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dear reader

Hollywood’s Third World Fixation

Fine Books and Collections editor Ann J. Loftin
Editor Ann J. Loftin

Every year at this time, Fine Books takes a look at the books-into-movies phenomenon, and this past year it wasn’t hard to spot a trend: What’s selling best in Hollywood is Third World poverty, colorfully repackaged for First World consumption. The writer of this month’s feature story about the transformation of debut novel Q&A into the hit movie Slumdog Millionaire puts most of us to shame. She doesn’t just wonder at the vivid scenery of Slumdog. She saw it firsthand as a child every summer, when her parents in New York sent her to stay with relatives in a tenement flat in Mumbai. Moving between two worlds, Shah became committed to understanding the inequalities between and within societies; after graduating from Oberlin College with a B.A. in journalism, philosophy, and neuroscience, Shah became an investigative reporter. Already, at the tender age of 39, Shah has written five books, two of which directly confront the hidden relationships between First World affluence and third world poverty. Her 2004 book Crude: The Story of Oil (Seven Stories Press) weaves together the science, economics, politics, and social history of the black gold that eclipsed old king coal, spurring a new industrial revolution—of plastic in place of steel. Shah followed with a drug industry exposé, The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World’s Poorest Patients. (John Le Carré, whose book The Constant Gardener became a movie about drug testing in Kenya, wrote the preface.) Shah is working on a new book about the history and politics of malaria, a disease that doesn’t simply affect people in faraway lands but may soon, thanks to global warming and drug-resistant malarial strains, be coming to a theater near you. I hope you will take a moment to visit Shah’s website, soniashah.com, as well as the site she hosts, Malariaresurgent.com.

Then you are fully entitled to escape into the land of 1950s movies, with Royal Books’ proprietor Kevin Johnson as your guide. Kevin’s second volume on the books behind film noir is due out next month from Oak Knoll Press, and we asked him to give us a sneak preview (in the form of an excerpt). Here, chosen by Kevin, are six memorable books that became compelling film noir.

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