The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS

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“[A] rollicking, eye-opening, hilarious account of the underbelly of international AIDS research.”—Carlin Romano, Philadelphia Inquirer
As an epidemiologist researching AIDS, Elizabeth Pisani has been involved with international efforts to halt the disease for fourteen years. With swashbuckling wit, fierce honesty, and more than a little political incorrectness, she dishes on herself and her colleagues as they try to prod reluctant governments to fund HIV prevention for the people who need it most: drug injectors, gay men, sex workers, and johns. With verve and clarity, Pisani shows the general reader how her profession really works; how easy it is to draw wrong conclusions from “objective” data; and, shockingly, how much money is spent so very badly.
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Editorial Reviews

Foreign Policy
The book will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about HIV/AIDS.— Katie Hunter
Katie Hunter - Foreign Policy
“The book will make you reconsider everything you thought you knew about HIV/AIDS.”
Stephen Lewis
“This is an utterly fascinating book. . . . Elizabeth Pisani writes with enormous verve and acerbity, her prose alive with anecdote and metaphor. . . . The Wisdom of Whores is a great read.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393337655
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/21/2009
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 286,876
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.26 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Pisani has lived in
Indonesia at various times over the past twenty-five years, originally as a journalist and later as an HIV
epidemiologist. The author of The
Wisdom of Whores and Indonesia Etc., she is based in
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A must read

    Elizabeth Pisani has written an informative book that gives you a solid look at how governments shape how money is used when trying to help people.
    The book introduces you to people who care about how those with AIDS are treated. You will meet people who although they have this deadly disease live full and interesting lives.
    This is a book you will not find boring, it has wit and humor and compassion.
    I recommend this be placed on your reading list.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 11, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    An Engaging and Informative Overview of Effective HIV Policy

    After nearly a decade of conducting AIDS/HIV research in Southeast Asia, Elizabeth Pisani recants the lessons she has learned while helping governments and NGO's reduce the spread of this disease. From stressing the importance of adequate disease surveillance to clearly outlining the ways that AIDS/HIV spreads throughout societies, Pisani clearly states the measures that must be taken in order to curtail the AIDS/HIV epidemic. In short, needle exchange programs as well as abundant access to condoms and lubricant for at-risk populations--mostly prostitutes, their customers, and drug injectors--offer the most potential for limiting the infection rate.


    Overall, Pisani provides an insightful book. She responds to numerous counterarguments, provides a vast array of empirical evidence, as well as many personal anecdotes as case studies. Her passion and demand for policy clearly shows. She has avoided adopting any degree of ideology, developing policy recommendations that stem directly from evidence. Her work should be commended and utilized.

    Pisani is a staunch advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and her policies stem from that perspective. In other words, her analysis does not include other perspectives within social sciences. For example, Pisani argues that forcing NGOs to purchase supplies and materials from U.S. companies creates a highly inefficient system for providing AIDS/HIV prevention and treatment. However, she does not provide an economic analysis of this policy. In short, the added revenue to U.S. companies and subsequent boost to the American economy may outweigh the ineffectiveness within the HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment industry. Or it may not. Either way, Pisani neglects to provide analysis and her policies should be analyzed from several lenses before being adopted to avoid any unintended consequences.

    Lastly, Pisani acknowledges the political dilemma for implementing her policy suggestion: people don't like doing nice things for junkies like needle exchanges. She fails to provide any solutions to overcome this dilemma. Though creating awareness and understanding of the HIV epidemic is certainly one useful strategy (and one assumes this book is part of that strategy), Pisani never explains a framework for moving forward. Then again, Pisani is an epidemiologist and shouldn't be faulted for not developing a strategy of policy advocation.

    Bottom Line:

    This book is required reading for anyone involved with AIDS/HIV. Not only has Pisani presented a decades worth of work in an incredibly engaging book, her work has immediate implications for NGOs and governments worldwide. Highly accessible and deeply informative characterizes the entire book.

    For more reviews and a summary of Pisani's main points, find us at Hand of Reason.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2010

    Right on

    Pisani is an excellent writer and makes a crazy topic understandable while allowing us to even laugh at the ridiculous-ness of the HIV/AIDS world. Being un-afraid to call a spade a spade, her frank-ness is refreshing. Too many of us (myself included) count on this industry for our bread and butter and do not have the skills or the networks and authority to share such wisdom. Glad Pisani is there to do it. I hope the global health donors and other decisionmakers all read this and tune into the fact that we are not doing what needs to be done!

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    Posted February 23, 2011

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    Posted August 14, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2011

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