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Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine
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Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  2,362 ratings  ·  317 reviews
Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 5th 2019 by Harry N. Abrams
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 ·  2,362 ratings  ·  317 reviews

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Petra-X is getting covered in Soufriere ash
I finished the book. All of it was interesting. The future of drug research is entirely predicated on what profits Big Pharma might make. Cheap drugs that can be sold to the masses, like statins, or $1,000 a pop ones like Humira. (view spoiler)

In one way this is very good for us all, the most profitable drugs will be those that do something amazing, like antibiotics, painkillers, th
Mario the lone bookwolf
Hager shows how huge the impact of some chemicals and elements on human history has been.

If the opium poppy would have preferred other areas to grow or would have been more of a weed that grows everywhere, much between total global sedation or a new balance of power for the ones controlling the growing areas could have arisen.

Vaccination would have been, even with very primitive technology, been possible and a country with people immune to a virus like smallpox that is actively spreading it, as
Peter Tillman
A really good history of medicine told through drugs. Author Hager writes well, doesn’t have an axe to grind and has done his homework. One of the best popular-science books I’ve seen in awhile. Highly recommended: 4.5 stars, rounded up.

Three of the ten titular drugs are opium, morphine, heroin and the modern synthetic opioids (fentanyl, oxycontin, etc.). OK, that’s five or six already, but the opioids earn their outsize space in the book by doing so well at pain control — nothing else is anywhe
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The narrator is fantastic, and the book itself is interesting and offers readers a look at how drugs are made, the societal consequences of their use, and what's next in pharmaceutical offerings. The chapters on heroin, and other opioids were a sobering reminder that new drugs often have terrible side affects. I was most intrigued by the chapter on monoclonal antibodies, how they are made, why they are so expensive, and how they are a game-changer in curing or treating a disease. ...more
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really interesting books about several popular and some life saving drugs. The part I liked best was the focus on the money angle--what kind of drugs sell (lipitor and viagra for example) and how the profit motive makes for bad decisionmaking in drug research. We tend to assume that patent protection and the ability to make tons of money leads to better drugs, but it leads to drugs like viagra. Turns out there isn't all that much money in life-saving drugs that you just take once and are done wi ...more
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
There's plenty of interesting information in this book. However, the author's chatty, informal writing style began grating on me after a while. It was as though this very complex topic was intentionally being dumbed down. About half way through I confess to skimming a bit here and there. Hence the two stars. ...more
Evan Wondrasek
Apr 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: would-read-again
I decided to read this book because I was craving learning something new, and drugs are fascinating because I still don't really understand how they work. (One of my previous favorite books about drugs is Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich , which focuses on amphetamines and their prevalence in WWII.)

I loved this book. Deeply researched and well-written, it covered both the chemistry and especially the history and origins of many significant drugs, including opioids/opiates, anti-psychotics, a
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
A wonderful book on drugs and their impact on society

I had read “Alchemy of Air” by Thomas Hager and so I had high expectations for “10 Drugs” and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. The book has everything I like: clearly explained medicine and science, lots of history, and social implications of the drugs. Hager’s appraisal is honest - he thinks drugs are a good thing but that the drug companies are much less so. Hager is a great writer, and as with some of the drugs in the book, his writing
Abhijeet Singh
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very well researched. Is exactly what it promises to be: A collection of 10 very well written essays about how the medical/pharma industry came to be what it is.
Specifically, I was fascinated by the chapters on monoclonal antibodies, smallpox and the opium wars.
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: medicine
Entertaining read about ten drugs that shaped the world.
An interesting approach to important drugs in the history of medicine. With its emphasis on medicine as opposed to other aspects of the impact of drugs on the modern world, this one is different from others I’ve read the past. The discussion of statins was informative. Also, I knew nothing about monoclonal antibodies, so that was educational as well.

He mentions the so-called “war on drugs” in this book and lists a number of reasons for it, but fails to mention the racist agenda behind the way th
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I do seem to have a soft spot for these "explaining the world through [number] of [things]", and Ten Drugs is up there with the best of them, if perhaps lacking a touch of the stylistical wonders that make The Botany of Desire and Stuff Matters absolute gems. In discussing everything from opium to antibiotics to Viagra, Hager touches on history, chemistry, biology, and even economics in a very accesible, yet not dumbed-down way. (At least for a reader who should know more about all these topics ...more
Mar 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
Every time we take a pill, a shot or vaccination, we rarely think about how it was created, it’s history or the motivation behind it. We take what we need, what we don’t need, and try to keep going about our lives. Thomas Hager breaks down the timeline throughout history on how we got to where we are today through his book, Ten Drugs, by focusing on ten drugs (with a number of honorable mentions) starting with the source of what you could argue started it all: opium.

Hager made it very clear in t
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this one.

It's not a science book per se, if you're looking for chemical structures and detailed descriptions of certain drugs, this may disappoint you. It's written like a novel and the author has a great, engaging way to present information.

I got goosebumps at times because you're really feeling with these people and their discoveries (even if it all happened so long ago). Sometimes it's just a tad cheesy, but that was fine for me, I love this. It stays in your mind (especially the Cha
Engin Yapici
Sep 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
I'm listening to Chapter 2 and he just attributed all the great Persian medicine work to Arabs. He said Ibn Sina was an Arab. How ignorant are you? You don't even have the most basic fact about history of medicine and went on writing a full book? You should be ashamed of yourself. I'm returning the book. ...more
Kyle Muntz
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Read most of this in one night. It's a great survey of medical history, which (aside from the usual suspects) covered some important landmarks I've never read about before: heart medication, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, antibiotics, viagra, etc. All of these have much more interesting stories than I'd ever imagined. The book also, without entirely meaning to, shows the gradual birth of Big Pharma and the terrible creature it's become, plus an interesting look at how evolving attitudes toward ...more
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wish I read this book before getting my masters in pharmacology. Would read it again!
Blake Roche
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I love Thomas Hager's other books, The Demon Under the Microscope and The Alchemy of Air. They're some of my favorite nonfiction writing and I regularly recommend them to friends. But this one is WEIRD. I'm not sure what happened here, but there's just a lot wrong. The author leads early on with the fact that his publisher recommended the idea. I'm not sure if his resulting ideas were guided heavily by them or whether he just had to rush to get this out...but this is definitely his least thoroug ...more
Hazel Bright
Aug 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This one had me quoting it for about a week. When I offered to loan my copy to my husband, he said he didn't need to read it since I surely had recited most of the book to him already. I gave it to him anyway. Fun and fascinating.

One quibble: while the author correctly notes that statin drugs work well to reduce blood cholesterol and do little to reduce death from heart disease, he also says that one of the problems with statins is that people use them irresponsibly, and use their statin intake
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
A history of pharmacology that spotlights 10 drugs. Each drug is marketed as a wonder only to be undone by its side effects. Pros and cons to each one, yet it seems like people think there will still be a "magic bullet." Excellent. ...more
Carlos Martinez
Jun 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
Ten Drugs that Shook the World! This is a really fun and interesting book, overflowing with neat facts about opiates, statins, antibiotics, antidepressants, monoclonal antibodies, and more. The writing is enjoyably casual and engaging, and the balance of not-too-challenging pop science and anecdote made it ideal for consumption in audiobook form. The author mainly restrains himself from drawing big bold conclusions relating to the pharmaceutical industry, but where he does so, his ideas are deci ...more
Oct 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Americans make up 5% of the world's population, they are consuming 50% of the drugs. This is a good book on the history of well known drugs, like opium, morphine, heroin, opioids, antibiotics, birth control pills, and Viagra. Much of it is told as stories about how the creators found or made the drugs. ...more
Joseph L.
Jun 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at:
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Ten Drugs is as informative as it is entertaining.

The history of ten drugs or family of drugs and the influence on medicine and society they had is at the core of this book.

The financial aspects of the pharmaceutical industry were what I found most interesting.
Blake Meredith
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading. This book delivers a clear-eyed view of drugs and the pharmaceutical industry by using some of history’s most important drugs as examples. This book is particularly interesting for those who are concerned by the current opioid crisis.
Dan Connors
Jul 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-books
This is one of my favorite books of the year so far. With the enormous amounts of money we spend on drugs, I'm surprised there haven't been more tomes on this important topic.
Hager tells eleven fascinating stories about eleven drugs (he cheats and covers the pill and Viagra in the same chapter), and how they came to be. The stories, some miraculous, others proving the importance of relentless scientific trial and error, are absorbing and wonderful. He shows how these drugs and their offspring ha
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was pretty interesting and had lots of cool stories about the development of various drugs. What I found most interesting was the bits on the advertising and regulation of drugs/ pharmaceuticals by drug companies and the government. The author briefly explores the origins of drug laws and their historical contexts at various points in the book. Not only did I find these the most interesting parts of the book but the most crucial and relevant to society. It is interesting and fun to kno ...more
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. I enjoyed how Hager presented a few of the big drugs that have revolutionized medicine and walked me through the history and discovery of each. It reminds me that how I view modern medicine and the drugs involved are very new relative to the evolution of humanity. Somehow this perspective makes me realize how lucky I am and how lucky we are as a society that so many diseases that one upon a time decimated families and communities have basically been eradicated. There are newer and m ...more
Kariuki Njiru
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
The second chapter begins with the story of Lady Mary Pierrepont. An aristocrat lady who loves writing. At first, I thought this would be a story of how Mary (was Shelley) and how she was inspired to write Frankenstein from all the deaths of people who died of smallpox. I was genuinely surprised that Mary was the wife to diplomat and that she introduced vaccination to the British. Something she learned from Ottoman women while she was on a posting in Constantinople.

In that chapter and subsequen
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I phenomenally enjoyed this. It takes a special blend of information and intrigue in any non-fiction text that is geared to entertain and this book knocks it out of the park. Fascinating looks into drugs I had no idea existed or how they interact in the body. The success behind most of these drugs, I have learned, is pretty much all accidental. Personally, I am about as straight edge as they come in terms of pharmaceutical use; I wince every time I take a multivitamin. Still, I found the narrati ...more
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