RISE UP TO LIFE: A Biography of Howard Walter Florey Who Made Penicillin and Gave it to the World by Lennard Bickel

RISE UP TO LIFE: A Biography of Howard Walter Florey Who Made Penicillin and Gave it to the World

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You thought Arrowsmith was the last of a breed? Probably right. You thought Fleming discovered penicillin? Probably wrong. At least Bickel would say so. A careful biographer with a great fund of admiration for his subject but little flair for human drama, he makes a strong case for Florey as the man most responsible for the drug's development and popular application. Florey (1898-1968), an Australian (like Bickel) and a retiring personality, spent the productive years of his career at Oxford heading a team of multidisciplinary scientists studying antibacterial agents, research which eventually led to the medical revolution called penicillin. For this work, a lifetime in the lab, he received scant public acclaim compared with Fleming (though they shared a Nobel in 1945). Bickel's version paints Fleming, a penicillin pioneer in the early '20's, as a ""victim of a publicity campaign organized by the British government anxious to capitalize on the discovery"" who merely ""smiled and shook his head but did not protest,"" content to hog the glory for himself and too vain or too weak to do anything to diminish the Arrowsmithian ""legend"" of his ""being vindicated in the end after ten years of crying alone to the world."" On the other hand, ""In Florey's mind it was quite wrong for any scientist to seek the limelight."" Well, we've been through this sort of who-gets-the-credit business with everything from the automobile to polio vaccine, so why not the miracle from mold? A competent, partisan if rather lifeless history of a dullish man who unquestionably contributed his mite to the world's welfare. How much that adds up to in terms of historical recognition, however, will have to be answered by others than Bickel.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1973
Publisher: Scribners