The Literary Examiner BY TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine by Thomas Hager; c.2019, Abrams Press; $26.00; 20 pages A certain fictional British nanny was First up, says Hager, is opium, with a correct. history that literally circles the globe. A spoonful of sugar helps with the Once upon a time, it was a drug of meds, but in your case, you choice: early Romans could need a cup of it. Your illness is openly buy opium-infused cakes real, the pills are big, the shot on the streets, but even they is small, you’ll feel better when knew the addictive properties it’s done, and in Ten Drugs by of the drug. The British traded Thomas Hager, you’ll find out with opium, it was smuggled how our cures affected more into China, even Thomas Jefthan just our health. ferson used it. Without it, the To see it all laid out was invention of syringes might’ve a shock. been delayed but opium and On a recent trip to Great its cousin, heroin, have caused Britain, Thomas Hager saw mankind a lot of problems, Thomas Hager an exhibit in which 14,000 even as they alleviated a lot of pills – the lifetime prescription pain. consumption of an average Brit – were Lady Mary Montagu, a survivor of displayed on one 46-foot-long table. More smallpox, was with her husband in Conshocking, he says, is that Great Britain’s stantinople in the early 1700s when she pill-taking “pales in comparison” to that noticed that Muslim women had unblemof American consumers. ished skin, indicating that they hadn’t We can’t live without our meds. contracted smallpox. When she asked Sometimes, we can’t live with them. But how, they showed her their very rudiwhich ones changed the world? mentary method of smallpox prevention.
Lady Montagu was so amazed that she used her own children to prove that their method worked. Sulfa drugs led to a Nobel Prize for a scientist who had to refuse it. The Pill has its roots literally in roots, and its most logical counterpart began as a heart disease medicine. And as for modern drugs, addiction rates just keep going up. In his introduction, Hager explains how he chose the ten drugs in this book: aspirin and penicillin, for example, are not here; inoculations are. Inclusion and omission, therefore, is quite subjective and perhaps somewhat argument-sparking, so keep that in mind as you read Ten Drugs. The other thing to know here – the thing that makes this book so appealing – is that it’s not just about ten individual
drugs. No, Hager unearthed his information for casual readers who aren’t necessarily in medical fields, so the book’s focus is much wider as he takes a timetraveling jaunt around the world to show how drugs have been embraced, evolved, and ejected. Truly, in the best sense of the word, it’s a trip. Readers who wonder how we got here, in the opioid crisis and in kerfuffles over the price of prescriptions, will appreciate that, as will folks who like unusual reads. If you’ve taken your medicines today, you’ll want a dose of this. Missing Ten Drugs may be a bitter pill to swallow. Terri Schlichenmeyer is a professional book reviewer who has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book.
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4/15/2019 11:04:17 AM
Birmingham Medical News
MAY 2019 • 21
Birmingham Medical News May 2019