Books by Bernard Asbell

Released: June 1, 1995

A chatty hodgepodge of material about the birth control pill. Journalist Asbell (Mother and Daughter: The Letters of Eleanor and Anna Roosevelt, 1982, etc.) tells a little bit about a lot of things but not much about the actual development of the Pill or about its impact on society. As he points out, no single man can lay exclusive claim to the title ``Father of the Pill,'' but two women share honors as its mother: activist Margaret Sanger and philanthropist Katherine McCormick. It was they who commissioned researcher Gregory Pincus in 1951 to develop what they envisioned as the perfect contraceptive. Thanks to the work of a number of other scientists as well, within 10 years the first birth control pill had been produced, field-tested, and granted FDA approval. Asbell's portrait of Sanger is the most complete of any he provides; other figures are sketchy, and the details he does offer are frequently more gossipy than relevant: e.g., McCormick employed 40 gardeners and 6 musicians to keep her schizophrenic husband happy. Stories about early methods of birth control are fascinating, as are his accounts of the Pill's initial field trials in Puerto Rico. The contraceptive's role in the sexual revolution and its impact on the feminist movement are only touched on, but Asbell perorates at length about the Catholic Church's still-unresolved debate over the Pill. The book's final section is a catchall into which Asbell tosses whatever else is on his mind—the world population explosion, China's one-child policy, the Pill's safety, a male pill, a where-are-they-now rundown of the principal players in the Pill's development, and a look at RU 486 and other morning-after pills. Last and perhaps least, he offers some musings about what he calls our new ``Age of Biointervention.'' Lightweight but entertaining. (Author tour) Read full book review >