Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Review: The Red Market by Scott Carney



The Red Market, by Scott Carney (2011)
[Cover image courtesy of www.scottcarney.com]

If you, like me, are fascinated with the corners of human society that one rarely hears anything about, The Red Market goes above and beyond the voyeuristic appeal of the subject matter and presents a nuanced view of the business of the human body in different corners of the world.

Scott Carney is a great writer, but most importantly The Red Market is an amazing piece of journalism. Exposing the very different ways that value is placed on the many different parts of the human body that the world needs (and uses), the book gives an inside look at the trade in human flesh that is extremely compelling.

The story touches on the completely criminal, the quasi-grey-market, and the completely-aboveboard markets for human hair, blood, organs and adoptive children, to name a few, and what is most amazing is that in each case Carney gives us a look at how it works on the ground – because he went to these places and talked to the people who make their livings off of these markets.

He doesn't tell you "hospitals in India make you bring your own supply of blood if you are going to have an operation that requires a transfusion", he tells you "I went to a food vendor across the street from the hospital, who took me into a back alley and offered to sell me a pint of B- for $20" (not an exact quote but you get the idea).

In some cases, people are abused and exploited. In some cases people are just meeting a need that the legal market is not meeting because our society has established a philosophy that voluntary donation (of kidneys, blood, etc) is the only ethical way to manage the supply. Meanwhile a whole host of middlemen (doctors, hospitals, "adoption counselors") make a ton of money off of those donations.

The result is a nuanced view of the global trade in human flesh that argues above all for transparency in the existing systems that, as they are set up now, offer too many opportunities for profit and exploitation to be of much good to people.

It's a brilliant work of journalism that addresses the micro-level and the big-picture view of the subject matter, which makes it both fascinating and useful.

5 stars.
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