Superbugs

The Race to Stop an Epidemic
Narrated by: Matt McCarthy
Length: 7 hrs and 45 mins
4.6 out of 5 stars (146 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

International best seller

"An amazing, informative book that changes our perspective on medicine, microbes and our future." (Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, New York Times best-selling author of The Emperor of All Maladies)

A New York Times best-selling author shares this exhilarating story of cutting-edge science and the race against the clock to find new treatments in the fight against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as superbugs.

Physician, researcher, and ethics professor Matt McCarthy is on the front lines of a groundbreaking clinical trial testing a new antibiotic to fight lethal superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to the life-saving drugs in our rapidly dwindling arsenal. This trial serves as the backdrop for the compulsively listenable Superbugs, and the results will impact nothing less than the future of humanity.

Dr. McCarthy explores the history of bacteria and antibiotics, from Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, to obscure sources of innovative new medicines (often found in soil samples), to the cutting-edge DNA manipulation known as CRISPR, bringing to light how we arrived at this juncture of both incredible breakthrough and extreme vulnerability. We also meet the patients whose lives are hanging in the balance, from Remy, a teenager with a dangerous and rare infection, to Donny, a retired New York City firefighter with a compromised immune system, and many more.

The proverbial ticking clock will keep listeners on the edge of their seats. Can Dr. McCarthy save the lives of his patients infected with the deadly bacteria, who have otherwise lost all hope?

©2019 Matt McCarthy (P)2019 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

A USA Today Book Not to Miss

"Written from the front lines in the battle against resistant microbes, Superbugs will educate and inspire all those concerned about the growing threat to individuals and society. McCarthy offers a fast paced, vivid narrative that grips the reader from the opening pages and never lets go." (Jerome Groopman, MD; Recanati Professor, Harvard Medical School; co-author of New York Times best seller Your Medical Mind)

"There might not be another author who so fluidly combines a world-class doctor and researcher’s knowledge and experience with a memoirist’s sensibility. Matt McCarthy is Siddhartha Mukherjee and David Sedaris rolled into one. Who else but McCarthy could write a dispatch from the front lines of the secret fight for the future of the human race that is not just gripping and illuminating, but also poignant and funny?" (Ben Reiter, New York Times best-selling author of Astroball)

"A riveting insider's look at the race to find a cure for antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the most pressing challenges in modern medicine.... The author's storytelling is at once urgent and empathetic, a compelling combination that leaves readers feeling informed and optimistic. Insightful and honest, McCarthy effectively combines useful information about the latest advances in microbial research with accounts of the best aspects of humanity." (Kirkus)

What listeners say about Superbugs

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  • Overall
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Collection of ho-hum anecdotes

I was hoping for a solid scientific review of antibiotic-resistant microbes. Instead, the book is a collection of anecdotes about the doctor and his patients. While this might be fine if I were having lunch with the guy at the hospital cafeteria, it does not add up to a book that is worth my time. The author is a so-so writer and should team up with a good science writer. He's a so-so reader and should let a professional read his work. There is a complete absence of statistical perspective. What percent of the (world, or US) population is coming down with superbugs? What's the trend? What percent of patients recover? Etc. In sum: A yawner.

6 people found this helpful

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A Doctor and his mission to fight microbes

This book is more about The Race to Stop an Epidemic than it is about Superbugs and for that reason I didn't love it. I guess I was hoping to read all about the horrific bacteria and viruses which will usher in the zombie apocalypse. These horrible microbes were characters in the book, just not the main characters. Rather, the book dealt more in human interest stories. It's primary focus was Doctor Matt McCarthy's attempt to get his antibiotic drug trial off the ground. We meet and learn about the lives of the test subjects in his trial, all of which are suffering some type of severe microbial infection, and learn all about the life of his mentor and confidant, Doctor Thomas Walsh. The patients' stories are all sad and touching. There is a 9/11 NYC fireman suffering from the effects of a compromised immune system due to his service on that day, a holocaust survivor, a young teenage girl, and many others - your heart breaks for these people. You can feel the sadness in the Doctor's words as he discusses his cases with his fellow physicians and his mentor. Doctor McCarthy does offer some really interesting insights in to how antibiotics work, how they are developed, and how Big Pharma works (the good and the bad). He tells us the history of bacteria and antibiotics going back to penicillin (which we now have a shortage of because it is no longer that profitable to make - sad) and up to the current cutting- edge development of new drugs. Research and development are imperatively important as microbes evolve quickly and are becoming increasingly immune to our current antibiotics. He also talks about CRISPR and how it may eventually change the whole disease and cancer fight to our advantage. Personally, I don't understand why there isn't more buzz in everyday news about CRISPR. The author said that it is the most important medical discovery in a century and I'm with him on that. Maybe the most fascinating story in the whole book is about the discovery of antibiotics and the ongoing, intense search for new ones. He talks about how scientists are testing soil samples from all over the world looking for new microbes we can use to battle diseases. He says, "....we are surrounded by undiscovered medicines - microbes are engaged in biological warfare all around us, making new chemicals under our feet that could eventually end up saving millions of lives. I was accustomed to thinking about the deadly infections that were coming for my patients but now I could picture their cures, too. Just below the topsoil there were tiny molecules that could alleviate disease and stomp out epidemics. We just had to keep looking. The remedy for the next super bug or cure for cancer may be under our feet right now." Oh, and you'll learn who the good Doctor's favorite band is and what their favorite song is. I won't spoil that for you. Overall I give this book a thumbs up even though it wasn't what I thought it would be. I learned a lot about antibiotics and how the pharmaceutical industry works. We are at an important time in our history when it comes to fighting disease. My fifth book for Science September.

4 people found this helpful

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Fascinating

Listening to a recent Sam Harris podcast and Matt completely blew my mind so had to get this audiobook!!! Matt is really something else! Bravo!!

2 people found this helpful

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Brilliant read by Dr. Matt McCarthy!

This is not my first book review of Author/MD/Assistant Professor of Medicine Matt McCarthy and given his content I will persevere to review additional literary orchestrations as they are never trite. If virology is your “chocolate fix” then “Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” is the signal to “Graviora manent.” The question is what always motivates the genius. In this case a decade was spent in a lab as Little Flem asked himself, “How did bacteria thrive and how could they be killed?” Not quite the Nobel prize winner (yet) we meet---via Dr. McCarthy---Alexander Fleming in his humble days as a “triage medic” transporting dead and dying patients. “...Little Flem as he was known, was not drawn to controversy, or to combat or even a conversation. (One colleague claimed that trying to speak to him was like playing tennis with a man who, when he received a serve, put the ball in his pocket.)” ---Matt McCarthy, MD Knowledge brings sadness and the question “Why?" Confronted with wisdom that not all physicians act on behalf of patients. Recount of the Tuskegee study is given. Eighty two percent were black and twenty-two percent could not read or write. What must it be like to do 20 spinal taps on a quotidian basis and watch suffering men with syphilis? "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” is on the level of literary star “Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD” in originality and brevity. Dr. Matt McCarthy opens wide the doors to a brilliant introvert and Nobel Prize winner Sir Alexander Fleming---who engineered the drug penicillin. He adored music. Sad, realistic and honest. Buy and read.

2 people found this helpful

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Beyond Clinical Competence

The clinical challenges of fighting superbugs makes for a compelling listen. But the hidden gift of this book is its focus on Tom Walsh, the author’s mentor. Walsh is an energetic polymath whose insight and expertise bring hope to hopeless cases, yet his relentless optimism can’t prevent him from absorbing the pain of suffering patients. Matt McCarthy reveals what Tom Walsh has taught him along the way: patience, humility, curiosity, and unflinching dedication to the mission of helping the helpless.

2 people found this helpful

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LOVED IT !

I couldn't stop listening. It elicited so many memories of good and bad. Thank you for writing the book.

1 person found this helpful

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The humanity of medicine & research

I liked the author's other book, The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly, a lot too. I'm a medical student interested in research and infectious disease, so I learned a lot about history and development of bugs and drugs through this story. I always appreciate gaining insight into life in medicine and the humanity and ethics of healthcare.

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Novel perspective

An interesting look inside the life of a ny cancer/infectious disease specialist conducting a landmark clinical trial(s). Tragedies and miracles included

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Excellent, well written depiction of superbugs

I was nerding out the whole time! As a Laboratory Scientist this was an easy book to follow, and I would recommend it to anyone that is in the medical field. I also think it would be great for people that are curious about the world of antibiotics and treatment for bacteria, fungus etc. The author does a phenomenal job of bringing the history of antibiotics and superbugs. I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

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Fascinating/Scary

Informative as to the processes of developing a new drug, fascinating because of the patient experiences and scary because bacteria can hurt us so badly. I appreciate people like the author who strive to find answers.

1 person found this helpful