An expert, mostly feel-good book about modern medicine.




A history of significant drugs and their evolutions.

Despite the title, the book contains 10 isolated chapters recounting the history of a score of important drugs. Readers will not miss the absence of an overarching theme because the stories are skillfully told and entirely entertaining. An award-winning writer on science and medicine, Hager (The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery that Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, 2008, etc.) devotes significant space to “the most important drug humans have ever found”: opium. “Dried and eaten or smoked,” writes the author, “it was early man’s strongest, most soothing medicine. Today it is among the most controversial.” Discovered in prehistoric times, it spread across the world. Its addictive property was no secret but considered only a modest drawback because, unlike alcohol, users of opium were rarely violent. By the end of the 19th century, its refined versions—morphine and, later, heroin—produced an addiction epidemic, the beginning of moral disapproval, and increasingly aggressive but ineffectual government efforts to suppress opiate misuse. The history of vaccines, mostly the story of smallpox eradication, is so satisfying that it deserves its chapter. Hager follows with exciting stories of discovery with an international reach—antibiotics in Germany, antipsychotics in France, cholesterol-lowering drugs in Japan—and plenty of unknown geniuses. Though not a muckraker, the author is no fan of drug companies, and he admits that new drugs are greeted with too much enthusiasm, unpleasant side effects invariably appear, and the juiciest pharmaceutical “low-hanging fruit” was plucked during a golden age that ended 50 years ago. New antibiotics cost at least 1,000 times more than old ones. Nowadays, lifesaving drugs attract less attention than those that improve the quality of life—e.g., Viagra, Botox, contraceptives, and tranquilizers.

An expert, mostly feel-good book about modern medicine.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3440-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet