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Drugs for LifeDrugs for Life

How Pharmaceutical Companies Define Our Health

Joseph Dumit

Narrated by John Brancy

Available from Audible

Book published by Duke University Press

Every year the average number of prescriptions purchased by Americans increases, as do healthcare expenditures, which are projected to reach one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2020. In Drugs for Life, Joseph Dumit considers how our burgeoning consumption of medicine and cost of healthcare not only came to be, but also came to be taken for granted. For several years, Dumit attended pharmaceutical industry conferences; spoke with marketers, researchers, doctors, and patients; and surveyed the industry's literature regarding strategies to expand markets for prescription drugs. He concluded that underlying the continual growth in medications, disease categories, costs, and insecurity is a relatively new perception of ourselves as inherently ill and in need of chronic treatment. This perception is based on clinical trials that we have largely outsourced to pharmaceutical companies. Those companies in turn see clinical trials as investments and measure the value of those investments by the size of the market and profits that they will create. They only ask questions for which the answer is more medicine. Drugs for Life challenges our understanding of health, risks, facts, and clinical trials, the very concepts used by pharmaceutical companies to grow markets to the point where almost no one can imagine a life without prescription drugs.

Joseph Dumit is Director of Science and Technology Studies and Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Picturing Personhood: Brain Scans and Biomedical Identity and editor, with Regula Valérie Burri, of Biomedicine as Culture: Instrumental Practices, Technoscientific Knowledge, and New Modes of Life.


“Although its topic is an abstract one, much of Drugs for Life consists of insightful readings of advertisements, of statements by marketers and of patients' accounts. Dumit has pulled together a tremendous number of telling arguments and phrases, and can be at his best when reading them.”

Times Higher Education

“A rich and valuable contribution to literature on medical ethics, cultural studies, and the sociology of medicine. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.”


Drugs for Life is simply superb, a major accomplishment in the study of pharmaceuticals and their expanding relation to life itself. There is no recent scholarly work that attempts or accomplishes what Joseph Dumit does here, tackling the relation between big pharma and clinical epistemology in such a comprehensive and satisfying way. He deftly links critical debates across the life and human sciences, making an important and compelling argument on a matter central to contemporary public debate.”

—Lawrence Cohen, author of No Aging in India: Alzheimer‚Äôs, the Bad Family, and Other Modern Things

Drugs for Life shocks the reader into seeing health, medicine, pharmaceuticals, and the pharmaceutical industry and drug research for what they are from a cultural standpoint: a new framing of the future world for all of us. And that future is now and troubling and transformative of human conditions. A remarkable contribution that will perturb and disturb professional and general readers.”

—Arthur Kleinman, coeditor of Global Pharmaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices

“In this provocative and important book, Joseph Dumit brings a new approach to bear on critiques of the pharmaceutical industry and U.S. healthcare. He marshals ethnographic research among drug company executives and marketing strategists, along with the analysis of scientific and popular representations of their products, showing how consumers have been tutored into a proactive stance toward health. Over the past few decades, we have come to live by 'the numbers' and 'risk factors' that make embracing lifelong pharmaceutical regimes seem like common sense. But is it? Dumit explores the pharmaceuticalization of American culture and consciousness with a light, accessible touch that belies the depth of his knowledge.”

—Rayna Rapp, author of Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America

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University Press Audiobooks