Book Review by Sapphire Ng
Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients.
by Jeremy N. Smith
Copyright March 2017
Paperback, 368 Pages
Absolutely engrossing, profoundly inspirational and a highly enjoyable book. One is left marveling at the revolutionary, formidable and ambitious Global Burden of Disease study, its extraordinary success, and its ingenious mastermind, Chris Murray. On a personal and significantly transformative level, one is heartwarmingly inspired by this beautifully written narrative of a man who utterly and selflessly dedicates himself to such a meaningful enterprise in service of humanity.
An effortlessly readable and masterfully written book that transforms a potentially distant and dry subject matter—global health, and related research and policy making—into one strongly and even strangely compelling and relevant to the general reader. The very human narrative of resilience and perseverance in face of difficult setbacks in the book is also relatable to the everyman. This book doubles as a rather effective and engaging educational tool with its plentiful eye-opening trends, statistics and information pertaining to the global health landscape.
Aspiring trailblazers of diverse backgrounds and disciplines might find the book especially irresistible. Budding intellectuals and academics will also feel right at home reading the book; the very essence of the narrative is about a fiercely vigorous intellectual and his highly competent team, and their cerebral undertakings and navigation within a commanding analytical world.
The book engagingly charts Murray’s journey to founding and leading the Global Burden of Disease study and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The reader is informed and often reminded of the unprecedented scale of the Global Burden of Disease study—its ambitious endeavor to amass and analyze “all available details about the health of every person on Earth” and document “every disease, every country, every age group.” Murray was said to pursue seemingly “impossible” projects, and the original Global Burden of Disease study was even conditionally analogized to “the first map of the world.”
The reader could potentially find himself or herself in awe of distinctly ingenious concepts and tools devised in the Global Burden of Disease study—the innovative concept of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) and its summation formula; the “infinitely customizable” online dynamic data visualization tool, GBD Compare; and the “early burden of disease disability severity weighting” on a 0-to-1 scale, clearly illustrated in a bordered section listing corresponding “sample conditions” to differing ranges of “severity weights.” Yet again, the reader is invited to intellectually ponder the comparison of DALYs—in its capacity to be formulated “by cause,” “per capita by region, age group, or sex”—as “the health equivalent of gross domestic product.”
It is also particularly fascinating to learn of surprising revelations related to inner workings of the likes of the World Health Organization (WHO), supposed recognized authorities in the global health landscape in areas such as health measurement and evaluation. The contrast established between the seemingly more rigorous processes and more superior workings of IHME’s Global Burden of Disease study against the bureaucracy of WHO, its lack of central oversight, its publication of work with potential subjection to political influence and lacking in peer review is certainly mind-blowing.
The subsuming of galvanizing life lessons in the narrative makes it all the more enriching and compelling to the individual reader. One of Murray’s personal mottos is “Do good work that matters.” I really appreciate the author’s professional decision in opting to highlight the wellspring of Murray’s innate drive and obsession for relentless improvement, painstaking accuracy and accumulation of inexhaustible knowledge, in addition to his prolific embrace of competition. Far from being self-serving, Murray was said to be “compelled by a sense of the relative insignificance of one individual’s personal life measured against the urgent needs of the rest of humanity.” To him, it was none other than “the men, women, and children served by health programs who mattered” most.
In the face of the initial success and expansion of IHME into a “juggernaut,” Murray preciously retained his judiciously pragmatic perspective, and professionally evaluated the necessity of competition—“Competition is a safety on being wrong”—and even conceded the possibility of mistakes being perpetuated should there remain “just one monolithic source.” In a flawless conclusion to the book, Murray expressed his heartfelt desire for his young daughter to “understand that there’s a bigger world out there.” And this might just be the single most important takeaway for the reader.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for this review.