A disturbing story that describes how the alliance between science and capitalism can lead to disaster when the people in charge lose track of their humanity
Mordechai de Paauw was the Dutch cofounder and CEO of the first pharmaceutical company to invent the contraceptive pill and hormonal treatments. Hitler’s invasion of Holland and the threat he poses to the survival of De Paauw’s family and the Jewish scientists working for him doesn’t affect De Paauw’s urge to test his treatments on his female workers and exploit them sexually. Even after the war, which he survives unscathed, De Paauw will continue his mischief until a catastrophe that he himself couldn’t have imagined allows him to come to his senses long enough to tell us his story.
The Hormone Factory weaves questions of scientific integrity, sibling rivalry, and sex into a narrative that is as troubling as it is thought provoking.
At the end of his life, Dutch Jew and dubiously ethical entrepreneur of the newly emerging field of pharmaceutical hormones, Mordechai De Paauw, is physically incapacitated but mentally fit enough to recount his life's story, which he claims helps him by "putting off the time of departure." The tale seems solely for Mordechai's benefit, however, as he recalls cavorting with one factory girl after the next, refers repeatedly to the former power of his phallic "beast," and generally drones along in an unconvincing first person. Set in the before, during, and after of World War II, Goldschmidt, who is Dutch and whose own father survived Bergen-Belsen, has a potentially riveting connection with the history. More often than not, though, that history is established through overly expository statements such as, "We were in the throes of the most serious economic recession the world had ever seen, and since those uncertain times a reorganization might become necessary, I wanted to be in a position to make the right decisions when the time came." As both De Paauw's own family and Europe as a whole crumble, he holds fast to his determination to invent what will next change the world all over again the Pill, but the book never becomes as interesting as all its elements would suggest.