From the introduction: 'Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresFrom the introduction: 'Drugs are tested by the people who manufacture them, in poorly designed trials, on hopelessly small numbers of weird, unrepresentative patients, and analysed using techniques which are flawed by design, in a such a way that they exaggerate the benefits of treatments. Unsurprisingly, these trials tend to produce results that favour the manufacturer. When trials throw up results that companies don't like, they are perfectly entitled to hide them from doctors and patients, so we only ever see a distorted picture of any drug's true effects. Regulators see most of the trial data, but only from early on in a drug's life, and even they don't give this data to doctors or patients, or even to other parts of government. This distorted evidence is then communicated and applied in a distorted fashion. In their forty years of practice after leaving medical school, doctors hear about what works through ad hoc oral traditions, from sales reps, colleagues or journals. But those colleagues can be in the pay of drug companies - often undisclosed - and the journals are too. And so are the patient groups. And finally, academic papers, which everyone thinks of as objective, are often covertly planned and written by people who work directly for the companies, without disclosure. Sometimes whole academic journals are even owned outright by one drug company. Aside from all this, for several of the most important and enduring problems in medicine, we have no idea what the best treatment is, because it's not in anyone's financial interest to conduct any trials at all. These are ongoing problems, and although people have claimed to fix many of them, for the most part they have failed; so all these problems persist, but worse than ever, because now people can pretend everything is fine after all.'
I've unknowingly read Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column in the Guardian before, more recently a couple of days ago while researching a particular drug when I found out he was also a psychiatrist. Only a week before I'd remembered seeing this book in a book store and immediately decided to order it.
Alexandre Dumas was born in 1802, the same year as Victor Hugo (they worked together, also with Alfred de Vigny). His father died when he was 4 so he had an impoverished childhood with little education. 'He joined the household of the future king, Louis-Philippe, and began reading voraciously.' Before he wrote TCoMC he had travelled to Switzerland and fallen in love with Italy, living in Florence for a year in 1841. In 1842 he visited the island of Montecristo.
(Click image for Google map)
Two years after TCoMC was published, Dumas built the Château de Monte-Cristo in 1846 and used it as his country home. He had to sell it when he went backrupt in 1850. Now it's a museum dedicated to him and his works.
It was known Dumas wrote for money 'at so much a line, and that he used at least one collaborator, Auguste Maquet, who would make chapter outlines for him and do research. He was once referred to as 'Alexandre Dumas and Co., novel factory'.
However, he sometimes had to be locked away in a room away from his mistress just so he could finish writing. Must've been a randy fellow.
Dumas died in 1870. Afterwards Victor Hugo wrote to Dumas's son 'praising Dumas as a writer of universal appeal and added "He creates a thirst for reading."'
'Briefly the story is this: Picaud, a young man from the south of France was imprisoned in 1807, having been denounced as an English spy, shortly after he had become engaged to a young woman called Marguerite. The denunciation was inspired by a cafe owner, Mathieu Loupian, who was jealous of Picaud's relationship with Marguerite.
Picaud eventually moved to a form of house-arrest in Piedmont and shut up in the castle Fenestrelle, where he acted as a servant to a rich Italian cleric. When the man died, abandoned by his family, he left his money to Picaud, whom he had come to treat as a son, also informing him of the whereabouts of a hidden treasure. With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, Picaud, now called Joseph Lucher, was released; in the following year, after collecting the hidden treasure, he returned to Paris.
Here he discovered that Marguerite had married Loupian. Disguising himself, and offering a valuable diamond to Allut, the one man in the group who had been unwilling to collaborate in the denunciation, he learned the identity of his enemies. He then set about eliminating them, stabbing the first with a dagger on which were printed the words: 'Number One', and burning down Loupian's cafe. He managed to find employment in Loupian's house, disguised as a servant called Prosper. However, while this was going on, Allut had fallen out with the merchant to whom he had resold the diamond, had murdered him and had been imprisoned. On coming out of jail, he started to blackmail Picaud. Picaud poisoned another of the conspirators, lured Loupian's son into crime and his daughter into prostitution, then finally stabbed Loupian himself. But he quarrelled with Allut over the blackmail payments and Allut killed him, confessing the whole story on his deathbed in 1828.'
Holy cow! Moral of the story: Being merciful is a death sentence.
One of the characters, Madame de Villefort, is also based on someone from these archives.
Some consider TCoMC to be children's fiction for the for fairy tale and Disney-like quality of the adventure / romance / revenge story. However:
'...not many children's books, even in our own time, that involve (view spoiler)[a female serial poisoner, two cases of infanticide, a stabbing and three suicides; an extended scene of torture and execution; drug-induced sexual fantasies, illegitimacy, transvestism and lesbianism; (hide spoiler)] a display of the author's classical learning, and his knowledge of modern European history, the customs and diet of Italians, the effects of hashish, and so on; the length, in any case, would immediately disqualify it from inclusion in any modern series of books for children.'