Bestselling author of legal thrillers John Grisham is giving away, for free, an ebook version of a book specifically described as “a non-legal thriller” – The Tumor, “a story where today’s medical fiction could become tomorrow’s lifesaving reality.” And Grisham says: “This is the most important book I have ever written.”
“I know little about medicine and medical research. But when I learned about focused ultrasound and its potential to change lives, I knew it was a story worth telling,” Grisham states in his introduction to the book. “I have found no other cause that can potentially save so many lives.”
The Tumor is backed by the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, “a tax-exempt, high-performance, entrepreneurial service organization” which promotes the development and adoption of focused ultrasound, “an early-stage, non-invasive therapeutic technology that could transform the treatment of many medical disorders by serving as an alternative to surgery and radiation.” It also claims to be “on the leading edge of the venture philanthropy and social entrepreneurship movements and has become a model of how donor funding can be used to bridge the gap between laboratory research and widespread patient treatment.”
From my own experience in the VC community, I’m very familiar with the venture philanthropy model, which has brought VC-style thinking to philanthropic and socially responsible activism, with special focus on driving results and applying the best private-sector thinking to the public good. Grisham’s book looks to fall squarely into that bracket, with a unique spin on using free ebooks and the power of a bestselling name to promote a life-saving new technology.
Hence my caveats and hesitations around this whole area. I am completely prepared to believe that John Grisham has no financial interest whatsoever in focused ultrasound, and is acting purely in the spirit of effective altruism. According to other reports, he is on the board of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, but once again, he very likely is there just to promote what he sees as pure public benefit. And I’d hesitate to be even the slightest bit snarky around something as literally life-or-death as cancer therapy.
That said, as Grisham readily admits, he knows little about medicine and medical research. Yet he is lending the power of his name and his prestige to a specific medical technology, and the language the whole exercise is framed in reads like straight marketing hype. Maybe that’s what Grisham and the Foundation feel is needed to get the message across. But I also know how strict and systematic the whole FDA approval process is for medical devices and new medical technologies. I’d hope that future choices for patient treatment are governed by such careful and responsible evaluation – untweaked by marketing hype and the name-brand value of big author names.
All the same, The Tumor is a fine example of a novel development in ebooks – big author name coupled with good cause levered through a free ebook. And it’s there for free so you can judge the results for yourself.