I read and listen to lots of non-fiction books. I have never written a review. I am compelled to write this one because this book did not seem to get as much attention as it, in my opinion, deserves. It combined my interests in science, history and biography really really well. I loved the desciptions of the science - what it takes to make a scientific breakthrough. I loved following the characters - from scientists, to doctors to politicians and their families. Discovery of first antibiotics played much more important role in the history of the 20th century than I imagined. Again, a great listen.
I bought this book on impulse, during one of Audible's sales, and was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be a compelling mix of medical history, scientific detective work, politics, industrial espionage, and two world wars. Like other readers, I listened to this book while commuting, and it made the time stuck in traffic pass very quickly. The accounts of illness and treatments before antibiotics were very sobering (and the WWI injury, infection, and mortality rates were horrifyingly unbelievable), and the author draws vivid portraits of the researchers and politicians involved in the saga to cure bacterial infections. I didn't know much about the history of sulfa drugs, nor that they were considered miracle medicines, and this book was a real eye-opener.
The narrator has a clear, pleasant voice, reminiscent of a newscaster, and does a pretty good job with the many German names and terms (I only noticed one badly-mispronounced German word). Definitely worth a credit if you're interested in a CSI-style history book!
Wow, I really enjoyed this book. I knew next to nothing about the subject: like many of my generation, I assumed penicillin was the first real antibiotic. This book dispels that myth and provides an amazing perspective on what life was like in the pre-antibiotic world. It is hard to imagine a time when a foot blister could cause the death of the president's son, but there are many alive now who were children at that time. The author is a good story teller who ties the narrative in with cultural history--I thought the role the sulfa drugs played in the formation of the modern FDA was particularly interesting. Well worth the listen.
As a physician I found this treatment of the development of the first antibiotic extremely interesting and informative. The author
does a great job of describing the pre-antibiotic era-which includes most of history-and against this background tells the story of the discovery of sulfa.
In particular, the carnage (wound infections) caused by the "strep" bacteria in WWI is addressed in detail--it was a dreadful slaughter--and even the tiniest wound could kill.
This is a must read for one who would understand the modern antibiotic era, and a warning about what will happen when our current drugs are outsmarted by the bacteria.
A very well done history of the fight against bacteria, which led up to the magic bullet of sulfa. I especially liked the fact that Hager is a scientist turned writer rather than a journalist turned nothing. His grasp of science shows throughout the book, and this book has one of the best beginnings I've seen for a history of science book. The detail is amazing and always interesting, mixing large doses of big business, academics, science, and politics.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
In their zeal to promote a book, publishers have a tendency to sensationalize and exaggerate. Sometimes, they just do not get the facts correct. The publisher summary of Demon Under the Microscope begins with “The Nazis discovered it.” The Nazis did not discover sulfa drugs nor did the Allies win the war with it. My god, the summary writer must not have even read this book because it does not communicate that at all. A German scientist and his team discovered sulfa drugs and not all Germans were Nazis. Gerhard Johannes Paul Domagk received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this discovery, the first drug effective against bacterial infections. He was forced by the Nazi regime to refuse the prize and was actually arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo. The book does not suggest Domagk was a Nazi sympathizer, on the contrary.
That aside, this was an excellent book. As has been the case in the past, as a biologist, it is difficult for me to know whether a book like this would appeal to the masses. At times it is a bit scientifically detailed. Having worked in research, I think that the book does an outstanding job of portraying the very sometimes tedious work that can go into such an endeavor. The book does not just state that it took years to accomplish something, it takes you through the years, step by step by agonizing step. Not as much agonizing for the reader but the reader definitely gets a sense of the agony of the researcher.
The book is well researched and narrated. It is fraught with sidebars about disease and its treatment throughout history as well as what was happening in other parts of the world contemporarily. If disease and its treatment or the process of research is your interest, I would highly recommend this book.
I suspected this would be an interesting work, but was totally unprepared for how shockingly interesting it turned out to be. Having worked in the medical field, I knew of Sulfa only as the poorer cousin of penicillin, and wondered what might be so interesting about the story behind its discovery that would merit an entire book on the topic. Now I know. there are a great many lessons to be considered and internalized in this story. An outstanding work.
Great science writing. Stephen Hoye's narration is perfect. It will interest anyone in the healthcare field (novice or expert) but also folks without a science background will enjoy this book
I enjoyed the book from front to back evenly, as opposed to some books of this nature that are slow to start getting good. For me it was a medium easy read, there are a lot of German names to keep track of that was a bit tricky at times. Other than that the book really captured the state of the medical industry in its infancy and how it has changed into the safer, more modern system we take for granted today. Good narration as well.
Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
I listened to Erich Maria Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” (1958) last summer. Remarque’s book is a short and powerful listen, in great part because of his descriptions, by a 19 year old German soldier, of battlefield maiming and subsequent deaths that were caused primarily by a complete lack of antibiotics. More soldiers died of infection, rather than the wound itself.
Thomas Hager‘s “The Demon Under the Microscope” (2006) begins with a description of the same World War I horrors, from the point of view of a World War I German medic, Gerhard Domagk. Domagk, who was employed by Bayer AG as a researcher, did not discover sulfonamide (sulfa). Domagk discovered that Bayer coal-tar clothing dye, which contained sulfa, was an antibiotic. The difference between what happened to World War I soldiers (gas gangrene, amputating limbs to stop the spread of infection) and World War II soldiers, who in general had neither, as astounding. Ironically, the Allied Forces more readily adopted sulfa.
Domagk was awarded the 1939 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery and development, but Adolf Hitler prohibited Germans from accepting the prize. He was finally able to accept the prize in 1947, after a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” jaunt through post-war Europe to get to the ceremony.
A terrible incident with sulfa is almost entirely responsible for the United States’ Federal Drug Administration (FDA). Sulfa tastes bad, and it doesn’t easily dissolve in water. An enterprising and unregulated drug compounder mixed it with the sweet tasting diethylene glycol, which is closely related to the anti-freeze ethylene glycol. The senate rapidly passed laws strengthening the FDA, resulting in today’s carefully controlled regulations.
“The Demon Under the Microscope” was remarkably lively for a science and technology book, and rivals Eric Lax‘ 2004 “The Mold in Dr. Florey‘s Coat” for its intrigue and rivalries.
As a history book, it was a bit hard to follow as it moved from World War I to earlier centuries, and then back up to the 20th century.
The narration seemed fine to me, although as a non-scientist, I don’t know if the narrator’s pronunciations were correct or not.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking the HELPFUL button. Thanks!]