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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
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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

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4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  3,552 Ratings  ·  320 Reviews
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
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Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 19th 2006 by Harmony (first published 2006)
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Tyler
Oct 14, 2011 Tyler rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Tyler by: Good Reviews
Shelves: non-fiction, history
The story of sulfa drugs makes for good reading, but the author’s fascination with the scientist behind their discovery turns this book into an un-asked-for defense of the German people’s conduct during the Nazi era. The author’s story is uneven, so I’ll go from the bad to the good.

Hager’s book could have been thirty or forty pages shorter. He takes too long describing the experiments leading to the isolation of a sulfa drug by Dr. Gerhard Domagk, who one day would win a Nobel prize for it. He
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Becky
It is interesting that I read this book concurrently with Joan Didion’s A Year of Magical Thinking, wherein her daughter nearly succumbs to sepsis created by the flu. I remember reading through those chapters and thinking, “my god this still happens!” I know factually that people still die from sepsis from bacteria and viruses; my childhood hero, Jim Henson passed in that same manner with pneumonia. I even know, logically, that this CAN happen to people in their prime- recently a local police ...more
Carly
Feb 15, 2015 Carly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, history
~4.5

Even as late as the 1930s, an infection was a likely death sentence. Even a small wound on a finger or toe could be deadly, for if it became septic, doctors could do nothing except hope that the patient could fight off the infection. Antibiotics were only a wistful dream of a universal panacea. After all, how could one create a medicine that would unerringly target the bacterial foe while leaving all of the diverse cells of the body intact?

Everything changed with the invention of sulfa. Sulf
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Blake Charlton
May 07, 2010 Blake Charlton rated it it was amazing
One of the best examples of clear, compelling scientific writing I've ever come across. Though I've studied organic chemistry and medical science for years, I never knew the amazing impact of sulfa--ranging from transformation of the medical profession, to the great influence it had on the way WWII was fought, to the creation of the FDA. Anyone interested in good science or historical writing really should pick this one up. For those interested in medicine, pharmacology, and infectious disease, ...more
Nathaniel
Sep 13, 2016 Nathaniel rated it liked it
Shelves: science, history
So, for most of my life I read almost exclusively sci-fi. For the past few years, I've been branching out a lot. I'm reading and enjoying more kinds of fiction but also--for the first time in my love--quite a lot of nonfiction. I've read enough historical nonfiction now to sort of understand that the basic task of an author in this genre is to assemble a compelling story from the historical facts. There are basically two approaches.

First, they can take a well-known historical story (say, the Fal
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Meg
Jan 02, 2011 Meg rated it really liked it
Let me start by saying the title of this book is incredibly misleading. This is not one doctor's discovery of sulfa drugs, the first antibiotic, it is the story of the discovery of sulfa drugs and their effectiveness which took years and many people in labs throughout several countries. The focus for much of the book is on Gerhard Domagk, but there were dozens instrumental to its discovery, development, and marketing; not to mention those who paved the way for the research.

The book covers the de
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Christina Dudley
Feb 12, 2013 Christina Dudley rated it it was amazing
A great read about the fascinating development of the world's first antibiotic, the sulfa drug Prontosil. If you ever wished to time travel and often picture yourself at Downton Abbey, let this cure you of such romanticism. Life before antibiotics was precarious! If President Calvin Coolidge's son could DIE of a blister on his toe that he got playing tennis, nobody was safe.

Developed by the German company Bayer, Prontosil's story intersects and overlaps with Nazi Germany and WWII.

Door-to-door
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Ross
May 18, 2014 Ross rated it liked it
Interesting review of the history of man's knowledge (and lack thereof) of bacterial infections leading up to the discovery of the sulfa drugs in Germany in the '30s and their enormous importance in WWII. I was not aware of the essentially complete lack of regulation of drug sales in the U.S. prior to the enactment of some regulation by the FDA. You could sell anything you liked and make any claim you liked about why it was good for you!! Hard to believe in this century but true.
Yune
Jul 30, 2014 Yune rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, medicine
I got sick while in the middle of this book, and it's a testament to the content that I kept reading despite the descriptions of people dying in various agonizing ways while my own health was questionable. It's not that graphic, but for anyone born after a certain time, after antibiotics became both commonplace and safe, it's sobering to realize how many people used to die due to secondary infections.

Gerhard Domagk, a German soldier-turned-medical-assistant in the First World War, was frustrated
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Catherine
Tells the story of the life-altering research and development of sulfa drugs. The book is well paced for the most part, and the backdrop of early Nazi Germany adds additional interest. The book begins with the story of Gerhard Domagk, a German who survived injuries sustained in World War I to become the first doctor and researcher to achieve some success in developing an antibiotic. Coverage of the initial research dragged a little (possibly because none of the German or French researchers would ...more
Lori
Aug 06, 2014 Lori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: medical history buffs
This is actually a goodread, even though it is basically a chronicle of an evolution of a drug, sulfa, its actually a whole lot more.
It goes through the history of its development, yes Nazis had a hand in it, but it saved millions of people including a one point Winston Churchill. It really took off in America when it saved the President’s son, FDR Jr.
Publicity spread about this wonder drug and to meet demands a company out of Tennessee, Massengill Co, made a liquid form in 1937. It was a conco
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Trena
Jan 03, 2014 Trena rated it really liked it
I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that antibiotics changed the human condition. I had a vague idea about a penicillin eureka moment with moldy bread, but had never heard any of the story of the actual first commercially available antibiotics: sulfa drugs.

In inter-war Germany, Bayer gave nearly unlimited budget and time to a team that painstakingly tested hundreds of synthesized chemicals--each patiently constructed a molecule different than the last--against a virulent form of strep dev
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Miklos
Nov 13, 2014 Miklos rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
A fantastic book. Hager provides a fascinating history of how sulfa drugs were invented, taking interesting detours along the way. One particular detour sheds light on how the FDA came to be resultant a poisonous sulfa drug elixer made by Massingil. It turns out that the owner of the company was a real douche as well!

The book reads like a suspense novel, jumping from Germany to France to England and back as the sulfa drug is discovered. While the Germans bring the first sulfa drug over the fini
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Pdiver
Nov 22, 2011 Pdiver rated it liked it
I read this after reading The Alchemy of Air, also by Thomas Hager. Though both TAoA and this book are thoroughly researched and shed light on very important, and often undervalued, scientific issues, TDUtM distinctly feels stitched together, so much so as to seem forced at times. The book's description is deliberately compelling, and in many ways, the theme of the story is very much deservedly so. However, Hager seems to lose steam at certain parts of the book, filling pages with anecdotes that ...more
Suzanne
Oct 17, 2012 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
I love drug discovery stories and this one goes beyond the initial discovery to tell you about what was going on in the world of medicine and how the discovery changed things today. Excellent.
Cynthia
Dec 31, 2016 Cynthia rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read from beginning to end.
Steven
Mar 18, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing
Fascinating history, not just of the sulfa drugs, but of the remaking of modern medicine for better (turning doctors from poorly paid people that could only predict and console into the practical scientists they are today) and for worse (human trial research methods being pioneered in nazi death camps, the rise of giant pharmaceutical companies that now have a stranglehold on the industry).

Not only this, but there are some amazing biographical stories as well that will stick with you. For me, th
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Charlotta Norby
Aug 31, 2014 Charlotta Norby rated it it was amazing
A totally fascinating book. Very readable by the lay reader. About how chemists and physicians discovered the first anti-bacterial, anti-biotic drugs, and forever changed the course of medicine, and all kinds of other things.
It's a fascinating view of how quickly these developments have taken place - less than 100 years ago, most doctors didn't attend medical school, there was no such thing as control by prescription of the distribution of drugs to patients. There were no requirements that in o
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Mike (the Paladin)
I tend to like medical thrillers. I then to like nonfiction about medical breakthroughs and medical advances. This book does lay out a story but it actually gets sidetracked fr4om its given premise.

We are told we'll be looking at the development of Sulfa and it's effect on medicine and bacterial disease. We do but in a very round about way. The book turns into a series of short biographies. These don't actually hold up well (at least for me) as they to tended to wander a bit.

Just me of course b
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Marina
Sep 13, 2014 Marina rated it really liked it
I listened to this as an audiobook, and I thought it translated really well to that media. What I especially loved about this book was how great of a public health story it was. Caveat: I love public health and medical history, so my feelings about this book might not be shared by people less interested in this genre. In other words, I am a nerd, and I thought this book was awesome. [Also, as someone who is about to enter the field of clinical research, I was especially interested to learn that ...more
Jimmy Tarlau
Apr 02, 2011 Jimmy Tarlau rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
This was a very entertaining popular history about the discovery of the sulpher drugs in the middle of the 20th century. I didn't even know that there were sulpher drugs before I read the book. They were used to cure a bunch of diseases and had wide spread use during the second world war though were eventually eclipsed by the anti-biotics. Popular history books are good because they cover the subject but also focus on indivdual personalities and background on a bunch of related topics.
Adam Clements
Jan 07, 2016 Adam Clements rated it it was amazing
Everyone interested in science, medicine, chemistry, or the history of warfare should read this. It's well written and it's a not well known and a tremendously important story.
Omar Halabieh
Oct 24, 2015 Omar Halabieh rated it it was amazing
I recently finished reading The Demon Under The Microscope by Thomas Hager. As the author summarizes this book: "Once a bacterial disease took hold in the body, humans in 1931 were as much the prey of the invisible killers as they had been since the beginning of history. All that was about to change...Sulfa happened. It started in the mid-1930s, with a series of findings made in Germany and France, discoveries that were at the time hailed as "the miracle of miracles" in modern medicine, advances ...more
Shaun
Feb 11, 2017 Shaun rated it it was amazing
Excellent. A really compelling story and well written. The thing I loved most about this book is how it prefaced so many of the trends we take for granted now about drug regulation and drug discovery. The author was effective at conveying the magnitude of the discovery - it is simply unimiganible to me that people 100 years ago lived in a world where strep throat was often fatal and women were so likely to die after childbirth from infection. My only wish was that the author would have delved a ...more
Erin
Nov 18, 2016 Erin rated it really liked it
Highly readable account of the discovery and influence of the world's first antibiotic-like substance. I thought it raised an a lot of interesting ethical questions. If you have a new medicine that can save lives, do you throw it out there as quickly as possible to reach people sooner, or spend time testing it to make sure that there aren't unintended consequences? How do you balance the competing needs of providing affordable medicines to the ill & dying, and the companies that need to earn ...more
Smitesh Bakrania
Feb 26, 2017 Smitesh Bakrania rated it it was amazing
An engaging history of the sulfonamide development from the dye-making company, Bayer. A great read for World War II, medical, chemical engineering, and organic chemistry history buffs. Highlights the development of first widely used 'antibiotic-like' drug. The definition was later established along with the mechanism of action on bacteria. We are lucky to be living post the wonder drug development.
Jana
Jan 28, 2017 Jana rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
A detailed story of medicine and disease before doctors understood bacteria, pre-antibiotics, the development of sulfa drugs, mostly in Europe pre-WWII and the scientists and companies that developed them. Then their overuse and misuse and how Hitler experimented with them. And how laws were developed, fairly recently, to protect consumers from untested drugs and potions and prescriptions began to be required. Interesting but not really worth reading a whole book about it.
Charlotte Gooding
Feb 25, 2017 Charlotte Gooding rated it really liked it
This book was excellent! Extremely interesting with excellent scientific detail and thorough storytelling. I think this should be a must read for all clinicians - how quickly we take for granted antibiotics and other drugs like them.
Kelly Durkee-erwin
Jan 07, 2017 Kelly Durkee-erwin rated it it was amazing
If you like science history - this is a GREAT read! Unbelievable how we got from point A to point B in curing infections and this book spins the perfect tale on this roller coaster! I was mesmerized.... I actully read it twice to make sure I didn't miss anything.
Ron
Mar 15, 2017 Ron rated it liked it
Learned a lot about how the first antibiotics were discovered. Good history and very thorough but found it a bit to long. Felt that about a quarter of the book could have been removed and I really wouldn't have missed anything.
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Author of six books of nonfiction about the ways in which science and technology change people's lives.
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“Where there were once several competing approaches to medicine, there is now only one that matters to most hospitals, insurers, and the vast majority of the public. One that has been shaped to a great degree by the successful development of potent cures that followed the discovery of sulfa drugs. Aspiring caregivers today are chosen as much (or more) for their scientific abilities, their talent for mastering these manifold technological and pharmaceutical advances as for their interpersonal skills. A century ago most physicians were careful, conservative observers who provided comfort to patients and their families. Today they act: They prescribe, they treat, they cure. They routinely perform what were once considered miracles. The result, in the view of some, has been a shift in the profession from caregiver to technician. The powerful new drugs changed how care was given as well as who gave it.” 3 likes
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