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

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

Thomas Hager. Abrams, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3440-3

In this lucidly informative and compulsively readable work, science writer Hager (The Demon Under the Microscope) explores the intertwined histories of drug discoveries and medical practice. He begins with a sweeping, 10,000 year-spanning account of opium usage, covering its multiple applications as painkiller, party drug, and means of suicide, and its many derivatives, including codeine and morphine. The latter was such a staple on Civil War battlefields—and so addictive—that it led in the 1880s to the U.S.’s first opiate crisis. Other drugs discussed include the first synthetic medicine, chloral hydrate (knockout drops); the first antibiotics (sulfa drugs); and the “mind drugs” of the 1950s, such as chlorpromazine, that revolutionized psychiatric practice. Readers will also meet the people responsible for these discoveries, such as Paracelsus, a 16th-century Swiss alchemist who tracked the effects of opium; Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who introduced the smallpox vaccine to Britain; and César Milstein and Georges Kohler, who didn’t patent their monumental discovery of monoclonal antibodies—natural drugs that target specific cells—out of a desire to share it with humanity. Hager’s thoughtful and captivating survey leaves readers with the insights that finding “magic bullets”—all-powerful drugs with no risk—is unlikely, and that no drug is all good or all bad. [em](Mar.) [/em]