What We’re Reading: The Red Market by Scott Carney

I’ve been on a weird reading kick lately.

When not reading manuscripts for work or new issues of Us Weekly (a top priority every Thursday evening), I’m usually immersed in a hot new fiction title. I’m an incredibly fast reader and find that there’s no better time than the summer to catch up on all the novels I’ve been meaning to read for the past six months. (Let’s be honest here, the lack of any good summer programming on TV contributes to my extra reading time.)

This summer, however, I’ve been particularly drawn to nonfiction titles (biographies and memoirs, mostly). I’ve read up on taxidermy and taxidermy competitions, devoured (pun intended) some food-related memoirs, and recently just finished the extremely well-written and fascinating book, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers by Scott Carney. Carney–a contributing editor at Wired and an investigative journalist for places such as NPR, Mother Jones, and Fast Company–does an excellent job reporting on the creepy yet enthralling world of human organ trading.

I didn’t know that selling blood was illegal, which is one of the reasons why we have so many blood banks around the country. (I have memories of watching Bobcat Goldthwaitt selling his blood in my favorite Christmas movie, “Scrooged,” which is probably why I thought it was still legal.) I learned that Al Gore took the floor of the Senate in 1984 and proclaimed that “the body should not be a mere assemblage of spare parts,” which led to a national law forbidding payment for human flesh. (I’m a registered organ donor, happily.) This book also opened my eyes to the horrific state of illegal organ trading; many citizens of third-world countries are forced to sell organs due to horrific living conditions, only to suffer from multiple medical problems after their operations.

Carney’s investigative work is extremely thorough, and his prose sucked me right into his journeys around the globe. I learned that an actual human skeleton is far more useful in medical school classrooms than a plastic replica, which is why there are so many illegal human bone factories in third-world countries. Carney addresses other issues, such as the hair market (expensive!), but his earlier chapters on bone thieves and blood farmers were ultimately more captivating.

The Red Market definitely provides useful fodder for cocktail party conversation. Recently, I was able to quote the price of human organs on the black market to a captivated audience–a nice variation from my usual discussion of which starlet was sleeping with which B-list pop star.

–Megan Fishmann, Publicist

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