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J Epidemiol Community Health. 2007 August; 61(8): 751.
PMCID: PMC2653010

Social injustice and public health

Reviewed by Joy Adamson

Edited by Barry S Levy, Victor W Sidel. Published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006, £35.99 (hardback), pp 529. ISBN 0-19-517185-3

This edited collection is divided into four parts. Part I, consisting of only one chapter authored by the editors, provides a useful and necessary summary of the nature of social injustice and public health. This includes relevant definitions and useful reference material—for example, a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Part II outlines the ways in which the health of specific population groups is affected by social injustice. The chapters in this section focus on both well‐described populations—for example, those from lower socioeconomic groups, ethnic minorities and women—and more marginalised groups who generally receive less attention. The inclusion of chapters focusing on incarcerated people, homeless people and forced migrant populations from a public health perspective makes for a refreshing change.

Part III considers the process by which social injustice can affect health. Chapters focus on medical care, infectious diseases and occupational safety, among other issues. A real strength of the book comes in part IV, in which several perspectives on “what needs to be done” are outlined. This series of chapters attempts to make explicit links, obviously based on particular political viewpoints, between explanatory models of social injustice and health, to public health practice. This is the element that is often missing within the inequalities literature.

The collection of chapters fits together very well despite the large number of authors involved and the wide range of topics covered. A real strength of the book is that the chapters can be used as stand‐alone texts, the understanding of which does not depend on having read previous sections. Generally, the chapters are well written, using good examples and a wide range of presentation styles (eg, graphs, tables and figures) to keep the reader engaged. The chapters provide good summary overviews of the topics under discussion and provide a good start for further reading. One potential criticism is the strong American focus; although most chapters do make attempts to draw upon international examples, the strong use of Americanised definitions and data is apparent. The book offers itself to several audiences, including both practitioners and students over a wide range of disciplines, including medicine, nursing, social services and law. This is perhaps the case, but more so in the US than for an international audience.

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