A Life in Dark Places by Paul J. Giannone

Paul Giannone’s memoir, A Life in Dark Places (Torchflame Books, 296 pp., $19.99, paper; $8.99, Kindle), recounts some of the most compelling humanitarian issues that have faced the world in public health in forty countries. They took places in war-torn countries such as Vietnam, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Cambodia. and Rwanda.

Giannone—who joined the U.S. Army and served two tours in Vietnam in 1969-71 as a Public Health Adviser—says that his book is a “wake-up call” to all of us. He shows how wars cause suffering and sorrow to innocent people who are often affected years later. He talks about starving, diseased, and mutilated refugees, boat people, and those forced to clear mine fields from long-ago wars.

I found several accounts in the book very moving:

  • The gypsy boy who was discriminated against in Serbia because the gypsies supported the Serbs not the Kosovors
  • The village in Cambodia made up of many widows since their husbands had been killed during and after the Vietnam War
  • Giannone’s return to Vietnam in 2002 to visit old refugee camps and places where he was stationed

Giannone also points out the many public-health failings of the U.S. government. To better understand his perspective, readers should note that Giannone filed a successful reverse discrimination lawsuit against CARE and also a whistle blower suit against the Centers for Disease Control, where he was a Deputy Division Director for Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response. His last assignment before retiring was in Vietnam where he worked with CDC Country Office and the Vietnamese Ministry of Health to develop an Emergency Operation Center and System as part of President Obama’s Global Health Initiative.

This book is a must read for anyone considering a career in public health services.

Paul Giannone’s website is paulgiannone.com

–Mark S. Miller