Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine.
†‹Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, Viagra, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies. This is a deep, wide-ranging, and wildly entertaining book.
In this lucidly informative and compulsively readable work, science writer Hager (The Demon Under the Microscope) explores the intertwined histories of drug discoveries and medical practice. He begins with a sweeping, 10,000 year-spanning account of opium usage, covering its multiple applications as painkiller, party drug, and means of suicide, and its many derivatives, including codeine and morphine. The latter was such a staple on Civil War battlefields and so addictive that it led in the 1880s to the U.S.'s first opiate crisis. Other drugs discussed include the first synthetic medicine, chloral hydrate (knockout drops); the first antibiotics (sulfa drugs); and the "mind drugs" of the 1950s, such as chlorpromazine, that revolutionized psychiatric practice. Readers will also meet the people responsible for these discoveries, such as Paracelsus, a 16th-century Swiss alchemist who tracked the effects of opium; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who introduced the smallpox vaccine to Britain; and C sar Milstein and Georges Kohler, who didn't patent their monumental discovery of monoclonal antibodies natural drugs that target specific cells out of a desire to share it with humanity. Hager's thoughtful and captivating survey leaves readers with the insights that finding "magic bullets" all-powerful drugs with no risk is unlikely, and that no drug is all good or all bad. \n