The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster that Launched the War on Cancer

Jennet Conant. Norton, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-324-00250-5
Historian Conant (Man of the Hour) reveals the surprising links between chemotherapy and chemical weapons in this well-researched and engrossing account. The American Liberty ship John Harvey was carrying a secret cargo of 2,000 mustard bombs when it was sunk in a 1943 Luftwaffe attack on Bari, Italy. Assigned to examine a mysterious illness afflicting the surviving sailors, Lieut. Col. Stewart Alexander saw through a “concerted Allied effort to cover up the presence of poison gas in the harbor” and diagnosed mustard gas poisoning. He also connected the sailors' symptoms to a research project he had previously performed on the toxic effects of mustard on white blood cells. Though censored at the time, Alexander’s report was picked up by Col. Cornelius P. Rhoads, who would later head the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. Rhoads drew on Alexander’s study to produce new and highly experimental cancer trials using nitrogen mustards. Though lay readers may find some descriptions of medical breakthroughs overly technical, Conant documents the many twists and turns of this little-known story with verve and precision. WWII aficionados and medical history fans will be fascinated by this illuminating chronicle. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/03/2020
Release date: 09/08/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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