THE FORGOTTEN PLAGUE by Frank Ryan

THE FORGOTTEN PLAGUE

How the Battle against Tuberculosis Was Won--and Lost
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A lively account of how scientists worked for years to tame tuberculosis--only to find the disease rebounding with increased virulence as drug-resistant strains developed and as the emergence of the AIDS virus triggered a surge in deadly TB infections. Ryan (a fellow of the UK's Royal Academy of Physicians), pays homage to the men of science who conquered TB, one of humanity's oldest plagues and a killer of a billion people during the past two centuries alone. He recounts at length and in detail the lives of those whose work led to the discovery of the drugs used to treat TB. We see RenÇ Dubos, for instance, searching diligently for antibiotics among soil microorganisms at N.Y.C.'s Rockefeller Institute while his young wife is dying of TB at a sanitorium miles away, and we watch Gerhard Domagk working doggedly on sulphonamides under horrendous conditions in war-torn Germany and then being forced by the Nazis to turn down the Nobel Prize. Ryan's style often is highly charged: Tuberculosis is ``the greatest killer in history''; scientific discoveries are greeted with ``incandescent excitement''; AIDS is a ``new phantasmagoria of terror.'' Meanwhile, personal tragedies and triumphs make up the first three-quarters of the book, but the real message lies in the finale: Although an entire generation in the West has grown up with little knowledge of, or experience with, TB, the disease is making a comeback, this time as a superbug, resistant to every drug. If action is not taken quickly, the results of the present epidemic will be, in Ryan's words, ``apocalyptic.'' Dramatic, sometimes even melodramatic, writing in the historical parts may heighten the book's appeal to some, but it lessens the credibility of the genuine alarm being sounded in the conclusion. (Twenty-four b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-76380-2
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1993




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