Less than 100 years ago, medicine was unrecognizable from what we have today. Drugs to treat infections, diseases, any kind of illness simply did not exist the way they did now. Post-operative infections ran rampant, and while doctors knew about germs they didn’t have any way to treat the issues they caused. And then in the 1930s and 1940s, small glimmers of hope appeared: antibiotics. Of course, once discovered, antibiotics still took decades of research and testing to hit the market. And they brought their own set of issues: reactions, over-prescribing, the invent of “Big Pharma”. But it can’t be denied that they’re a modern miracle.
Rosen dives into all of this, and so much more. He starts back centuries, discussing medicine at every stage. He talks in details about the first antibiotics, how they were discovered and the difficulty of mass-producing them. I loved how he zoomed in on certain scientists and gave us their whole story, personalities and all. And not just the big names like Fleming (whose story about discovering penicillin has some major inconsistencies), but all of the many individuals toiling away on solving the problem of infection. We also see the companies emerge — Bayer, Eli Lilly, Merck, Pfizer. And the testing — research, human subjects, side effects. It’s amazing how much goes into the production of one little pill.
Now, just a few decades after their discovery, antibiotics are dwindling as resistant strains of bacteria arise. Antibiotics are prescribed when they shouldn’t be, or patients stop taking them too soon. It’s important to realize how difficult it was to create and manufacture the meds we have now, and take seriously that chance that they won’t be effective forever.