Epic Measures, Jeremy N. Smith: Book Review

Epic Measures Book Cover Epic Measures
Jeremy N. Smith
Nonfiction
HarperCollins
2015
Paperback
291

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. - Goodreads

Special thanks to HarperCollins for allowing us to review Jeremy N. Smith’s Epic Measures.

This review contains quotes from the book

In Epic MeasuresJeremy N. Smith narrates Dr. Christopher “Chris” Murray‘s journey to discovering the what motivates the way people live and how they die. In a nutshell, the essential thesis Murray raises in his scientific exploration is “How do does one measure and improve how they live and die?”

Smith opens his book with giving a bit of backstory on how Murray came to be where he is in his profession today. We learn his parents both worked in medical fields and taught Murray a lot about it during his upbringing. In fact, when he was 10 years old, his family moved to Africa to run a small hospital. It was there that Murray fell in love with the study of medicine, and admired his dad’s work as the only surgeon in the whole hospital. He and his siblings would watch on as their father performed surgeries; this early interest would later transform in his adulthood as Murray wanted to learn more about the way in which people live and die.

One of the studies discussed throughout the book is the Global Burden of Disease, a study that assesses mortality and all the different reasons people die in the world. “Its numbers can be broken down by person, place, ailment and consequence—what kills us, what makes us suck, and what shortens our pain-free years of life,” Smith remarks.

How the Global Burden of Disease study came into being—and what it can tell us already—is an epic tale. It encompasses wars and families, presidents and activists, billionaires and billions of people worldwide living in poverty.

— excerpt from Jeremy N. Smith’s Epic Measures

In the first chapter, Smith travels back to the Sahara Desert, when Murray was merely 10-years-old, and just beginning to develop an interest in the dichotomy between life and death. The first chapter pulled me in because we get a glimpse into who Murray was as a person before discovering this passion. Seeing as so many of the indigenous peoples of Africa had contracted so many different diseases, Murray devoted his efforts to understanding what caused them. He not only wanted to help the natives but also figure out what was causing them to die.

In the second chapter, we see Murray at Harvard and learn of his other studies and about those of whom he meets along the way. Culhane, his best friend from college, makes note of how much of a brilliant student Murray was in college. Although Culhane respects his friend for his wits, he also shares that his friend was not always so business-minded and that the two of them would do recreational activities together.

Before Murray ever dappled in volunteer efforts in the Middle East, Culhane regards one of Murray’s other past times was skiing, and they often took ski trips together. So not only was Murray a scholar, he was a pretty good athlete as well. This was something else I really enjoyed about learning more about Murray: each chapter of Smith’s book really shows his accomplishments but also his interests outside of science, too. It shows he has a fun side to him as well.

Another aspect I enjoyed was how well Smith writes about Murray. I felt as though Smith didn’t miss a beat when it came to researching who he was then, and how he came to be who he is today. He would show this in the way he explained the different scientific studies Murray had performed throughout his life. Though, my favorite part of the book was getting a glimpse into Murray’s personal life. I liked learning about his family and the friendships he made along the way. The personal anecdotes make this story easier to get through because you get to experience his scientific explorations as if the reader were actually present.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read about someone pushing through all the odds to discover the impossible. If you ever plan on going into the medical field or are studying to be a doctor, I’d definitely suggest you pick up this book.


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Jessica Duffield
I am a sophomore in college. Books are my passion and I hope to work in book publishing once I graduate.