> Book Review - The Price of Life: In Search of What We're Worth and Who Decides by Jenny Kleeman - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Book Review – The Price of Life: In Search of What We’re Worth and Who Decides by Jenny Kleeman

Jenny Kleeman states from the outset that she is ‘not a numbers person…economist, an actuary or a statistician’ and finds it difficult to compute lives by numbers – her new book is a project which attempts to understand just this. The Price of Life: In Search of What We’re Worth and Who Decides is a deep dive into the cost of taking a life, creating a life, saving a life, and having someone write such an investigation who isn’t numbers driven is in fact a positive. I’m not sure I would’ve finished a book that was as coldly callous as the title implies; thankfully Kleeman injects some life. 

It’s an interesting concept: death, life, and the human body, with chapters succinctly focused on the figure attributed to each and covering topics such as life insurance, cadavers, Silicon Valley philanthropy, and Covid lockdown – it has very little in terms of light relief. Each chapter begins with a human case study, and then moves into statistics and more general figures. The data is laid out, but with feeling – we see the data applied in real terms.

Kleeman articulately explores the unfeeling brutality of a data-driven world, and ultimately satirises the argument that Effective Altruists make (which is that when donating to charity you should strive to choose one that affects the highest number of lives, for example). Addressing the value of lives from these calculations, there’s a tone to Kleeman’s voice that expresses an inability to quite fathom this number-driven society – her more-than-plausible epilogue argument is that ‘numbers can also flatten differences in human experience.’

It’s a title that supplies a dose of fresh air around the grim realisation that our world is besotted with numbers and data; Kleeman however, thankfully refuses to relinquish the lived quality of things.


The Price of Life is published by Picador

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