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The Demon under the Microscope: From…
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The Demon under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs,… (2006)

by Thomas Hager

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3841344,541 (4.16)17
The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it. It conquered diseases, changed laws, and single-handedly launched the era of antibiotics. It was sulfa, the first synthetic antibiotic. Science writer Hager chronicles the history of the drug that shaped modern medicine. Sulfa saved millions of lives--among them those of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.--but even more, it changed the way new drugs were developed, approved, and sold; transformed the way doctors treated patients; and ushered in the era of modern medicine. The very concept that chemicals created in a lab could cure disease revolutionized medicine, taking it from the treatment of symptoms and discomfort to the eradication of the root cause of illness. This book illuminates the vivid characters, corporate strategy, individual idealism, careful planning, lucky breaks, cynicism, heroism, greed, hard work, and the central (though mistaken) idea that brought sulfa to the world.--From publisher description.… (more)
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    Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin (sweetbug)
    sweetbug: The Demon Under the Microscope traces the history of the development of antibiotics. It tells the stories of many scientific discoveries and their connections to events in European history through WWII. Toms River is a more modern take on the same type of story, tracing the history of dye manufacturing and its connection to an epidemic of childhood cancer cases in a small town in New Jersey. Both are written as great stories, with lots of details on the lives of the people (doctors, patients, families and community members) involved.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Interesting read. The author does a good job of telling a detailed technical story. ( )
  yhgail | Feb 20, 2019 |
The fact that the title of this book is not accurate does not eliminate the fact that the book is a worthwhile read. This is NOT about a specific doctor. It is about a specific life-saving drug component that is connected in part with a specific doctor who ends up winning a Nobel Prize. Interestingly, the doctor won the prize even though the book does a credible job of explaining why he may not have deserved such a singular honor. There are a few issues with this book that cause some distraction. First, is the conflict between how the book is marketed and what it actually covers. Secondly, it shows signs of being more a book based on what the author found to use as resources instead of finding resources on what he chose to analyze. This is not that uncommon in history related reporting. Side stories get added just because the data was available. Lots of details are mentioned when resources are good and other aspects get skimmed over or skipped over altogether when resources are few, despite their significance. Thirdly, the main subject is really about a drug that today's Uber/iPhone/gluten-free generation could care less about. What saves this book is the skill with which the author overcomes these shortcomings and makes the history meaningful by clarifying how what happened in the past has affected and is still affecting how the world does business in medicine in particular and in science in general. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
The Demon Under the Microscope - Hagar
Audio performance by Steven Hoye
4 stars

I knew a bit about the development of penicillin. A very little bit, Alexander Fleming and the stray mold in his petri dish. There’s much more to the story than that. However, this book is about the discovery sulfa drugs, and I knew nothing at all about Gerhard Domagk, his work, and the impact of the drugs he was first to develop. Thomas Hagar does a great job telling the story of this drug. There’s just the right blend of anecdote, science and historical context.

Hagar grabbed my attention immediately with his prologue story about the surgeon, John J. Moorhead, who was in Hawaii lecturing to enlisted health professionals about “Treatment of Wounds Civil and Military” on December 7, 1941. An amazing story, and the rest of the book was no less interesting. In the first chapter, Hagar backtracks to the first world war and Gerhard Domagk’s experience with caring for wounded German soldiers. The contrast in survival rates between the two wars is mind boggling.

Some of the descriptions of septic wounds and illnesses may be disturbing for someone with a weak stomach. I know I didn’t want to listen to the book while I was eating or preparing food. Hagar spend a great deal of time discussing the structure of the German, industrial, laboratory system. This may seem a bit boring, but he’s making several important points about the nature of scientific discovery and the development of effective drugs. I have just enough background in chemistry to understand his descriptions of seemingly endless chemical variations that lead to the final manufacture of the first sulfa drug. Hagar is good at bringing the laboratory procedures to life while he makes it clear that the final product is the combined effort of several scientists in different fields. An effort that could not happen without sound management and enormous financial backing.

This book is jammed with interesting historical implications resulting from the use of the new ‘magic bullet’ in the treatment of infections: the international competition, the awarding of patents and the Nobel Prize, the lack of organized human testing, the famous people who were saved by the use of a previously untested drug. There’s the appalling story of human experimentation at Ravensbruck, and the end of unregulated drugs along with the growth of the Federal Drug Administration. There is one very fascinating fact that was always present as the use of this drug became ubiquitous. The scientists knew that it worked, but they did not yet know how it worked. Hundreds of thousands of lives saved, and they didn’t really know why. Towards the end of the book, and the end of World War Two, Hagar touches on this century’s medical nightmare; drug resistant bacteria.

The magic bullet isn’t working so well anymore. ( )
  msjudy | Feb 1, 2018 |
Thomas has written a nice historical account of the discovery of sulfa drugs. He has researched the events and persons involved and puts the information in an interesting and informative format. His story telling methods teach and also perk interest. I also believe that Thomas has a keen perspective on the history that he discusses. I firmly recommend the book. ( )
  GlennBell | Sep 26, 2014 |
It's sometimes surprising, when you look back into history, how often people died from disease. Even during wars, more were usually killed by illness and infection than in battle. I've looked into my own family history and it's not uncommon to find ancestors who died young by today's standards, or whose families could have been much larger if not for the children who died soon after birth (and mothers as well) or while still young. Today, we take it for granted that medicines and doctors can cure ailments that 60 or 70 years ago would have struck deathly fear in the hearts of those who lived and died with them.

During World War I many died from relatively minor wounds because of bacterial infections - primarily strep (the same that causes strep throat), staph, and gas gangrene. It wasn't until the early 1930s, however, that German researchers like Josef Klarer, Fritz Meitzsch, and Gerhard Domagk (who was awarded the Nobel Prize), and Frenchman Ernest Fourneau discovered and refined the amazing healing properties of a relatively common chemical: sulfonamide - frequently known as sulpha (I remember hearing it mentioned regularly on the television series M*A*S*H). Sulpha's reign as miracle drug didn't last long - penicillin replaced it by the mid to late 1940s - but it was a revolutionary drug that ushered in the age of antibiotics.

I enjoy medical histories that illuminate what life was like for ordinary people, not just the extraordinary leaders and events that stand out. I've read several medical histories that have been as riveting as a good war history and looked forward to this one. And I think I may have enjoyed it more had I read the book instead of listening to the audio book. Not that the narrator doesn't do an excellent job, but the material was harder (for me) to absorb through listening. Medical histories run a risk of being dry and technical, and Thomas Hager does a very good job of telling the bigger picture and fleshing out the important characters and events in the history of sulpha, but I think reading the book would have been easier to follow and more enjoyable. Still, a good read for those like me who enjoy such books. ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
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