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Nicholas Freudenberg is professor of public health and the author of three other books concerning public health and activism. In Lethal But Legal, he’s detailed the style and scope of multi-national and global corporation’s methodology in maximizing return while ignoring the impact on public health at home and around the world.

The knowledge that the corporations, hiding behind the meme that they must maximize the returns for their stockholders, use every means at their disposal to make and market products that they know may be harmful to their customers, engenders bewilderment with maybe a touch of anger.

Taking eight chapters in two parts, Lethal but Legal exposes six different exemplars of the ‘Corporate Consumption Complex’ that spreads non-communicable diseases such as Diabetes, increases the likelihood of injuries and shortens lifespans. They are: The food and beverage complex, tobacco, Firearms, alcohol, auto, and pharma.

Dr. Freudenberg explains how each of these multi-national, indeed, global corporate complexes use science and technology to enhance the desirability of their product, and second, market their product – often to children – without even a nod to the appropriateness of what they’re doing. Then, they all use pretty much the same toolbox perfected by tobacco companies to obscure the damage they’re doing; all in the name of maximizing their reach and their profit. Often, those who they damage, society must make whole. It seems diabolical and unstoppable.

In part two, the author offers some hope. First by telling about past successes and then showing ways that, working together in networks of organizations from community based to global in scope, people can roll back the damages that corporate malfeasance leaves in its wake.

It’s a dense book, packed with detail, endnotes and, perhaps, most interestingly, an afterword that it took this reviewer some time to sort out. It’s told from the perspective of 2036. It implies a future with some interesting corporate mashups and possible outcomes of efforts to mitigate the harmful effects of rapacious corporate culture.

I thoroughly recommend this book. Even if you can’t save the world by yourself, it will give you information that will help you protect your family from harm.

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