three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
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How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies

A-GenerationRxCritser previously gave readers the skinny on America’s burgeoning waistlines in Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World ( 3.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2003). It turns out that Americans aren’t just stuffing their faces with cheeseburgers but also popping pills by the fistful. In Generation Rx, Critser explains that deregulation of the pharmaceutical industry has allowed drug companies to advertise their wares much as they please, so that patients ask physicians for drugs by name. Doctors, wined and dined by pharmaceutical reps, are happy to oblige. The FDA, meanwhile, has compromised its watchdog role by accepting "user fees" from the industry. The result is that Americans are poisoning themselves. For example, drug-induced liver disease is the most common cause of acute liver failure in the U.S.
Houghton Mifflin. 352 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0618393137

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Unlike the malignantly partisan Michael Moore or Ralph Nader … Critser spreads his gospel of rack and ruin in an almost good-natured way, explaining who paid off whom and how many Americans died as a result of it, but without getting especially nasty. Indeed, what prevents Generation Rx from reading like a writ of indictment is the author’s folksy turns of phrase, which sometimes go off in unintentionally hilarious directions." Joe Queenan

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Using friendly layman’s language and some welcome humor, Critser manages to enlighten what could be a dense and disturbing subject. … He traces the roots of the high-profile drug industry scandals of recent years to decisions to deregulate the industry in the 1990s and make drugs just another consumer good to be aggressively marketed." Gregory M. Lamb

Hartford Courant 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Critser is masterly in laying out complex reasons for big pharma’s rise—and for some of its current troubles. … He is on strong ground when he argues that government has abdicated much of its responsibility to the consumer about the safety, efficacy and price of the drugs we take." William Hathaway

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Critser’s book is vital, fraught with surprises, not all happy. He makes it crystal clear what we are doing to our bodies in ‘Pharma’s World,’ where the industry uses its new muscle to create a ‘new you’ while promoting the notion that pills can and will do everything." Jeanne Nicholson

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Big Pharma’s] success had more to do with persuading Washington bureaucrats to lower and sometimes obliterate barriers put in place to keep consumers safe and protect them from being swindled. … In light of last year’s hormone therapy findings and the Vioxx scandal, public outrage over FDA ineptitude and Big Pharma greed is already on simmer, and Generation Rx might just be the incendiary needed to bring it to a roiling boil." Julie Mayeda

LA Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"A significant proportion of Generation Rx—perhaps too much of it—unfolds as a straightforward business story, in which we witness Big Pharma, at first tentatively and then with increasing euphoria, slough off its old fuddy-duddy ambiance and traditional restraints to embrace what the author calls a promotional ‘bacchanal.’" Daniel Pinchbeck

Critical Summary

Critics were enthralled—and disturbed—by Critser’s muckraking portrait of the pharmaceutical industry and the overmedicated public it purports to serve. The book is sure to make people think twice the next time they reach into their medicine cabinet. Critser presents compelling evidence that drugs are not adequately tested before they hit the market and that drug companies seem to be inventing ailments that their pills can cure. But the book is not just a big-business exposé. Critser also explores the societal pressures that lead Americans of all ages to turn to pills to fulfill the burdensome expectations they place on themselves. And he uses gentle humor to avoid coming off as excessively alarmist.

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