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The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle,…
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The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure…

by Thomas Goetz

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The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis -by Thomas Goetz
4 stars

It’s difficult to remember a single Victorian novel that doesn’t depict the tragic, wasting death of a character suffering from ‘consumption’. There’s Smike in Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, and Helen Burns in Jane Eyre, not to mention, Puccini’s Mimi and Verdi’s Violetta. Unsurprising that the disease should appear in works of art. The role call of tubercular genius is long: John Keats, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Bronte sisters, Chopin, Thoreau, R.L. Stevenson, and on and on. The list continues to grow on into the 21st century, but the progress of the disease has slowed considerably. Thomas Goetz explores that 19th century period of time when tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accounting for one third of all deaths.

Goetz wants us to get it. He wants us to understand a time when germ theory was not universally accepted and basic precepts of experimental scientific proof were unknown. I knew, generally, about Robert Koch and his medical contributions, but I did not even begin to understand the magnitude of the change that he brought about. This book isn’t just about the scientific discovery of a deadly bacillus. It’s about the seismic cultural shift that took place as a result of Koch’s work. That’s where Arthur Conan Doyle and his Sherlock Holmes come into the picture. Sherlock Holmes is the embodiment of the scientific method. As a character he reflects a paradigm shift from folk medicine and quackery to rigorous science.

The book was a bit dry in places, but the biographical information kept it lively. There was also occasionally a subtle imitation of style that I enjoyed. The first sentence in the book, “In train after train, consumptives filled the passenger cars, their hacks and coughs competing with the steam whistles and screaming brakes as the engines came to a halt in Potsdamer Platz.” gives a nod to The Red Headed League, one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes stories.
Goetz looks critically at these scientific and literary geniuses. He sees the parallels in their accomplishments and in their egotistical failures. He also draws a clear line connecting 19th and 21st century attitudes towards medicine, disease, and science. I had a library copy and couldn’t highlight all of the comments that caught my attention, but here are a few of them.

“An essential part of the [experimental science] system, then as now, is competition. The base human instinct to beat the other guy is an essential characteristic of science, notwithstanding its tweedy reputation.”

“Time and again, medical science was compelling people to change the way they lived, disrupting norms, and putting notions of public health above those of personal rights. The result was an anti-science libertarianism that took umbrage at an increasingly paternalistic state. At every turn, science was being deployed to constrain the public that was poorly equipped to assess the validity of the science.”

“Through Holmes, Conan Doyle helped people see how from a thousand small observations can come a profound and lasting change.”

There’s lots of fodder for discussion in this book. I will be thinking about it for a long time.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The story of Robert Koch was interesting, and the book would have been better if that had been the focus. The story of Arthur Conan Doyle (as told here), was okay, and the importance of their intersection was made much more prominent by the subtitle/cover than it should have been. ( )
  radicarian | Mar 14, 2016 |
Living in the 21st century, we think little about the state of medicine and common diseases in the 19th century. Tuberculosis, afflicting and ultimately responsible for the deaths of 25% of the population in Europe, seems an innocuous and nearly foreign concept to us now. Just how did the disease go from affecting nearly every household and family in the Western world, to something we no longer think about, much less fear? In The Remedy, Thomas Goetz presents the captivating birth of germ theory, discovered and advanced initially by little-known, small-town doctor Robert Koch. Koch's meticulous and thorough experiments with Anthrax bacteria convinced him that diseases were spread through contact with infected individuals, rather than the prevailing theory of "bad air" or "bad humors." Convincing the prevailing leaders in Western medicine during the late 19th century, however, was a monumental task.

The Remedy reads like an engaging novel, and was difficult to put down. I'd previously known little about the origins of bacteriology and enjoyed every chapter. Particularly heartbreaking were the handful of paragraphs about Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who made the connection between puerperal fever during childbirth and the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of attending physicians' hands. I'd heard of Semmelweis and his work previously, but not that he was ultimately driven to madness because of the refusal of his contemporaries to believe in his discovery and convert to more hygienic practices. I found Arthur Conan Doyle's role in the story to be somewhat of a reach, almost an afterthought by the author stretching to tie two famous names together -- interesting with respect to his own rise to prominence, but the story really belongs to Koch. ( )
  ryner | May 30, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I received this book from the publisher for free.

I put off reading this for an unfairly long time; it really is a riveting book. The story of Robert Koch and the beginnings of modern bacteriology is great and one that I was not familiar with. The author, Thomas Goetz, does an admirable job of contextualing the difference in science and medicine between the 1800s and the modern day. He lays out Koch's contributions, the personal rivalry with Pasteur in terms of germ theory discoveries and their combined effort in fighting what passed as traditional medicine while they were trying to prove the germ theory of disease. The intersection between Koch and Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes is interesting, though the book would stand as a great read without it. ( )
  austin.sears | May 29, 2015 |
Excellent material and well presented. ( )
  Servast | Apr 19, 2015 |
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In memory of Frederick C. Goetz and Cecilia M. Goetz
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On January 16, 1871, in the French city of Orleans, Robert Koch was exactly where he'd hoped to be: in a field hospital, up to his elbows in the blood and pus and piss of war.
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In science the credit goes to the man who convinces the world, not to the man to whom the idea first occurs. - Francis Darwin
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159240751X, Hardcover)

The riveting history of tuberculosis, the world’s most lethal disease, the two men whose lives it tragically intertwined, and the birth of medical science.
 
In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB—often called consumption—was a death sentence. Then, in a triumph of medical science, a German doctor named Robert Koch deployed an unprecedented scientific rigor to discover the bacteria that caused TB. Koch soon embarked on a remedy—a remedy that would be his undoing.
 
When Koch announced his cure for consumption, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a small-town doctor in England and sometime writer, went to Berlin to cover the event. Touring the ward of reportedly cured patients, he was horrified. Koch’s “remedy” was either sloppy science or outright fraud.
 
But to a world desperate for relief, Koch’s remedy wasn’t so easily dismissed. As Europe’s consumptives descended upon Berlin, Koch urgently tried to prove his case. Conan Doyle, meanwhile, returned to England determined to abandon medicine in favor of writing. In particular, he turned to a character inspired by the very scientific methods that Koch had formulated: Sherlock Holmes.
 
Capturing the moment when mystery and magic began to yield to science, The Remedy chronicles the stunning story of how the germ theory of disease became a true fact, how two men of ambition were emboldened to reach for something more, and how scientific discoveries evolve into social truths.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:30 -0400)

"The riveting history of tuberculosis, the world's most lethal disease, the two men whose lives it tragically intertwined, and the birth of medical science. In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB-often called consumption-was a death sentence. Then, in triumph of medical science, a German doctor named Robert Koch deployed an unprecedented scientific rigor to discover the bacteria that caused TB. Koch soon embarked on a remedy-a remedy that would be his undoing. When Koch announced his cure for consumption, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a small-town doctor in England and sometime writer, went to Berlin to cover the event. Touring the ward of reportedly cured patients, he was horrified. Koch's "remedy" was either sloppy science or outright fraud. But to a world desperate for relief, Koch's remedy wasn't so easily dismissed. As Europe's consumptives descended upon Berlin, Koch urgently tried to prove his case. Conan Doyle, meanwhile, returned to England determined to abandon medicine in favor of writing. In particular, he turned to a character inspired by the very scientific methods that Koch had formulated: Sherlock Holmes. Capturing the moment when mystery and magic began to yield to science, The Remedy chronicles the stunning story of how the germ theory of disease became a true fact, how two men of ambition were emboldened to reach for something more, and how scientific discoveries evolve into social truths"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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