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A stylishly teasing but relentlessly undramatic stroll through medical history and gossip (the sulpha drugs and penicillin), pre-WW II European politics, mild-mannered espionage, and one wry man's careers and marriages. That man--our likable narrator--is chemist Jim Elgar, whose early-Thirties job in a German brewery/pharmaceutical town brings him into contact with the brand-new, untested sulphonamides (also the rival German scientists behind them)--and, before fleeing from a rising Hitler, Jim slips a vial of sulpha tablets into his pocket. Back home in England, he reactivates his medical-research connections (at Cambridge U., he was the lab assistant whose lucky carelessness got Alexander Fleming's penicillin mold started) and tries to impress the biggies with the powers of the sulphas. But ""Flem,"" who discovered the penicillin mold's magic and yet can't extract the potent agent, is too busy scowling at Dr. Florey, who's close to managing that extraction. So Jim keeps busy by taking a wartime job developing fledgling germ warfare power, by going after a Nazi-sympathizing French chemist who's been mistakenly handed a penicillin sample, and by wedding and then divesting himself of various lower- and middle-class ladies (true love is the girl far above him). The finale is the Nuremberg trials, where the sulpha men are accused of war crimes, where Jim tries to fit together who deserves the credit (and the Nobel prizes) for which piece of medical progress. Gordon (the Doctor books and more weighty ones too) sprinkles real names and real science over Jim's wanly engaging life story, producing a veddy English sort of light-dry-but-serious entertainment.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Atheneum