that she was trying to get across an image of herself and her colleagues at UNAIDS as a bunch of bright young things rushing around and being idealistic - but it gains momentum impressively.

She talks about her experience in Indonesia putting surveillance of HIV into practice (and all the problems associated with this, including the very different sexual identities and risk groups which she came across in Asia), her work with African companies and NGO/government funding and organisation hypocrisies. She leaves discussing the infectious mechanisms of HIV a bit late in the book, but this doesn't undermine the message that The Wisdom of Whores is trying to get across (that we can and should tackle the spread of HIV in a different way, that we have the tools and need to use them).

A note on the title - ignore it, because it makes this sound like a pile of pop-science crap, which it is not. I feel that this was chosen as an eye-catching cover rather than one which appeals to the target market of interested, not-necessarily-scientist individuals with some focus on health. Before I bought this I read a review which claimed there was no actual wisdom from whores in the book, which I found hilarious having read it - there are very good anecdotes and plenty of personal stories from those in the sex industry, and wisdom too.

I found this book hard to put down, which is something I haven't found since I read Goldacre's Bad Science book. The writing style is almost on a par with his, and Pisani is occasionally very funny on top of being insightful. The tone is sometimes forced but overall it's not detrimental to the ease of the read. If you want to know anything about HIV, epidemiology, politics, the sex industry or even Asia in general, this is a fascinating book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 28 Mar 2014
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Really great book - who could have thought epidemiology could be so entertaining?! Bought this because, having recently moved to South Africa, I wanted to know more about HIV and AIDS and why it's so prevalent in some countries and not others: this book certainly gave me that education, plus some, frankly distressing, insights into the politicisation of AIDS causes and research. Big respect to Elizabeth Pisani for her fascinating work and her liberal and humanitarian standpoint - and also her writing style.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Who'd A Thunk It? An Entertaining and Informative AIDS Book, 24 Jan 2013
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
"The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS," is a remarkable new book by London-based Elizabeth Pisani. The author, who is an epidemiologist, specializes in HIV surveillance and protection, and has provided research, analysis and policy advice for UNAIDS, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, governments on four continents, and other organizations. Pisani began her work life as an Asia-based journalist; and she brings considerable knowledge of Asia, an impassioned commitment to the eradication of AIDS, and a journalist's clear, informal writing to the book at hand. It makes for quite a package.

The author formerly wrote for Reuters, and "The Economist;" she is evidently a hands-on sort of gal, who's been out and about, principally in Asia, spending 14 years trying to figure out how AIDS spreads, and how to stop it. She's met a great many bureaucrats in her efforts; also a great many whores, and quite a few brothel-keepers, too; her reports back from the front line are fascinatingly factual: despite the ultimate seriousness of her subject, they are entertainingly written, to boot. I wouldn't have thought it possible.

She reaches a few surprisingly controversial, at this late date, conclusions: condoms used in sexual intercourse, and clean needles for injecting drug addicts, save lives. She argues against waste, foolishness, and fraud in the effort to beat the disease. She further argues that the way the Western world first became familiar with the disease, largely among the homosexual community, set disease circles and clichés of treatment that do not necessarily apply to society as a whole. Finally, she argues, convincingly to me, at least, that the horrendous swathe AIDS has taken through Africa, laying waste to whole towns and orphaning innumerable children, will not be the way AIDS will spread in other countries. This African pattern has been used to scare the world into greater AIDS awareness, and into donating greater sums of money to fight the epidemic, all to the good, she says; nevertheless, she argues, overwhelming political correctness has prevented the AIDS community from acknowledging that the patterns of sexual activity seen in Africa are simply different from those she sees elsewhere.

Well,who'd a thunk it? An entertaining, seriously educational, accessible, easy-to read book about AIDS, written by a qualified scientist, no less.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book, 16 Aug 2012
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This review is from: The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (Paperback)
Surprisingly for a non-fiction book about development, in particular the 'HIV&AIDS business', this book is a real 'page turner'. The author uses her extensive experience and knowledge to document how the HIV Business has developed over the years. This thought provoking book is a 'must read' for anyone working in development. There are lessons to be learned and insights to be gained.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Must For all in Public Health, 25 May 2010
This is essential reading for all who are involved in epi, public health and developing countries health systems. Oh and it's a cracking read!
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The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS
The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS by Elizabeth Pisani (Paperback - 6 July 2009)
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