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By Karen Willis and Shandell Elmer . Published by Oxford University Press , September 2007 . Paperback . RRP A$59.95/NZ $69.95 . ISBN 978-0-10-555907-1 .

Reviewed by Julie Green

Royal Children's Hospital Education Institute, Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville, Victoria

As the title suggests, this book is aimed at introducing nurses to the social contexts and forces that shape contemporary health care and health care organisations.

The format of the book is clear and engaging. The introduction grounds the reader in a basic understanding of sociology, the influence of social forces, unequal distribution of power and the utility of sociology. The authors acquaint the reader with influential social theorists such as Durkheim, Marx, Engels, Foucault, Parsons and Weber.

The main content of the book is organised into four parts, providing a comprehensive coverage, each with three or four chapters. Part one examines ideas about health and illness, beginning with biomedicine and lay ideas about health and illness. Part two addresses the social patterns of health and illness and how social circumstances can impact on access, equity and equality in health care. Part three focuses on the illness experience, particularly in light of the perceptions and decisions imposed on people dealing with chronic illness. Part four addresses the organisation of health care in society, which is particularly important to nurses as key providers of health care in a changing society.

Chapters make good use of case studies, review questions, key terms and additional readings that have influenced the field of health sociology, particularly in the Australasian context. The authors draw on a wide range of health contexts that bring sociology to life. These include biomedicine, lay ideas about health and illness, the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, sociological dimensions of ethnicity, social exclusion, rurality and a sociological understanding of the body.

The book is very well placed to develop nurses' ability to understand, analyse and adapt their practice to the social changes that affect their professional roles. However, its appeal should by no means be limited to nurses. Many health professionals come to developing an interest in sociology through their clinical practice, further study, research or other influences. The book would be particularly useful in providing a theoretical lens for a wide audience with an interest in understanding the social factors and key ideas that influence contemporary health and illness. So for those wanting a general overview of sociology that applies to many dimensions relevant to public health, this book represents a good purchase.