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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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  4,911 ratings  ·  430 reviews
Fast-paced, suspenseful, and utterly satisfying, The Demon Under the Microscope is a sweeping history of the discovery of the first antibiotic and its dramatic effect on the world of medicine and beyond.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 ...more
Audiobook, 12 pages
Published October 27th 2006 by Tantor Audio (first published September 19th 2006)
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Start your review of The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug
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
Oct 14, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Tyler by: Good Reviews
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
Feb 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history

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
Blake Charlton
May 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The one man is Gerhard Domagk, but there is so much more. Domagk's story, while integral, is just one part. He was undoubtedly dogged, as evidenced by 5 years of amazingly precise & thorough testing, especially for the times. He was a great man as we find out at toward the end. Not only did he stand up to the Nazis, but he warned against antibiotic resistance early.

Hager does a great job of tracing medicine from well before & into the 1950s. He focuses on Sulfa & its wild story from an outgrowt
Mike (the Paladin)
I tend to like medical thrillers, then to I like nonfiction about medical breakthroughs and medical advances. This book does lay out a story but it gets sidetracked from 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 but I didn'
This is a really excellent book that taught me so much I didn't know.

I never knew how important sulfa drugs were in the history of antibacterials. I had always assumed that penicillin was the first successful antibacterial drug, but it appears that sulfa drugs had a much earlier impact. Also, even though penicillin was discovered by Alexander Fleming, nothing came of his discovery until Florey and Chain produced it on a mass scale. Florey and Chain deserve much greater credit than Fleming does.

Feb 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Betsy by: GR Science & Inquiry Group
This was an excellent history of the development of the sulfa drugs in the period between the two World Wars. These were the first chemicals developed to cure infections in humans and they started a huge antibiotic industry. It focuses primarily on the German researcher Gerhard Domagk, but also makes very clear how very many different people were involved in the enterprise. It's very well written. Engrossing and entertaining. My only complaint it that it occasionally gets sidetracked onto a side ...more
Sep 13, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
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
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Fascinating look into the development of the first antibiotics, with scenes from WWI battlefields, Nazi experiments, Nobel ceremonies, and lots of moments over microscopes. Surprise appearance by the early FDA, explaining how they started drug testing protocols. Must enjoy science and medicine, although it's written in layman's language. I loved it!

Full review on my blog
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, nonfiction, 2018
Interesting read on a history I knew very little about, detailing the rise of antibiotics, the pharmaceutical industry, and the FDA all in the backdrop of WW2. It also blows my mind reading about how common and quickly what we consider as minor bacterial infections like strep throat would kill people. We take a lot for granted.
Amy Kannel
Absolutely loved this. The kind of book I can't stop thinking about and wanting to talk about. Close to 5 stars, but I try to reserve that rating for the very, very best so that it's more meaningful.

I'm a huge fan of this type of nonfiction (history, written almost as a novel, crossing various disciplines/topics) and this story in particular was fascinating and satisfying.
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This was a very interesting history of the drug that changed medicine forever. I can’t remember where I read it, but just recently I read a brief description of its discovery. According to that author, a scientist interested only in developing dyes accidentally stumbled on one that would cure infections. This scientist’s daughter has an accident and develops an infection, then against every scientific bone in his body, he gives her the dye and voila she is healed rather to his surprise. While t ...more
Christina Dudley
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.

May 18, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Howard Pavane
One of the best non-fiction science books I’ve heard or read. The book also stands on its own as an Audible book vs. print version. There are no charts, graphs or tables. Hoye is the perfect narrator.

Thomas Hager is a an excellent story teller, covering the discovery of antibiotics, made possible by the invention of the microscope, bringing the invisibly small to view. Hager takes us from there to one of the best non-fiction science books I’ve heard or read. The book also stands on its own as a
Nancy Mills
Jun 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-science
Learned a lot from this one! I didn't know all that about the sulfa drugs being so important, especially in the war. This would have been good to read prior to reading Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America, but it was still a good followup. Worth reading, not difficult, and some interesting WWII period history in here. ...more
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
Aug 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 04, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Lots of fascinating history interwoven with some pretty boring research. It felt like the author wanted to make an entire book focused on sulfa, but tried to cover way too much ground. Certain chapters told an engaging story about an individual and those worked really well. But too many chapters were obviously based on corporate notes from Bayer and were fairly boring. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't get the sense he was rationalizing the German researchers' actions and I actually thought ...more
S. A.
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popular-science
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.
Angie Boyter
Nov 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing book about people, events, and politics.
This is predominantly a history book, not a science book, and will be enjoyed by a much broad audience. I am not a real fan of the "narrative nonfiction" genre, but when I read a book like this I realize that it is because it is a difficult genre to do well. This book does it exceedingly well. As a result, I am entertained all the way as I learn a great deal.
I admired, laughed, and sometimes wanted to cry. One of the many events that astonished me
Miri Niedrauer
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I picked up this book to procrastinate from writing my PhD dissertation on antimicrobial chemistry, justifying to myself that it sort of qualified as background research. Everyone has heard the story of Penicillin's discovery, but much of the information presented here was new even to me despite working in the field.

The discovery of Sulfa's antibacterial properties largely changed the opinions of the public regarding science-based medicine and also played a big part in creating government-regul
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Thomas Hager does not sugar coat how drugs were found or tested by all nationalities. He describes the search for medicines, the reason behind each researchers desire to find a cure, and links all of those who contributed to finding sulfa based drugs.

He also touches breifly on current antibiotics and how super bugs are developing.

He does jump around in time, which I did find a little confusing. It always took a moment to figure out what time he was now in. Indid listen to this on audio which may
Fascinating look at the discovery of sulfa antibiotics and the scientists/physicians behind the discoveries. The author did a good job of keeping my attention all the way through the book. I’ve always known that antibiotics are important to human health, but this story really hit home for me the countless and horrible death sentences people received when they had various infections before the 1930s.
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Science and Inquiry: March 2020 - Demon Under the Microscope 12 83 Mar 04, 2020 05:10PM  
Bio-Nerds: The Demon Under the Microscope by Thomas Hager 1 13 Dec 15, 2014 10:20AM  
Science and Inquiry: Audible Daily Deal for 7/24/2014 1 22 Jul 24, 2014 06:28AM  

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20 likes · 18 comments
“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.” 7 likes
“science at its best was a flower of Western culture, unbiased, apolitical, transnational, open, and progressive. It destroyed superstition and cant. It threw at least a little light into the darkness. And it worked.” 2 likes
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