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The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle

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The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat

The Story of the Penicillin Miracle

By Eric Lax

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Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United States, 28 January 2005
"Admirable, superbly researched . . . perhaps the most exciting tale of science since the apple dropped on Newton's head."
— Simon Winchester, "The New York Times"
Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin in his London laboratory in 1928 and its eventual development as the first antibiotic by a team at Oxford University headed by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain in 1942 led to the introduction of the most important family of drugs of the twentieth century.
Yet credit for penicillin is largely misplaced. Neither Fleming nor Florey and his associates ever made real money from their achievements; instead it was the American labs that won patents on penicillin's manufacture and drew royalties from its sale. Why this happened, why it took fourteen years to develop penicillin, and how it was finally done is a fascinating story of quirky individuals, missed opportunities, medical prejudice, brilliant science, shoestring research, wartime pressures, misplaced modesty, conflicts between mentors and their proté gé s, and the passage of medicine from one era to the next.

About the Author

Eric Lax is the author of "Woody Allen, A Biography" and" Life and Death on 10 West," both "New York Times" Notable Books. His work has appeared in "The New York Times Magazine," "Vanity Fair," " Life," "The Atlantic Monthly," and "Esquire," as well as in many other magazines and newspapers. He lives with his wife and two sons in Los Angeles.

Reviews

This book sets out to correct the misapprehension that Alexander Fleming, the first scientist to discover the antibacterial properties of the mold Penicillium notatum, was also responsible for developing the wonder drug that saved countless lives and ushered in the era of modern medicine. Although Fleming coined the term "penicillin," his tentative research on the mold produced few valuable results and was prematurely abandoned. More than a decade later, in 1940, a pathology team at Oxford University-headed by Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and the now almost forgotten Norman Heatley-resumed Fleming's preliminary work and eventually developed the world's first viable antibiotic. Although Fleming, Florey and Chain shared a Nobel Prize in 1945 for their revolutionary work, accolades and media attention were disproportionately bestowed on Fleming, and in the popular imagination he was transformed into the sole creator of penicillin. Lax (Woody Allen; Life and Death on 10 West) has written a commendable account of this historical oversight, conveying the thrill of discovery during the upheaval of WWII and skillfully translating the abstruse technicalities of lab work and medical jargon into enjoyable prose. Yet this book also shows that monumental discoveries are not always born of monumental stories, and the narrative contains trivial details and petty grievances that made up these scientists' circumscribed lives. Lax's treatment is disciplined and focused, but it would have been improved by a broader historical sweep and more involved discussions of penicillin's impact on the pharmaceutical industry. 18-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Beautifully researched and written, alive with scientific and human insight, Lax's fine book likely will become the classic account of penicillin's true medical beginnings."--"Los Angeles Times Book Review" Beautifully researched and written, alive with scientific and human insight, Lax's fine book likely will become the classic account of penicillin's true medical beginnings. "Los Angeles Times Book Review"" "Beautifully researched and written, alive with scientific and human insight, Lax's fine book likely will become the classic account of penicillin's true medical beginnings." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

Lax, whose previous Life and Death on 10 West and Woody Allen: A Biography drew favorable reviews, turns his attention to the fascinating story surrounding the development of penicillin during World War II. Many people believe that Alexander Fleming was solely responsible for penicillin, yet he was only one of the players. Though Fleming initially reported the discovery of penicillin, several Oxford scientists, led by Howard Florey, worked on isolating, purifying, producing, and testing the antibiotic on humans. Eventually, Florey and his colleague Ernst Chain shared the Nobel prize with Fleming. Relying heavily on interviews and personal papers, Lax consistently illustrates the major impact of the war on their research-the antibiotic was desperately needed, yet they were stymied by a constant lack of funding and the threat of enemy soldiers destroying their work. Unlike previous Florey biographies or historical accounts of penicillin, Lax focuses on the early stages of research as seen through the eyes of the Oxford scientists. This fast-paced book is recommended for all public libraries and history of medicine collections.-Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

EAN: 9780805077780
ISBN: 0805077782
Publisher: Holt McDougal
Dimensions: 20.83 x 13.97 x 2.54 centimetres (0.29 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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