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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  2,845 ratings  ·  382 reviews
We know it simply as "the pill," yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune ...more
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 13th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company
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Joseph Pfeffer
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In early 2012, Mitt Romney got blindsided. Not by a question on the national debt, Iran, or immigration. One of the panelists at a Republican primary debates asked Mitt if he favored banning birth control. Mitt looked stunned. "I thought that was settled," he said. "Who raised the question," or some such thing.

One can hardly fault Mitt. To those of us old enough to have lived through the development of The Pill and all it signified, these issues seemed politically and culturally set in place by
This is an epic adventure starring four unlikely heroes: two middle-aged doctors, Gregory Pincus, fired by Harvard, and John Rock, a Catholic; and two older ladies, Margaret Sanger, who left her first husband and family and grew increasingly addicted to alcohol and prescription pills, and Katharine McCormick, whose mentally ill husband died and left her with a huge fortune she dug into the birth control movement.

From testing progesterone on rabbits to the desperate hunt for human test subjects i
Aug 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's always a joy to find a non-fiction book that's both engaging and informative.

Reading The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution reminded me very much of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; chances are if you liked that book, you'll enjoy this one. In telling the story of the various people and processes that came together in order to introduce the birth control pill, Jonathan Eig offers a well-written, interesting narrative that fleshes out the var
This may be one of the (if not the) best micro-history non-fiction books I've ever read. This was fantastic.

A well-written page turner, with just enough heart and historical context to make it a truly understandable read. I'm not sure I can recommend this enough.

Eig focuses on 4 of the main actors in the search for the creation of a science-based, pill form of birth control. There is Margaret Sanger, the aging founder of Planned Parenthood; Katherine McCormick, one of the first women to graduate
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Okay, this is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I have ever read. It felt like every fact that was brought up (which there are a lot of), I wanted to write down to save and remember. I even started to do that, but there's so many more that I am already forgetting. Not only is it interesting from a feminist perspective, I also thought the narrative of scientific experiments and trials, as well as the interaction that the development of the pill had with culture and eugenics, to be fas ...more
Bobby  Title
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I heard author Eig on Book TV tell about this book and knew I simply had to read it. Little did I know that I would find myself is almost every chapter!

I graduated from high school in 1953, married in 1955, and had my 4th child in 1961. Babies just kept coming. In 1961 two things happened: my husband had a vasectomy AND he went to work for Parke-Davis Pharmaceutical as a "detail man." It was not until then that we knew that a "pill" was on its way. He had to keep abreast of where P-D's "Norlest
Dec 10, 2014 marked it as did-not-finish
Made it to page 85 and I'm bored to tears. So far this is reading more like a way-too-detailed biography of one of the main scientists behind the creation of the pill and I'm getting bogged down my too much info I don't care about. On to the next one!
Oct 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Sex for the pleasure of women? To many, that idea was as unthinkable in 1950 as putting a man on the moon or playing baseball on plastic grass. Worse, it was dangerous. What would happen to the institutions of marriage and family? What would happen to love? If women had the power to control their own bodies, if they had the ability to choose when and whether they got pregnant, what would they want next? Two thousand years of Christianity and three hundred years of American Puritanism wo
Sep 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
It was rather horrifying to read about the plight of women in the early 20th century (and before), forced to have child after child because of a lack of understanding about the workings of human reproduction, with the additional taboo added on preventing women from even talking about such things, or suggesting that they have control over their own bodies. How heartbreaking to learn about woman after woman having 5 or 8 kids (or risking back alley abortions) because she couldn't say no to her hus ...more
Nov 02, 2014 rated it liked it
Straightforward, solidly-written and -researched history of the birth control pill. Eig brings together the major players, the culture at the time, and the salient facts that ultimately culminated in the pill being brought to market -- which includes some surprisingly shady behavior from those involved. The narrative is a bit bumpy with some confusing chronology and hamfisted attempts at cliffhangers, and there is nothing especially impressive about the prose. Once in a while, Eig’s own unconsci ...more
Divya Shanmugam
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would super recommend, but gets a little slow when talking about the pharmaceutical approval process

Worth remembering:
* Katherine McCormick, after financially supporting the entirety of birth control research, built an undergraduate dorm for women at MIT — she dedicated it to her late husband, Stanley McCormick, which makes me think of it like an ugly Taj Mahal
* George bush’s grandfather (George h.w. bush’s father!) was a huge proponent of planned parenthood and served as their first treasurer
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was really interesting, but it also felt somewhat disingenuous. The author tried to turn the four "crusaders" into hero figures, but none of them, except for the Catholic O.B., even seemed like nice people. And the author really downplayed Margaret Sanger's Eugenics beliefs in order to make her more palatable as the heroine of the story. Basically, though, she wanted birth control in part to control the undesirables (blacks, poor people, etc.) from continuing to populate the earth. The ...more
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Birth of the Pill is an absolutely fascinating history of not only what must be the most important technical development of the 20th century, but a look at so many concepts that have changed over the last 60 years. The size and control of pharmaceutical companies. The lack of money involved except for Searle and Jack Searle who showed great bravery. I did not realize that in most parts of the world, birth control was illegal. Certainly in most states. I also did not realize that Margaret San ...more
Anita Pomerantz
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: f2f-book-club
This book tells a moderately interesting story in a strong narrative voice.

Eig tells us of four people - - a feminist (Margaret Sanger), a millionaire, a researcher, and a Catholic doctor who have the goal of developing a pill that prevents pregnancy. Pincus, the researcher, is to me, the most interesting. He is a man who fails and fails (at multiple things) and yet never gives up his very pioneering spirit and ultimately achieves his goals. I found his story inspirational.

McCormick, a wealthy
Larry Bassett
Dec 22, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, kindle
This book contains a lot more information than I needed or wanted to know about the development of the birth control pill. It focuses on four people who were central in The effort. Most of the scientific research happened in the 1950s and involved very little money that mostly came from one woman. One of the interesting things is that there is not a patent on the pill as the major developer chose not to obtain one. Another interesting thing is that Planned Parenthood and its predecessors did not ...more
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The only criticisms I have have for this book are that at times it was a little repetitive, and I found the timeline jumped around a bit too much for my liking. That being said the story of the creation of the pill is truly fascinating and as a young woman in my twenties, the idea that the pill was at one point in time highly controversial had never really occurred to me until I heard of this book. Eig has done an amazing job of turning these four crucial figures into fully realised peopl
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Pretty amazing details that I never knew - like the fact that research on the pill was basically funded and fueled by older, wealthy women! Plenty of great insights into something that profoundly changed the prospects for women -- and a rapid read, which was a pleasant surprise. An excellent read given today's political climate as well -- to remind us of what women have achieved.
Dec 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Keep your rosaries out of my fucking ovaries! (Pretty much what I was thinking while reading this) The stats, the individual stories, and how much opposition the team of 4 faced- it is a captivating story, but also enraging and relevant to the fight over a woman's body that is STILL a fight thanks to the 'Gynoticians' on the Hill.
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So good to get back into reading non-fiction again. This is an educational and very readable history of the birth control pill, from its clinical development to its obstacles with the Catholic Church and its debate about its morality. But no one can argue that it hasn't made a huge difference in women's lives, rights, health, and ultimate sexual freedom.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: adultnon-fiction
This was an interesting read and made me completely grateful that women now have a choice about when or when not to have children.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A reading group had picked this book for discussion and though I did not know very much about the history of the pill, it looked interesting and I love a good non-fiction book. Well, I was blown away at how well written and interesting this book was. The story revolves around the four main players in the development of the birth control pill. First, we have Margaret Sanger, well known women’s activist who opened the first birth control clinic and who brought in Katharine McCormick whose husband ...more
This is a very interesting account of how Margaret Sanger got her idea of a pill that women could take to prevent pregnancy turned into a reality. Because of the book, I have a much better understanding of who Margaret Sanger was and why she became so determined to have birth control made available to women WITHOUT it being illegal and WITH it being EASY. For example, Sanger was actually against abortion as a form of birth control because it was dangerous and she disagreed with it in principle. ...more
Migdalia Jimenez
Eig, a journalist does a fantastic job of telling the story of birth control and how it went from illegal to mainstream, and the four people that made it happen. Margaret Sanger is the most well-known of the historical figures featured in the book and it was fascinating to learn more about her, beyond the basic outline i had been aware of.

The portrait of what our society looked like before the pill, or any kind of contraception was available or even legal is chilling.

One of the best parts is t
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An informative but easy read covering various currents in birth control in the 60 years leading up to its debut. It was a pill so revolutionary, so important that it immediately became known as The Pill, and still is, over 50 years later. The author frequently compares it to its other great contemporary, the Salk vaccine. The book is heavy on biography, particularly of Margaret Sanger, who I definitely needed to know more about (she's been popping up in other reading of mine). I always thought t ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution covers the development of the birth control pill by exploring the 4 different people who helped make it a reality: Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), Katharine McCormick (socialite who funded the entire project), Gregory Pincus (a researcher kicked out of Harvard for his work with in vitro fertilization), and John Rock (a Catholic doctor who advocated for contraception for his patients).

I had read qu
May 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was terrific. Very fast paced, and very well written. It appears to be almost a miracle that the Pill came to be, and it is a little shocking to be reminded of how very limited women's lives were before we had control over pregnancy. --Only a few decades ago! Now we just have to keep the Republicans from dragging us back to the pre-birth control and pre-abortion era.

I was especially intrigued with Margaret Sanger. She must have been a real firebrand. I would like to read one or two bio
Laura VanZant
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this. It was obviously very scientific at times and could be quite dense, but the way the information was presented still managed to be relatively accessible for those without scientific backgrounds (me). The only part I really didn’t like was the non-linear timeline. I’d be reading and suddenly the story would jump ahead then back then ahead again. I found that confusing.
Apr 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
My sister recommended this to me over TWO YEARS ago. It sounded dry, so I didn't jump on it. It is a really compelling story. A must-read to further understanding of the issues women face. (and of the progress we've made in research ethics).
Sep 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
I am booking this one under the slogan: "The more you know!" and am glad that I received some education. One the other hand it was disheartening to realize, that we are still discussing similar topics to this day. I just wished that there was a true separation of state and church and that elected official's religious beliefs wouldn't impact the lives of women the way they do.
Feb 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had a lot of fun reading this book (I'm also very passionate about sexual health and constantly reading articles about this topic). Jonathan Eig wrote it in a very riveting way that kept me engaged and supportive to the cause of pushing The Pill onto the market through all the religious and political hurdles during the 1950s. Eig wrote about the four people in such a personalized manner that I felt like I got to know them as their lives and careers developed. The Pill was very revolutionary in ...more
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Jonathan Eig is the author of five books, three of them New York Times best sellers. He is a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal. His most recent book is "Ali: A Life," hailed as an "epic" by Joyce Carol Oates in her New York Times review. His previous books are: "Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig;" "Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season;" "Get Capone;" and ...more

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“Doctors would only prescribe birth control in the most dire of circumstances, and even then, what form of birth control would they prescribe? There were no reliable options, except perhaps the condom. But condoms depended on the cooperation of men, and Sanger’s experience in the tenements of New York City told her that men didn’t mind six or seven children so long as they were able to enjoy sex when the mood struck them. Women were the ones dealing most with the consequences of sex, not only because they were the ones getting pregnant but also because they were the ones raising the children.” 1 likes
“Greatness is a spiritual condition, worthy to excite love, interest, and admiration.” 1 likes
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