Friday, April 14, 2017

Epic Measures by Jeremy N. Smith, 2017

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Moneyball meets medicine in this remarkable chronicle of one of the greatest scientific quests of our time—the groundbreaking program to answer the most essential question for humanity: how do we live and die?—and the visionary mastermind behind it.

Medical doctor and economist Christopher Murray began the Global Burden of Disease studies to gain a truer understanding of how we live and how we die. While it is one of the largest scientific projects ever attempted—as breathtaking as the first moon landing or the Human Genome Project—the questions it answers are meaningful for every one of us: What are the world’s health problems? Who do they hurt? How much? Where? Why?

Murray argues that the ideal existence isn’t simply the longest but the one lived well and with the least illness. Until we can accurately measure how people live and die, we cannot understand what makes us sick or do much to improve it. Challenging the accepted wisdom of the WHO and the UN, the charismatic and controversial health maverick has made enemies—and some influential friends, including Bill Gates who gave Murray a $100 million grant.

In Epic Measures, journalist Jeremy N. Smith offers an intimate look at Murray and his groundbreaking work. From ranking countries’ healthcare systems (the U.S. is 37th) to unearthing the shocking reality that world governments are funding developing countries at only 30% of the potential maximum efficiency when it comes to health, Epic Measures introduces a visionary leader whose unwavering determination to improve global health standards has already changed the way the world addresses issues of health and wellness, sets policy, and distributes funding.

(352 pages)

First, full disclaimer: as the daughter of a doctor and a physician-scientist, I came into this book probably with more inherent interest and familiarity with the world of research than the average reader will. I found the book very interesting (if slow and overly-detailed at times); you might just find it boring.

But honestly, I don't know how anyone could find it completely boring. It's a book about the development of a universal health measurement resource! Chris Murray's research has so much potential for helping us pack the greatest punches against illness with the most efficiency, and I think it's awesome. Is it the be all and end all of such rankings? No, as Murray himself points out, the study is too new to have all the bugs worked out. It needs competition to keep it as fresh and relevant as possible, and it needs critical eyes to find any flaws hidden in the data. But it's amazing nonetheless, leaps and bounds above any other measurements that have been attempted. Kudos to all the amazing researchers who pulled it off, and to Bill Gates for funding such crucial research.

Setting aside the amazing stuff that Murray and his peers accomplished, what of the book itself? It does struggle at times to stay interesting–especially when going through all the meetings Murray attended, all the jobs he had, all the research he did before he got funding for this main project, etc. I do think seeing the journey Murray took to publishing the Global Burden of Disease is important, though, because it gives us more insight into who he is as a person and as a researcher.

And Murray truly is a genius. He's extraordinarily passionate about his work, extremely gifted intellectually, and full of seemingly boundless energy. I think his dedication to his research is good, when it comes to the research itself and all the people it will help, but I do struggle a little bit to empathize with him much. As I said, I know lots of scientists. I've seen how wrapped up they can get in their work. Murray's wife divorced him and took custody of their three children, and they don't say why but I can only guess that a lot of that tension stemmed from him never being home. It's great that he could accomplish so much for all the sick people on the planet, and to the world he's a hero for his dedication to the cause, but I'd be willing to bet that his kids' opinions of him are far less glowing.

Ah, well, who wants to focus on the negatives? Epic Measures is an interesting, important, and well-researched book about an interesting, important, and well-researched project that has great potential to change the world. Definitely check this book out if you're interested in learning about the struggle to end human suffering around the globe.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in order to participate in a TLC book tour.


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