I only wish this information could get into "the mainstream." The authors write about the use of medical mercury throughout history. What Cutler calls, "a breathtaking exercise in criminal irresponsibility."
The content of this book is a bit different than what this reviewer had expected. Much of the material presented here can actually be read apart from what the authors discuss about autism, even though autism is one of the core elements in some areas of the text, comprising perhaps about one-third of the book. In reading some of the reviews here, as well as the great amount of comments that have been submitted in response to these reviews, it is rather apparent that some have not actually read this book (the reader of this review can rest assured that this reviewer has read the entire content before submitting this review), so this review was submitted with the goal of addressing these, even though it is difficult to review a book of this nature in just a couple paragraphs.
As the authors discuss in their introduction, the intention was to investigate the natural history of the autism disorder, beginning with the original landmark 1943 report by Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Leo Kanner on 11 children born in the 1930s. While traditional researchers often state that autism rates consist of only a handful per 10 thousand individuals, and that this rate has existed for quite some time and is common, the authors state that autism was newly discovered in the 1930s because it was new and did not exist in previous generations. In reading the account of Kanner, the presentation that the authors provide is compelling. If individuals have had this disorder at a natural rate for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, why would its existence not have been documented?
In the opinion of this reviewer, one of the best aspects of this book is the fact that the authors research each of the 11 individual cases reported by Kanner. While this may seem like a small number, during the early searches for autism cases this rate was actually surprisingly high. And based on the evidence, this was not due to some type of misdiagnosis. Kanner carefully drew the distinction between autism and other disorders, and autism simply had not been seen in previous research. The book title tie-in with mercury and medicine is made because of the family backgrounds (occupational risk and location) of each of the 11 children, and because of the implications of these backgrounds.
A substantial portion of this book walks the reader through what the authors deem "The Age of Syphilis", "The Age of Hysteria", and "The Age of Acrodynia", and follow up by discussing pollution and toxins in order to set the stage for Kanner's discovery. The material in this first half of the text is fascinating, and could stand on its own as a separate work. During the Middle Ages, toxic mercury compounds were rubbed on syphilis victims by physicians as a cure. But even though visible signs of syphilis disappeared following use by the mercury compounds, it was later realized that syphilis was still internally present, sometimes resulting in patient death, anyway. Other methods of administering mercury compounds were later devised by physicians, including oral consumption, which is hard to take given that the cure was often worse than the ailment, although incredibly mercury compounds were still being used for benign afflictions such as teething into the mid-20th century.
Of course, none of these treatments helped syphilis victims. If they did not die, they were severely injured neurologically. The authors argue that other ailments were caused by mercury compounds as well, and suggest that there is evidence that all of these ailments are related in cause, either by intentional introduction of mercury compounds to patients, or unintentional introduction due to the external environment. While portions of the text are arguably hard to follow within the first portion of the latter half of the book, chapters 9 and 10 are very well written, and actually reading these chapters will demonstrate that the authors are not anti-vaccine, but are instead researchers looking into a host of possible causes of neurological damage to children.
Although the vast majority of "The Age of Autism" will probably be an easy read for most, the last chapter entitled "The Nightmare and the Dream" might take some time to digest even though it is only about 15 pages in length. In this chapter, the authors provide updates to the 7 cases and families in the original Kanner case series that they were able to identify. Unfortunately, the amount of material here is much more scant than this reviewer would have liked, but the fact that the authors were able to actually contact these individuals after all these years, even though Johns Hopkins apparently "misplaced" a significant portion of this important research, is a testament to their investigative work.
This is a wonderful book, which describes how the use of mercury in medicine has killed and maimed thousands, if not millions of people. It is not the whole story, however, but it is very important to understand the role of mercury in autism. Read it!