The Great Ulcer War

An engaging slice of recent medical history and controversy.
In this debut book on the history of medicine, Hughes does a remarkable job of balancing the researcher’s precision with the storyteller’s understanding of his audience. Hughes traces the shifts in the medical community’s understanding of ulcers and their causes, focusing on the last two decades of the 20th century and the gradual acceptance of bacteria as the cause of the disease, a process that took more than a decade. That acceptance was the result of research done by physicians outside the mainstream medical establishment, and Hughes is unstinting in his indictment of the pharmaceutical companies who, he says, used their financial power to discredit the bacterial theory, which threatened the profitable market for Zantac and Tagamet. Readers whose knowledge of anatomy is taxed by the game of Operation will have little trouble following Hughes’ explanations of Helicobacter’s role in making holes in the stomach lining thanks to you-are-there descriptions of endoscopies, stomach tubes and researchers’ adventures in conducting experiments on themselves. The writing—while suffering from minor but frequent misplacement of commas—is energetic and often witty, as when Hughes compares drug sales representatives at conferences to “a gastric cell and a swarm of Helicobacter” or writes that “Dr. Tytgat, like a Protestant reformer, nailed the thesis of treatment successes to the conference record.” Hughes describes his own minor role in advancing the bacterial theory—he counseled Sen. Ted Kennedy’s staff to promote Helicobacter research—and there is no coyness about his position as a passionately interested participant. That passion shows as the book traces the long tension between treatment and profit, demonstrating the substantial power held by major pharmaceutical companies looking to protect their investments. Despite the strength of the opponents, this book is the story of the triumph of knowledge and evidence, and Hughes concludes with both the establishment’s acceptance of bacterial theory and a sense of hope for the future of medicine.
A well-written story of medicine, money and politics written by a knowledgeable physician.

Pub Date: April 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-1941142172

Page Count: 298

Publisher: The Great Ulcer War

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2014

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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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

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