Book Title: The Demon Under The Microscope
Author: Thomas Hager
Publisher: Three Rivers Press 2006
Page Count: 340
Genre: Science - Biology
Audience: Those interested in the rise of the antibiotic.
Summed up in one (or two ;) word/s: Life Saving!
First Impression: I really get a kick out of reading a book on a subject that I have 0% knowledge on. This book certainly met that criteria, I enjoy science but usually I'm stuck with deep research without a narrative. Here we get the story of the world's first miracle drug, and it is quite a tale.
Summary of the book:
The Demon Under The Microscope is a scientific tale, told through the life of Gerhard Domagk. Domagk was a German scientist who was instrumental in the discovery of the world first group of miracle drugs, the Sulfas or Sulfonamide drugs.
We first meet Domagk on the battlefield, an intellectual sent to war for his country. Some how managing to survive he ends up in a military hospital helping save the lives of the soldiers he was fighting along side. Seeing all this death and suffering at the hands of infections and gangrene he swears to himself that he will find a way to cure infections for good.
Domagk is not the only cog in this machine, others are working alongside him to create a better medical future. We see scientists and physicians rallying for cleaner working conditions in hospitals, better patients care and better plans to stop epidemics before they get out of hand. As the reader you are taken through the medical revolution, drugs, hospitals and doctors/nurses all grow into the standard that we know and appreciate today.
The journey to the creation of Sulfas is a difficult one soaked in death, bureaucracy, war and countries conspiring against each other to get the credit. Follow Domagk and his colleagues through hell and back to create the life saving medication we all take for granted today.
I really appreciate this book as it opened my mind to a new area of history that I was totally ignorant of. TDUTM itself is a well written piece, Thomas Hager chose the right angle to share this tale from (Domagk was the key player, but it could have easily been told from a overall perspective). I found Domagk inspiring and without him and all those who worked around him we would definitely be further behind medically than we are today,
The format of the book is fairly standard. Prologue, three parts split into 23 chapters and an epilogue. It mainly follows Domagk, from his youth all the way through to the second world war. We read about all aspects of Domagk's life, his science, his war experience and his family. Based on his work/his journals and what others say about him at the time, TH does a great job painting a picture of his life. We also meet plenty of other scientist and their work/struggles. My favourite section (away from the main event) was that of Leonard Colebrook and his struggle to keep new mothers alive. He battled childbed fever for years and fought to make hospitals better for everyone, through better sanitation, hygiene and patient care.
TH set out to tell the story of Sulfonamide drugs. Sulfanilamide, Sulfapyridine, Sulfathiazole, Sulfadiazine and Sulfaguanidine to name a few :D. Each one discovered to battle many crippling ailments, from streptococcus to pneumonia. I found all the science and detail fascinating, Thomas Hager was dedicated to telling the science of this story properly and I applaud him. Unfortunately (in this case) his narrative was rather thorough also. I found that the rather large and drawn out political and economic elements in this book slow the reading to a crawl at times, I appreciate they need to be included as they are pivotal to the how/why the research went the way it did. Personally I thought that it was too detailed and it bored me slightly, a minor critique but I felt it affected the flow.
Overall TDUTM is a must read. It tells a story that everyone should hear, Thomas Hager tells it well and aside from the gorier parts this is a fascinating read.
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