I’m a latecomer to Jerome Groopman’s writing. Earlier this summer, I read my first Groopman – “How Memory Works” (The New York Review of Books, May 22, 2014). I was surprised to find myself enjoying it – “surprised” because I’m not used to seeing science written about from the “I” perspective. Science is generally a third-person discourse. But Groopman writes gloriously in the “I.” His “The Transformation,” in this week’s issue, exemplifies his personal approach. It’s about an experimental new drug that causes leukemic cells to mature into healthier ones. In it, he visits the laboratory where the new drug, AG-221, was developed. He writes,
That “moonscape of fat globules and fibrous tissue” is very fine. Groopman’s words call up pictures. He makes medical science vivid.
Postscript: William Finnegan’s “Dignity,” in this week’s issue, is one of the most moving, brilliant, effective pieces on economic inequality that I’ve read in a long time. I say “effective” because it not only describes the workers’ predicament (miserable pay); it suggests a powerful remedy – labor activism. The piece reports on the growing campaign to unionize fast-food workers. Finnegan immerses himself in the life of Arisleyda Tapia, a worker at a New York City McDonald’s. He describes her workplace (“the deep fryer and the meat freezer, the clamshell grill and the egg station, the order screens and the endless hospital-like beeping of timers”); he accompanies her on a bus to a national conference of the fast-food workers’ movement in Chicago (“Shantel Walker, who works at a Papa John’s in Brooklyn, jumped up as the bus approached Chicago. She wore a gold-billed cap and a big crucifix. She had a microphone. ‘I work too hard,’ she chanted, ‘for a little income.’ The bus erupted, workers chanting the lyrics after her. ‘Your story is an inspiration / People are with you / New York is proud of you, HEY’ ’’); he talks to the conference-goers (“Jorel Ware worked at a McDonald’s in midtown. He was thirty-one. He still made minimum wage, after two years. ‘They say the franchisee is just a small man in the middle,’ he said. ‘If that’s true, then who am I? I’m just a dot on the wall. I just want to be able to get an unlimited MetroCard. I can’t afford nothing’ ”); he observes a sit-in outside a McDonald’s (Some of the marchers wore their McDonald’s uniforms. Tapia was in civilian clothes. It was midday, hot. She and the rest of the protesters were steered by police into a containment pen, built of interlocking metal barricades, on the east side of Eighth”); he describes the arrest of some of the demonstrators (“The police used disposable restraints—white plastic ‘flexicuffs.’ They led their captives toward two large white vans, herded them inside, and shut the doors”). Anyone frustrated (as I am) by the lack of political response to the recent surge in inequality will find “Dignity” inspiring. It shows workers bravely taking matters into their own hands, using collective action as a means of reform.