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The health of nations: why inequality is harmful to your health?
  1. Piroska Östlin
  1. Karolinska Institutet, Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of International Health, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden

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    I Kawachi, B P Kennedy. (Pp 220; $25.95). New York: The New Press, 2002. ISBN 1-56584-582-X.

    It was only six years ago that Richard G Wilkinson published his path-breaking book Unhealthy societies. The afflictions of inequality, in which he argued that among developed countries it is not the richest societies that have the best health, but those that have the smallest income differences between rich and poor. Wilkinson’s pioneering ideas on the social and health consequences of inequality have clearly inspired the work of many health scientists and social policy analysts around the world ever since, including the work of Kawachi and Kennedy and their recent book, The health of nations.

    In a skillfully crafted volume, the writers demonstrate how growing inequalities in the United States and elsewhere threaten various, highly valued freedoms that economic development and prosperity are supposed to bring about. Using examples mainly from the USA, the authors show chapter by chapter, the enormous social costs of growing economic inequalities and social injustices that continue to deny good health and adequate health care for many. Furthermore, inequalities continue to persist as obstacles to exercise democratic choice, undermine community and family life, and inspire those who are unable to attain the community standard of living to commit crime.

    The health of the nations is an excellent book that deserves to be read by a broad readership and the authors are to be congratulated. The volume will hopefully serve as an important contribution to the ongoing public debate about the value of economic development that is unable to bring about social and distributive justice. The health of the nations is an essential and eye opening reading for everyone, especially for those, who still wrongly believe that inequality is the engine for growth, ensuring that the benefits automatically will trickle down to those at the bottom.