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

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4.13  ·  Rating details ·  2,711 ratings  ·  249 reviews
When people ask Elizabeth Pisani what she does for a living, she says, "sex and drugs." As an epidemiologist researching AIDS, she's been involved with international efforts to halt the disease for fourteen years. With swashbuckling wit and fierce honesty, she dishes on herself and her colleagues as they try to prod reluctant governments to fund HIV prevention for the peop ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published June 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton Company (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  2,711 ratings  ·  249 reviews


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Elizabeth
Jun 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
I wrote this book so of course I think it's fantastic. But if you want more objective opinions, you will find all reviews so far (good and bad) at http://www/the-wisdom.com/reviews ...more
James
Feb 19, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: health
What a difference a title makes!!!


Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men by Gabriel Rotello

Is a far more interesting and informative book, but with a dull title it only has 8 ratings and 2 reviews.
Compare to the 288 ratings for this book!

I don't know what the title is suppose to mean,
there's no "wisdom" from the whores that are interviewed.

I guess it would make sense if the author considers herself a whore,
but I doubt that's the case.

Over 300 tedious pages,
about 49% of the time t
...more
Elevate Difference
Jan 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
The arrival in 1994 of HIV and AIDS to the London School of Hygiene's curriculum led Elizabeth Pisani, a former journalist and scholar of classical Chinese, to contemplate "a career in sex and drugs." The Wisdom of Whores recounts her work for (and increasingly against) the funding and technical juggernauts of UNAIDS, Family Health International (FHI), the World Bank, the WHO, and the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in defining and surveilling upon HIV and AIDS. Pisani collec ...more
Lindsay Wilson
June 2016 re-read: I graduated from my MSc. in Epidemiology last week, so I thought I would re-read the book that started it all: The Wisdom of Whores. I first read this book back in 2010 and it literally changed my life. I was in the middle of a degree in International Development, and my main interest was in Global Health, with a particular emphasis on HIV. I was really unclear about what I wanted to do with my life and was increasingly dissatisfied with the largely ineffective development wor ...more
Brendan Conner
Aug 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: hookery
Elizabeth Pisani’s book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, while choc-a-bloc full of policy and statistics, lacks the whore’s-eye view the title first leads the reader to believe. While The Wisdom of Whores is certainly a well-written and eminently useful insider’s take on international HIV/AIDS policy, I fail to see the relevance of the title. Pisani’s Whores actively calls into question the very “Sacred Cows” of sex worker rights and HIV/AIDS activism: the r ...more
Dean Rizzetti
May 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Elizabeth Pisani knows how to make banal things sexy. I’m not convinced that a job writing manuals at UNAIDs or consultancies helping government setup monitoring systems is really the stuff that gets the heart pumping. But Pisani trounces my skepticism, using her experience as an anchor for compellingly, well-argued observations about development, research and HIV.

The first third of the book is focused on Pisani’s transition from a journalist in Hong Kong to a scientist writing cook-books on mon
...more
Lesbianfunworld Online
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I am getting older. Yes yes, I know we all are, but this is my story, so shush yourself. I am getting older, and so are my family and friends and colleagues. Not all, mind you, but enough. Too many. I’m watching them age, and I think to myself, they are getting smaller. They are shrinking their worlds, their experiences, their understanding of the world. The world that changes. They are not keeping up, they are not challenging their own conventions and beliefs. Maybe they aren’t getting smaller/ ...more
Michael Connolly
Oct 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: sex, reviewed
The author is a journalist-turned-epidemiologist. She has a master's degree in Classical Chinese from Oxford University. She also speaks Spanish, French and Bahasa Indonesian. She has a doctorate in Infectious Disease Epidemiology from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Pisani is very outspoken. She criticizes the political Left for saying that AIDS is a threat to everyone, because it takes the focus away from high-risk groups such as prostitutes and drug addicts. She also critici
...more
Wealhtheow
Jan 20, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommended to Wealhtheow by: Shinynickel
Shelves: health, non-fiction
Pisani has been working in AIDS research pretty much since its inception, at all the big organizations: UNAIDS, WHO, CDC, World Bank, Ministries of Health in China, Indonesia, East Timor, and the Philippines. She tells the story of the evolution of AIDS programs, which started out as shamefully poorly funded and are now overwhelmed with badly managed donor money. Personal and political ideologies have blocked the most effective programs, channeled money toward populations that don't need it, use ...more
Stephy
Having been on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic in the United States when it was still called GRID, (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) I have watched in stunned horror as our Government refused to earmark money for AIDS education and research, and limited money to countries that were, sensibly enough, distributing condoms to sex workers and people with multiple partners.
I have been far too close to the actuality of people dying to stand back and get this broad overview. I'm delighted that Eliz
...more
Cindy
Apr 08, 2013 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Serian
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I thought this was a really fascinating book - about AIDS, about international organisations, about epidemiology, about statistics, about health, about people.

It's incredibly readable and straightforward but still manages to explain really complicated issues. I liked the way Pisani structured it around her own life and career, though that might not appeal to some other readers. I did find myself getting a bit bored of her disdain for political correctness - the point really didn't need to be la
...more
Ocrema
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The book is totally cool.
Jite
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating take on the global AIDS epidemic!

I am not huge into non-fiction but as someone working in public health who saw this listed as the first book of the APHA (American Public Health Association)’s new book club, I decided to check this out. It’s the kind of book I read in grad school but wouldn’t have necessary have selected if not for the book club. Or so I thought.

The “Wisdom of Whores” is a fascinating take on the global AIDS epidemic that was written about a decade ago, but which is
...more
Eugenia O'Neal
Oct 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In The Wisdom of Whores; Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, Elizabeth Pisani, takes an incisive look at the sex trade, HIV/AIDS prevention strategies and the operations of national and international non-governmental organizations. Ms. Pisani, an epidemiologist who has worked with UNAIDS, the World Bank and other organizations and governments takes a no-holds barred approach to the issue. What works? What doesn’t? How can governments and multi-nationals spend their HIV/AIDS budgets m ...more
Jacob
If you like reading about activist manipulation of facts, government cover-ups, epidemiological facts about HIV, or up-close-and-personal descriptions of the seedy underbelly of several countries, you will probably enjoy this book. The author, a journalist turned epidemiologist who hooked up with studying AIDS just before funding kicked into high gear, is blunt but eye-opening.

She describes how she and her coworkers "beat-up" the facts to scare "rich countries" into providing money to fight AID
...more
Maribeaux
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
I lost my respect for the work when I reached chapter six and it made me overall question the information presented on the topic of sex and drugs.
I won't say much, just that it would have been wiser if Pissani had left her uneducated, anecdotal-evidence-based opinions on human trafficking to the experts on the issue, who not only admit that most of the females in the sex trade in Asia are trafficked, but also that commercial sex not only hasn't fallen, but it is rooted so deep in many cultures
...more
Mark Desrosiers
Jan 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sex
She gets the boring stuff out of the way first -- a tour of U.N. bureaucracies and statistics-gathering methods -- before setting off on what amounts to a galloping rant about common knowledge, our perception, of AIDS and why it spreads. Lots of received wisdom gets demolished here -- I felt pretty much like an idiot at some points. For example, she evaporates the widespread trust in "peer advocacy" by citing a personal anecdote in which a skeletal, angry, dying "AIDS counselor" gets to tell a p ...more
Ani
Feb 12, 2011 rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, certainly countercultural, which impresses me. Some of her reporting seems quite radical, as she suggests that the staggering numbers related to AIDS that the rest of us are accustomed to hearing are exaggerated by a lot. As it is so radical, I would like to check her sources and research methods, just to be sure that she is not allowing her cynicism to color her reporting. Her take on human trafficking disappointed me, as she claims in all her research to not have ...more
Kerry
Sep 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Folks interested in Public Health, Development and HIV/AIDS
This book is an epidemiologist's take on conducting field work for AIDS research. She is candid about her experience and the lessons that the various people she encounters from all types of various backgrounds have to teach her and her colleagues about society, common sense and practical matters.

I didn't quite manage to get through the whole book before I had to return it to the library.

The accounts range from humorous to maddening and frustrating. It offers hope that the public health communi
...more
Eliza
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was ok
It took me forever to finish this book. I wanted to get a more eastern perspective on AIDS after reading "And The Band Played On", and Pisani is certainly the expert in the field. I can not say that this book is the page turner that ATBPO was, but what I can say is this book is about data... Tons of data; how they collected data, what data is wrong, how to get correct data, the meetings where they discussed data, how data can effect public policy and public opinion.... It was far too much data t ...more
Tony and Rosa
Mar 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book operates on three levels. It is a participant history of international efforts to tackle AIDS; it is a description of the Byzantine international bureaucracies and their donors; and it is a personal story of the author as she went from journalist to public health consultant while gaining and losing a husband. In truth the last is the weakest part of the book. It is where her sense of humour is at its most strained. That ability to laugh at experts and bureaucracies as they spend billio ...more
Alicen
Aug 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
This book is a searing commentary on the state of the HIV/AIDS prevention/treatment world- or at least the author's take on it. I really appreciated, however, her criticisms and critiques and think that it's important to be constantly analyzing and re-analyzing one's work and field. Some will find this book controversial and it is in many ways, but she also has some useful comments. Great for anyone working this field or interested in understanding some of the complexities in the HIV/AIDS world.
Tera
May 21, 2008 rated it liked it
A wonderful informative and actually entertaining book on a subject that you would imagine to be dry and depressing. Elizabeth has a great voice and allows personality and humanity to take hold of the subject matter rather than an bury the reader with mind numbing facts.
Perhaps if the subject matter was dealt with in our communities, schools and even homes with the same informative yet humanizing approach progress would be more than a goal.
Julie
Oct 29, 2009 rated it liked it
I'm kind of on the fence about this one. It's from the perspective of an insider to AIDS advocacy work, and she's fairly harsh about the way things have been approached and the politics that are involved. I think a lot of her cynicism is probably justified, but her attack on the link between AIDS and poverty made me feel a little uncomfortable, as did a lot of her discussion about AIDS in Africa. I'm still thinking about the book and may end up changing my mind about it several times.
Rebecca
Apr 06, 2014 rated it liked it
The author needs to learn how to get out of her own damn way when she's writing. She clearly has a lot of interesting things to say about the business of aids prevention, but the substantive points compete for space with the author's need to share with the reader what a bad ass life she lives as a globe trotting epidemiologist who hangs out with sex workers and junkies.
Rachel
Sep 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I'd love to watch her and Paul Farmer discuss AIDS epidemiology and effective preventions. That would be fun.
Patrick Quealy
Mar 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: aids
Good bridge/gap-filler between dissenter and conventional literature, though it doesn't mean to be.
Melissa
Mar 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book for anyone interested in public health or HIV.

I worked as a HIV test counselor for a year and still learned many things from this book.

Amazing read.
Holly
Dec 01, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: queer
What should have been an interesting point of view was too transphobic to read.
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“A journalist's work depends on a willingness to ask questions of people who are better informed and more powerful than you.” 4 likes
“Yes, our social and economic circumstances shape decisions we make about all sorts of things in life, including sex. Sometimes they rob us of the power to make any decisions at all. But of all human activity, sex is among the least likely to fit neatly into the blueprint of rational decision making favoured by economists. To quote my friend Claire in Istanbul, sex is about 'conquest, fantasy, projection, infatuation, mood, anger, vanity, love, pissing off your parents, the risk of getting caught, the pleasure of cuddling afterwards, the thrill of having a secret, feeling desirable, feeling like a man, feeling like a woman, bragging to your mates the next day, getting to see what someone looks like naked and a million-and-one-other-things.' When sex isn't fun, it is often lucrative, or part of a bargain which gives you access to something you want or need.

If HIV is spread by 'poverty and gender equality', how come countries that have plenty of both, such as Bangladesh, have virtually no HIV? How come South Africa and Botswana, which have the highest female literacy and per capita incomes in Africa, are awash with HIV, while countries that score low on both - such as Guinea, Somalia, Mali, and Sierra Leone - have epidemics that are negligible by comparison? How come in country after country across Africa itself, from Cameroon to Uganda to Zimbabwe and in a dozen other countries as well, HIV is lowest in the poorest households, and highest in the richest households? And how is it that in many countries, more educated women are more likely to be infested with HIV than women with no schooling?

For all its cultural and political overtones, HIV is an infectious disease. Forgive me for thinking like an epidemiologist, but it seems to me that if we want to explain why there is more of it in one place than another, we should go back and take a look at the way it is spread.”
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