Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre

We’re all doomed, was my internal head-shaking reaction, when I read this very unsettling book. Ben Goldacre is a British physician with a wicked sense of humour. In Bad Pharma he takes aim at the unholy and uneasy alliance of pharma companies, regulatory bodies, journal editors and even physicians who conspire to sell drugs to patients. If the drugs are efficacious and safe, so much the better. If not: we have a pill for that. Goldacre credibly presents the strategies deployed to pass off good results as bad. The first eye-opening point for me was: why are drugs always compared…

Cold Rush: the astonishing true story of the new quest for the polar North by Martin Breum

In which history repeats itself! In 2007, Russia sent submarines to plant the Russian flag on the ocean floor underneath the North Pole. The statements initially released for external consumption pooh-poohed the notion that Russia has making a territorial claim, but internally the messaging was very different. Fast forward to 2021 and the closest human approximation to Orwell’s “Squealer” in Animal Farm, Sergey Lavrov, declared ““It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory.” China has also shown interest in the Arctic’s potential for mining and mineral resources despite having no obvious claim…

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

What annoyed me is that Theranos has been singled out as a bad apple, an exceptional case. It is not. The “fake it ’til you make it” ethos is a poisonous Silicon Valley mantra, and I’ve heard repeated with glee all over Southern Ontario. Tech founders boast of their guts and guile at faking demos to scam investors (quietly developing a functional product only when the money is safely in the bank). Elizabeth Holmes has been pilloried – rightly – but the notion that Theranos was exceptionally brash or dishonest is probably untrue. Also: Theranos investors were credulous fools. Unlike…

The Millionaire and the Bard by Andrea Mays

The net result of this book was to instill in me a desire to visit the Folger Library in Washington DC. Henry Folger was Rockefeller’s right-hand man at Standard Oil; Rockefeller as the richest man in the world and one of the richest humans who has ever lived. Folger had the money and power to indulge himself, and his chief indulgence was a burgeoning obsession with Shakespeare. After Shakespeare died, a group of his friends and fellow actors collected his work into a “First Folio” of plays. It’s unlikely that Shakespeare’s plays would persist to this day had it not…