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Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age Hardcover – December 11, 2012

5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews


Jonathan Kahn's approach offers an airtight analysis of the commoditization of race in pharmaceutical development, and Race in a Bottle should be of interest and deep concern to numerous audiences.

(Ruha Benjamin, Boston University)

Jonathan Kahn has produced a major and unique contribution, giving readers a 'big picture' understanding of this vital issue by integrating empirically grounded analysis of real controversies into a detailed conceptual roadmap. This is a substantial piece of scholarship and will be of interest to anyone concerned with the escalating, even geometrically expanding use of the concept of race in science and medicine.

(Troy Duster, University of California, Berkeley)

Jonathan Kahn is the undisputed Hercules Poirot of biomedicine. His unraveling of the nonsense, non-science, and complicated illogic that allowed the vasodilator BiDil to be approved by the FDA exclusively for 'black' patients is as compelling a read as any good mystery. This riveting book details what happens to scientific method when profit motive drives the marketing of a drug to the extent that its curative properties are touted as race-specific―even when they're not. Genetic variation in humans has no correlation to the shifting historical meanings of race, yet pharmaceutical companies continue to force the square peg of social category into the round hole of scientific fact. Race in a Bottle is a brilliant deconstruction of the kinds of thought processes that make for bad policy, bad medicine, and ultimately endanger our health as a species.

(Patricia Williams, Columbia Law School)

Jonathan Kahn brilliantly exposes the stunning truth behind new race-based medicines: they are driven by market incentives, not scientific evidence. Based on meticulous research and astute analysis, Kahn constructs a gripping, devastating portrait of profit motivating the use of race in genetic research and pharmaceuticals. Race in a Bottle is absolutely essential for understanding why the myth of biological race has reemerged in genomic science and biotechnology and how it is distorting research, damaging pubic health, and undermining justice in our supposedly post-racial society.

(Dorothy Roberts, author of Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century)

Kahn expertly weaves together the legal and ethical ramifications of continuing to pursue racialized drugs.... No background in health sciences or genetics is necessary to understand this work.

(Library Journal)

[Race in a Bottle] tackle[s] one of the most important concerns pertaining to race facing our society today.... Must-read material.

(New Scientist)

An extraordinary book.... I highly recommend it.

(Osagie Obasogie BioPolitical Times)

Mr. Kahn deserves credit for teasing out all the daunting complexities behind these events, including the details of genetic analysis, the perils of racial determinations, and the minutiae of patent law.

(Abigail Zuger, M.D. New York Times)

Kahn's book should be required reading. At a time when the ties between scientific researchers and the pharmaceutical industry are becoming ever more entangled, Race in a Bottle provides valuable insights into the consequences of these connections for health and health care - and, importantly, for what passes as knowledge.

(Lundy Braun GeneWatch)

A powerful saga packed with engrossing twists and turns of plot and filled with food for thought and debate on the politics and health implications of racial perception.

(Midwest Book Review)

Finely crafted and written.

(Alejandra Suarez PsycCritiques)

[Kahn] seems as much at home discussing epidemiology and drug marketing as he does the history of US race relations and the intricacies of patenting.... Magnificent.

(Dr. Martyn Pickersgill The Biologist)

A compelling account of a fascinating case.

(Anne Pollock Bulletin of the History of Medicine)

Race in a Bottle is lucid and energetic, with fascinating and little-known evidence about clinical trials, the federal regulatory and patent systems, and the history of racial classification.... Kahn offers a heartfelt and persuasive case against allowing race to be reduced to biology.

(Jennifer L. Hochschild Journal of American History)

[Kahn] skillfully uses the story of the drug BiDil... as the backdrop for examining the expanding role of race in medical genomics, even when the same science has called the existence of race into serious doubt.

(Aravinda Chakravarti Nature Medicine)

Highly recommended.


[Jonathan Kahn's] rich portrayal of the changing meaning and uses of race in the wake of genomics makes this book a 'must read' and 'must assign' for all sociologists of race and ethnicity.

(Sociology of Race and Ethnicity)

Book Description

Exploring the troubling persistence of race as a central organizing concept in the development of pharmaceuticals and related biotechnological innovations.

--This text refers to the Unknown Binding edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (December 11, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231162987
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231162982
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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This is a fascinating book on race and public policy that deserves a wide readership, especially among health professionals, professionals-in-training, and biomedical researchers. Kahn is a law professor who previously had an N.I.H. grant to examine racial classifications used in the U.S. census, so he has expertise in the area where biomedicine, law, and politics collide. Kahn's ground-breaking detective work uncovered the real story behind BiDil, a combination medicine famous as the first drug marketed specifically to African Americans. Far from being race-specific, BiDil began as a ploy to extend the life-time of a patent and evolved into a niche marketing strategy. "Race in a Bottle" is an inside story: Kahn testified at the FDA hearing that approved BiDil (he recommended approval but for everyone, not as a race-specific medicine). In the end, BiDil was a flop, and its story is only the entry point for Kahn's analysis. The trend in genome-based research is to attribute racial health disparities to genetic causes, with the "fix" being race-tailored medicines. With wit, insight, and exceptional clarity Kahn demolishes claims for race as biology and reveals the confusion between social/political definitions of race (which are very real) and biogeographical ones (which are generally unscientific). The confusion is maintained because, on the one hand, it's profitable for the pharmaceutical industry (and required for NIH-funded research), and on the other, it distracts from the real causes of health disparities rooted in structural racism and the market economy. Kahn's many examples are drawn from medicine and pharmacology.Read more ›
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