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The Demon Under the Microscope

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The Demon Under the Microscope

From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug
The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it. It conquered diseases, changed laws, and single-handedly launched the era of antibiotics. This incredible discovery was sulfa, the first...
The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it. It conquered diseases, changed laws, and single-handedly launched the era of antibiotics. This incredible discovery was sulfa, the first...
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Description-
  • The Nazis discovered it. The Allies won the war with it. It conquered diseases, changed laws, and single-handedly launched the era of antibiotics. This incredible discovery was sulfa, the first antibiotic. In The Demon Under the Microscope, Thomas Hager chronicles the dramatic history of the drug that shaped modern medicine.

    Sulfa saved millions of lives--among them those of Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Jr.--but its real effects are even more far reaching. Sulfa changed the way new drugs were developed, approved, and sold; transformed the way doctors treated patients; and ushered in the era of modern medicine. The very concept that chemicals created in a lab could cure disease revolutionized medicine, taking it from the treatment of symptoms and discomfort to the eradication of the root cause of illness.

    A strange and colorful story, The Demon Under the Microscope illuminates the vivid characters, corporate strategy, individual idealism, careful planning, lucky breaks, cynicism, heroism, greed, hard work, and the central (though mistaken) idea that brought sulfa to the world. This is a fascinating scientific tale with all the excitement and intrigue of a great suspense novel.

    For thousands of years, humans had sought medicines with which they could defeat contagion, and they had slowly, painstakingly, won a few battles: some vaccines to ward off disease, a handful of antitoxins. A drug or two was available that could stop parasitic diseases once they hit, tropical maladies like malaria and sleeping sickness. But the great killers of Europe, North America, and most of Asia--pneumonia, plague, tuberculosis, diphtheria, cholera, meningitis--were caused not by parasites but by bacteria, much smaller, far different microorganisms. By 1931, nothing on earth could stop a bacterial infection once it started. . . .

    But all that was about to change. . . . --from The Demon Under the Microscope

    From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpts-
  • Chapter One Gerhard Domagk looked at the blood soaking his tunic. It was 1914, a few days before Christmas. The German army had just finished an artillery barrage. Domagk's unit had been sent in, the young men and their officers walking slowly through the yellowing grass toward a Polish farmhouse, their breath showing white, when shots came from somewhere to their left. Domagk saw the officer nearest him fall. Then he felt a blow to his head. His helmet flew off and landed somewhere in the grass. His chest felt hot. When he looked down, he saw the blood. He had attended a single term of medical school before joining the army and knew enough to give himself a quick exam. He found no wound on his body. Then he discovered the source. Blood was streaming from his head, down his neck, and onto his shirt. He explored his scalp gently with his fingers. Hard to say how bad the gash was, but it had probably opened when the bullet knocked his helmet off. He bandaged himself with a large handkerchief. Then he passed out. When he awoke, he was jolting through trees in a farmer's cart toward what had been a church, now a German field hospital, where he was examined, his bleeding stopped, and his wound dressed. When the staff decided that it appeared likely he would survive, he was packed onto a train to Berlin, to recuperate in a central hospital. The wound did not look serious, but there was no way to know if there would be permanent brain damage. Time would tell.

    The blow to his head did not change Domagk's mind about the war. He, like most of his fellow university students, had been infected and rendered mildly delirious during the epidemic of patriotic fever that swept Germany in the summer of 1914. The tall, thin boy volunteered for service with more than a dozen of his classmates and friends soon after war was declared. They were inducted as a group into the Leibgrenadier Regiment of Frankfort on the Oder, a unit specializing in the use of grenades. They were given a few weeks of cursory training. Then they were loaded onto a train for Flanders.

    They were young and full of energy, eager to join Germany's march, giddy with visions of a short, glorious war. Domagk, the son of a village schoolmaster, was eighteen years old and ready for adventure. He was also a young gentleman who brought his lute to training camp and played folk tunes around the campfire. He wanted to take the instrument with him to the front. When his officers told him that regulations forbade it, he dismantled it, sent the body back to his parents, and kept the neck attached to his knapsack as a memento. Inside the knapsack he carried a photo of his village sweetheart dressed in her white Communion gown.

    Now, months later, he was beginning to miss his home, Lagow in the lake country of far eastern Germany. Picturesque and quiet, Lagow became the source of ever-sunnier memories the longer he spent in the army: cannonballing into the river below the mill; a swarm of children flying out of school at the end of the day; a group of friends concocting homemade gunpowder; sneaking his first cigar; the taste of a ripe pear in late summer. He spent his nineteenth birthday in the trenches of Flanders under fire from British ships, huddled in the dirt, "the heavens lit," he wrote his parents, "from burning villages." The glory of war began to fade. He and his comrades were soaked by freezing autumn rains, exhausted, starving, their uniforms caked with muck. Once while digging for drinking water, they broke open an abscess in the earth, a cache of rotting French soldiers, men killed and buried, he figured,...
About the Author-
  • Veteran science and medical writer Thomas Hager is the author of three books, including Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling, and his work has appeared in publications ranging from Reader's Digest to Medical Tribune. A former director of the University of Oregon Press, contributing editor to American Health, and correspondent for the Journal of the American Medical Association, he lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus Reviews (Starred) "Fascinating . . . A rousing, valuable contribution to the history of medicine."
  • Booklist "A well-told tale of trail-blazing science."
  • Library Science "Highly recommended."
  • Wall Street Journal "This is a grand story, and Mr. Hager tells it well...one can easily imagine 'The Demon Under the Microscope,' like 'Microbe Hunters' before it, inspiring in young, idealistic readers the enthusiasm for medical research and the zeal for healing that generates great physicians."
  • Entertainment Weekly "Surprisingly entertaining...[Hager's] enthusiasm for the search for a 'magic bullet' drug in the early 20th century is infectious. He convincingly credits sulfa drugs for some of the most revolutionary and catastrophic moments in medicine. And anecdotes about famous people affected- from Calvin Coolidge to Eleanor Roosevelt- are narrative spoonfuls of sugar."
  • Bookpage "Grips the reader from the first paragraph...a story of dedication, luck, tragedy and triumph that's still relevant today."
  • Publishers Weekly "Hager, a biographer of Linus Pauling, does a remarkable job of transforming material fit for a graduate biology seminar into highly entertaining reading. He knows that lay readers need plenty of personality and local color, and his story is rich with both. This yarn prefigures the modern rush for corporate pharma patents; it is testament to Hager's skills that the inherently unsexy process of finding the chemicals that might help conquer strep is as exciting an account of the hunt for a Russian submarine."
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    Crown Publishing Group
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The Demon Under the Microscope
The Demon Under the Microscope
From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug
Thomas Hager
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The Demon Under the Microscope
The Demon Under the Microscope
From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug
Thomas Hager
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