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

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Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine.  ​Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, Viagra, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies. This is a deep, wide-ranging, and wildly entertaining book.


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Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine.  ​Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, Viagra, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies. This is a deep, wide-ranging, and wildly entertaining book.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra in Cancun being tortured by a dentist

    I finished the book. All of it was interesting. The future of drug research is entirely predicated on what profits Big Pharma might make. Cheap drugs that can be sold to the masses, like statins, or $1,000 a pop ones like Humira. (view spoiler)[It is worth reading the whole of that article, or if you must skim, the last couple of sentences. (hide spoiler)] In one way this is very good for us all, the most profitable drugs will be those that do something amazing, like antibiotics, painkillers, th I finished the book. All of it was interesting. The future of drug research is entirely predicated on what profits Big Pharma might make. Cheap drugs that can be sold to the masses, like statins, or $1,000 a pop ones like Humira. (view spoiler)[It is worth reading the whole of that article, or if you must skim, the last couple of sentences. (hide spoiler)] In one way this is very good for us all, the most profitable drugs will be those that do something amazing, like antibiotics, painkillers, the Pill, viagra etc. They will address a health issue in a major way. In another way, it isn't so good. As with the medications designed to stave off the effects of old age, whether it is minor like baldness or major like osteoporosis, the emphasis is and very likely will be, on continual, rest-of-your-life treatment rather than a cure. But without the profit motive, who would invest millions into researching something that would stop Alzheimer's? No government could afford to do so. The title is catchy but incorrect. The true title should have been, "Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills have Shaped the History of our Societies - the book is that good, that informative and so well-written, it's a joy to read. _________ Notes on reading the book I've read the chapter on opium which was interesting in that no one thought it was a harmful drug except the Chinese. That country was devastated by the lethargy and addiction brought on by it, brought on by the British who were the most determined and evil drug dealers that ever existed, resulting in the Opium Wars. In the UK, the drug was thought to be beneficial and added to many medicines for children as well as adults. In particular it was thought of as a woman's drug. The middle and upper class women indulged in their after-dinner (and at all other times) reveries while the men drank port! The second chapter was a history of vaccination against smallpox. It wasn't the usual fake history of Edward Jenner noticing that dairymaids who had previously had the very mild cowpox never got smallpox and inoculating people with a small amount of infectious material thereby gaining himself the title, 'Father of Vaccination'. The truth of the matter was that on a diplomatic posting to Turkey with her husband, Lady Mary Montagu, saw that women in harems had beautiful complexions and discovered that they were having smallpox pus scraped into their skin resulting in a mild case of smallpox, no scarring and up and about in a couple of days. She brought this to England, publicly having her baby daughter inoculated. What followed is a horror story. Instead of following the Turkish method, English physicians were isolating children giving them weeks of repeated laxatives, bloodlettings and low-fibre diets to 'prepare' them. Some children became terribly ill, but the physicians became terribly rich from all this 'preparatory treatment'. One of the children was Edward Jenner and thence grew the myth...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mario the lone bookwolf

    Hager shows how huge the impact of some chemicals and elements on human history has been. If the opium poppy would have preferred other areas to grow or would have been more of a weed that grows everywhere, much between total global sedation or a new balance of power for the ones controlling the growing areas could have arisen. Vaccination would have been, even with very primitive technology, been possible and a country with people immune to a virus like smallpox that is actively spreading it, as Hager shows how huge the impact of some chemicals and elements on human history has been. If the opium poppy would have preferred other areas to grow or would have been more of a weed that grows everywhere, much between total global sedation or a new balance of power for the ones controlling the growing areas could have arisen. Vaccination would have been, even with very primitive technology, been possible and a country with people immune to a virus like smallpox that is actively spreading it, as part of biological warfare tactics, would have had an immense advantage. Getting antibiotics in the form of cultivating fungi and perfecting the method over centuries without any modern technology might have led to an all-natural approach to world domination thanks to gangrene free soldiers that are quickly back on the battlefield. Other drugs such as statins and Viagra might have no Big History (ical) impact, but a positive one on the health and joy of both patients and big pharma, a behemoth Hager has some things to say about, such as risking the health of millions of people by just developing towards the most profitable drugs and ignoring other, often more important research in fields such as antibiotics or vaccinations or cheap generics or… I like mind games, hypothesis, uchronias, alternative realities and it are ideas, technologies, and chemicals that formed, often in union with crazy coincidences, human history. Just imagine for instance: Mongols with poisons so potent that a tiny cut by an arrowhead can immediately kill. Any evil empire as the only one with antibiotics or a similar important medical technique. Ancient Rome or another ancient empire controlling the opium trade and using it as a weapon as the Brits did. A much earlier development of the technologies necessary to produce something in high quantities and quality. Etc. The emperor or god king was nothing without the herbal women and alchemists. A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timelin...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    A really good history of medicine told through drugs. Author Hager writes well, doesn’t have an axe to grind and has done his homework. One of the best popular-science books I’ve seen in awhile. Highly recommended: 4.5 stars, rounded up. Three of the ten titular drugs are opium, morphine, heroin and the modern synthetic opioids (fentanyl, oxycontin, etc.). OK, that’s five or six already, but the opioids earn their outsize space in the book by doing so well at pain control — nothing else is anywhe A really good history of medicine told through drugs. Author Hager writes well, doesn’t have an axe to grind and has done his homework. One of the best popular-science books I’ve seen in awhile. Highly recommended: 4.5 stars, rounded up. Three of the ten titular drugs are opium, morphine, heroin and the modern synthetic opioids (fentanyl, oxycontin, etc.). OK, that’s five or six already, but the opioids earn their outsize space in the book by doing so well at pain control — nothing else is anywhere nearly so good for severe pain — and with their intractable problem of addiction. Despite 100+ years of strenuous efforts by the chemists, the opioids are ALL highly addictive, and once a person is addicted, something like 90% stay addicted for the rest of their life. Which may be short, as fatal overdoses are common. Per Hager, “Opioid overdoses kill more Americans than car accidents and gun homicides put together.” In the US, there have been at least three opioid crises since the mid-1840s. It’s a recurring problem that isn’t going away. Another impressively-researched chapter is on statins, the cholesterol-reducing drugs that are widely prescribed, even for groups at pretty low risk for heart problems. The author is in that group, did his homework, and concluded that, for him, the risks outweighed the benefits. But by a small margin, and you might decide differently. Hager also wrote “Understanding Statins”, a short, inexpensive ebook based on his research: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3... The review that led me to read the book is also the best I saw online, by John Steele Gordon at the WSJ: https://www.wsj.com/articles/ten-drug... It’s paywalled, but I would be happy to send you a copy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hayley

    The narrator is fantastic, and the book itself is interesting and offers readers a look at how drugs are made, the societal consequences of their use, and what's next in pharmaceutical offerings. The chapters on heroin, and other opioids were a sobering reminder that new drugs often have terrible side affects. I was most intrigued by the chapter on monoclonal antibodies, how they are made, why they are so expensive, and how they are a game-changer in curing or treating a disease. The narrator is fantastic, and the book itself is interesting and offers readers a look at how drugs are made, the societal consequences of their use, and what's next in pharmaceutical offerings. The chapters on heroin, and other opioids were a sobering reminder that new drugs often have terrible side affects. I was most intrigued by the chapter on monoclonal antibodies, how they are made, why they are so expensive, and how they are a game-changer in curing or treating a disease.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Morgan Blackledge

    Thomas Hager’s meandering (in a good way) and selective (also in a good way) history (sorta-kinda) of the evolution and cultural impact of pharmacology. Beginning 10,000 years ago with opium. Hager discusses ancient preparations and uses, through to the opium wars, on to opium dens, through to the modern discovery of morphine and heroin, and the concurrent discovery of hypodermic syringes and intravenous drug administration. One of Hager‘s more interesting observations is that up until pretty rece Thomas Hager’s meandering (in a good way) and selective (also in a good way) history (sorta-kinda) of the evolution and cultural impact of pharmacology. Beginning 10,000 years ago with opium. Hager discusses ancient preparations and uses, through to the opium wars, on to opium dens, through to the modern discovery of morphine and heroin, and the concurrent discovery of hypodermic syringes and intravenous drug administration. One of Hager‘s more interesting observations is that up until pretty recently, self medication was considered a basic human right, particularly in the USA, and as recently as the 1920’s, drugs like heroin (a popular and perfectly legal home remedy at that time) were available via mail order, without prescription. Essentially you would mail some money away, and receive a little heroin kit, replete with hypodermic rig. 😳… This eventually (and unsurprisingly) lead to the first Amarican opioid crisis. That along with the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic, makes our current day circumstances feel like groundhogs day centennial addition. Hager’s next stop is chloral hydrate aka ‘knock out drops’. The prototypical date rape drug colloquially referred to as a Micky Finn in gangster film parlance. Not only was chloral hydrate diverted for those absolutely reprehensible uses previously mentioned. It was also utilized therapeutically as a sedative and hypnotic, and (for better or for worse) served as the progenitor to today’s anxiolytic class medications e.g. barbiturates and benzodiazepines. I say for better and for worse, because anxiolytic drugs have been very helpful for a lot of people, and (and…) they are also the scourge of my (and countless others) existence. I’m a mental health clinician, and the clincial director of an addiction treatment center, and (as anyone in the recovery field can attest) benzodiazepines e.g. Klonnpin, Xanax etc. are an enormous problem in so far as they are ridiculously addictive, extremely difficult to kick, and obscenely dangerous, particularly when misused in combination with alcohol and/or opioids. Hager transitions to vaccines. And in one of the more memorable chapters, discusses the all but forgotten contribution of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), who is largely responsible for importing the practice of inoculation for smallpox from the Muslim world to Europe. Apparently there were anti-vaccers back then too. So yeah… And (of course) Ms. Montagu took hella shit because she was a female intellectual. But the practice caught on and smallpox (as well as a bunch of other awful diseases) are (like Ms. Montagu herself) also all but forgotten (but in the good way). Up next, Hager covers sulfa drugs, the first antibiotic, which are incidentally, the active ingredients of that weird white powder that WWII medics shook into field wounds (see every WWII film ever made). Hager does a great job of discussing the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria and subsequent treatment resistant infections and diseases, and the almost equally vexing lack of incentives to continue to develop new antibiotics. Why so few new antibiotics? Because capitalism! That’s right. Not much profit to be made in antibiotics so… One of Hager’s talking points is the proposition that there should be more not for profit or publicly funded options for development of less profitable but needed medications. And here comes the political dead end. Anyway. Hager goes on to cover the development of the first antipsychotic drugs, which emptied the god awful public asylums in the 1980’s (a very good thing) and which also significantly contributed to the current homelessness epidemic (a very bad thing). Hager also covers Viagra and statins (read the book if you’re interested). And ends on monoclonal antibodies and other large molecule biological medications, and the future role of personal genomics, and digital drugs (read the book for these chapters alone). Ultimately, Hager is both cautious and exuberant about the future of pharmacologically. In the end, Hager simply states: “great things are on the way“ And that I am inclined to believe. With the caveat (clearly implicit in the text) that we need to become increasingly educated, sophisticated and cautious consumers of medicine. This is a really good book. And towards the end of it, as I was considering writing this review, it dawned on me that: I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Precisely why didn’t I love it? Well that is a little hard to say. 10 Drugs left me feeling entertained and educated, but just slightly underwhelmed. Hager is a very entertaining author, and the book reads like a summer fun page turner for science dorks (yes to all of that). It’s interesting enough to keep you engaged It’s informative enough to feel productive. And it’s playful enough to take to the beach. In other words. 10 Drugs is good for ’recreational use’. But in the end, it felt a little (just a little) less mind altering than I would have liked. It’s still a really really good book. Definitely worth reading. Just not quite 5 stars (for me).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    There's plenty of interesting information in this book. However, the author's chatty, informal writing style began grating on me after a while. It was as though this very complex topic was intentionally being dumbed down. About half way through I confess to skimming a bit here and there. Hence the two stars. There's plenty of interesting information in this book. However, the author's chatty, informal writing style began grating on me after a while. It was as though this very complex topic was intentionally being dumbed down. About half way through I confess to skimming a bit here and there. Hence the two stars.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I feel like the older I get, the dumber I feel and the less I feel like I know how to review books I finish. I wonder if there's a pill for that? Facetiousness aside (sort of... the braindrain part is true), I enjoyed this quite a lot. I love origin stories, and the discovery or invention of world-altering substances is right up my alley. This book covers a lot of drugs (the title says 10, but it's quite a bit more than that, because some of them are classes of drugs with many variations and for I feel like the older I get, the dumber I feel and the less I feel like I know how to review books I finish. I wonder if there's a pill for that? Facetiousness aside (sort of... the braindrain part is true), I enjoyed this quite a lot. I love origin stories, and the discovery or invention of world-altering substances is right up my alley. This book covers a lot of drugs (the title says 10, but it's quite a bit more than that, because some of them are classes of drugs with many variations and forms) and how they came to be, how they filled a need, how they revolutionized care or the medical industry, and eventually, how they really became an industry on their own. Anyway, I thought this was interesting and informative and the braindrain has me running out of things to say, so... Bye.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Really interesting books about several popular and some life saving drugs. The part I liked best was the focus on the money angle--what kind of drugs sell (lipitor and viagra for example) and how the profit motive makes for bad decisionmaking in drug research. We tend to assume that patent protection and the ability to make tons of money leads to better drugs, but it leads to drugs like viagra. Turns out there isn't all that much money in life-saving drugs that you just take once and are done wi Really interesting books about several popular and some life saving drugs. The part I liked best was the focus on the money angle--what kind of drugs sell (lipitor and viagra for example) and how the profit motive makes for bad decisionmaking in drug research. We tend to assume that patent protection and the ability to make tons of money leads to better drugs, but it leads to drugs like viagra. Turns out there isn't all that much money in life-saving drugs that you just take once and are done with the disease. Most of those were created by researchers who were just doing it for the science.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Engin Yapici

    I'm listening to Chapter 2 and he just attributed all the great Persian medicine work to Arabs. He said Ibn Sina was an Arab. How ignorant are you? You don't even have the most basic fact about history of medicine and went on writing a full book? You should be ashamed of yourself. I'm returning the book. I'm listening to Chapter 2 and he just attributed all the great Persian medicine work to Arabs. He said Ibn Sina was an Arab. How ignorant are you? You don't even have the most basic fact about history of medicine and went on writing a full book? You should be ashamed of yourself. I'm returning the book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Evan Wondrasek

    I decided to read this book because I was craving learning something new, and drugs are fascinating because I still don't really understand how they work. (One of my previous favorite books about drugs is Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich , which focuses on amphetamines and their prevalence in WWII.) I loved this book. Deeply researched and well-written, it covered both the chemistry and especially the history and origins of many significant drugs, including opioids/opiates, anti-psychotics, a I decided to read this book because I was craving learning something new, and drugs are fascinating because I still don't really understand how they work. (One of my previous favorite books about drugs is Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich , which focuses on amphetamines and their prevalence in WWII.) I loved this book. Deeply researched and well-written, it covered both the chemistry and especially the history and origins of many significant drugs, including opioids/opiates, anti-psychotics, and statins. I especially appreciated some of the context the author provided about how drugs get marketed vs. their effectiveness, like statins. Although statins have a huge impact on lowering bad cholesterol - basically a miracle drug - that alone doesn't seem to make a significant difference in people dying of heart disease. And even though their side effects are minimal, they aren't zero. One of the examples he presents is that marketing for a name-brand statin suggests that, in clinical trials, it reduced incidences of heart disease by something like 33%. When he dug into the data, he found that they took a population of 400 patients, divided them into two groups of 200, then gave one group the statin and gave the second group a sugar pill placebo. In the group with the statin, 2 individuals had heart attacks. In the group with the placebo, 3 individuals had heart attacks. That was the basis for their marketing: if 3 people having heart attacks is "normal" with the placebo, and 2 people had heart attacks while on the statin, you apparently get a 33% reduction. Out of 400 people. That's some stretchy math right there; I might have said that the likelihood of a heart attack based on their data was 1% with the statin and 1.5% with the placebo, for a whopping reduction of 0.5%. And if I remember what I read correctly, that reduction is pretty close to the increased chance you get of developing diabetes while on statins. So: it's complicated. This book covered other topics like the comparative over-medication of Americans vs. people from other countries, how the development of medicines transitioned from unlocking all of the "low-hanging fruit" in the 19th and 20th centuries and new drugs are extremely complex and expensive to develop, and where the author thinks drugs are going in the future. (These books always end with a obligatory "let's muse about the future" chapters, which I'd honestly prefer they just stopped doing -- it's just begging for the book to sound quaint and outdated in the near future.) Since finishing this book, I went on to read another popular book by Thomas Hagar called The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler which was of similar high quality. I'd be up for reading this again in the future, although I'd probably be more interested in digging deeper into a specific drug to learn more about the chemistry aspects rather than the historical.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    A wonderful book on drugs and their impact on society I had read “Alchemy of Air” by Thomas Hager and so I had high expectations for “10 Drugs” and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. The book has everything I like: clearly explained medicine and science, lots of history, and social implications of the drugs. Hager’s appraisal is honest - he thinks drugs are a good thing but that the drug companies are much less so. Hager is a great writer, and as with some of the drugs in the book, his writing A wonderful book on drugs and their impact on society I had read “Alchemy of Air” by Thomas Hager and so I had high expectations for “10 Drugs” and I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. The book has everything I like: clearly explained medicine and science, lots of history, and social implications of the drugs. Hager’s appraisal is honest - he thinks drugs are a good thing but that the drug companies are much less so. Hager is a great writer, and as with some of the drugs in the book, his writing is addictive. The book was hard to put down. I strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in medicine and its history. Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book via Netgalley for review purposes.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Abhijeet Singh

    Very well researched. Is exactly what it promises to be: A collection of 10 very well written essays about how the medical/pharma industry came to be what it is. Specifically, I was fascinated by the chapters on monoclonal antibodies, smallpox and the opium wars.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    Entertaining read about ten drugs that shaped the world.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    Brilliant

  15. 5 out of 5

    Niena Aniesza

    "Wrapped in this evolution and guiding its trajectory is humanity’s search for magic bullets, medicines that can unerringly seek out and destroy diseases in our bodies without doing any harm to our health along the way. The goal has always been to find medicines that are all-powerful, but without any risk. That is likely an impossible goal. We haven’t yet found a perfect magic bullet." Tiada saintis yang tidak mahu membuat ubat-ubatan yang tiada kesan sampingan. Tetapi seperti yang kita keta "Wrapped in this evolution and guiding its trajectory is humanity’s search for magic bullets, medicines that can unerringly seek out and destroy diseases in our bodies without doing any harm to our health along the way. The goal has always been to find medicines that are all-powerful, but without any risk. That is likely an impossible goal. We haven’t yet found a perfect magic bullet." Tiada saintis yang tidak mahu membuat ubat-ubatan yang tiada kesan sampingan. Tetapi seperti yang kita ketahui, badan kita mengandungi bahan kimia, ubat itu juga mengandungi bahan kimia. Apabila bahan kimia bertindak balas dengan bahan kimia lain, pasti ada kesan yang kita ingini dan tidak ingini. Sangat banyak sumbangan sarjana Islam dalam bidang sains dan perubatan. Kaedah inokulasi mula dilakukan oleh saintis Muslim. Pada abad ke-18, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu cuba membawa kaedah inokulasi dari dunia Islam ke Eropah, dia ditolak mentah-mentah kerana orang Eropah menganggap Muslim sebagai golongan barbaric. Walaupun kaedah ini sangat berkesan bagi merawat penyakit cacar ketika itu, wujud juga golongan anti-inokulasi (nenek moyang kepada golongan anti-vaksin pada hari ini). Anti-vaksin wujud di Eropah kerana beberapa faktor. Selain kerana tidak suka mengikut apa yang orang Islam buat, tindakan merawat itu sendiri dianggap unChristian, kerana hidup mati seseorang hanya boleh ditentukan oleh Tuhan. Oleh kerana vaksinasi diarahkan oleh pemerintah, sebahagiannya menolak untuk divaksinasi kerana alasan politik. Daripada kaedah inokulasi kemudiannya hadir pula perkataan vaksinasi (dari perkataan Latin iaitu vacca). Seiring dengan kejayaan vaksin, doktor dan saintis Eropah mula berminat membuat kajian dan berkembangnya teknik yang lebih baik pada hari ini. Dalam buku ini penulis memilih sepuluh jenis penyakit dan rawatannya. Bagi setiap bab, dibentangkan tentang sejarah, perkembangan dan kepentingan perubatan. Antaranya adalah opium, heroin, ubat batuk seperti sulfa, ubat sakit jantung, viagra dan ubat perancang kehamilan, antibiotik serta beberapa ubat-ubatan yang lain. Dunia penyelidikan sains dipenuhi dengan trial and error, dalam proses memajukan dunia perubatan, betapa banyaknya haiwan yang terkorban, termasuk juga manusia. Buku ini menarik bagi yang mahu memahami dan menambahkan kefahaman berkaitan ubat-ubatan serta peranan big pharma. Ubat-ubatan telah menjadi sebahagian dari hidup kita pada hari ini.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    An interesting approach to important drugs in the history of medicine. With its emphasis on medicine as opposed to other aspects of the impact of drugs on the modern world, this one is different from others I’ve read the past. The discussion of statins was informative. Also, I knew nothing about monoclonal antibodies, so that was educational as well. He mentions the so-called “war on drugs” in this book and lists a number of reasons for it, but fails to mention the racist agenda behind the way th An interesting approach to important drugs in the history of medicine. With its emphasis on medicine as opposed to other aspects of the impact of drugs on the modern world, this one is different from others I’ve read the past. The discussion of statins was informative. Also, I knew nothing about monoclonal antibodies, so that was educational as well. He mentions the so-called “war on drugs” in this book and lists a number of reasons for it, but fails to mention the racist agenda behind the way these draconian drug laws were, and often still are, enforced. Of course, to be fair, that isn’t really what this book is about though it still feels like an oversight. The author discusses both the benefits and the harms of large drug companies investing billions of dollars while motivated primarily by profit. He seems somewhat optimistic that, in the end, those challenges will eventually be overcome. They might be. Perhaps the future of what pharmaceuticals can do for humanity is bright. I certainly hope so. This book is well written and is a valuable and fascinating read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    3.5 Stars! I read Ten Drugs for non-fiction book club. I really enjoyed the first half of the book. It starts with the history of Opium and how it has been used since the Roman Times to how it became part of codeine and morphine. Then we had a chapter about how morphine was used in wars, which was also a very fascinating chapter. It transitions into the smallpox vaccine. We learn about the how addictive these drugs are and how these drugs caused overdoses and led to a method of suicide. The seco 3.5 Stars! I read Ten Drugs for non-fiction book club. I really enjoyed the first half of the book. It starts with the history of Opium and how it has been used since the Roman Times to how it became part of codeine and morphine. Then we had a chapter about how morphine was used in wars, which was also a very fascinating chapter. It transitions into the smallpox vaccine. We learn about the how addictive these drugs are and how these drugs caused overdoses and led to a method of suicide. The second part of the book was still very educational, but I didn’t find the chapters about Viagra, statins, and monoclonal antibodies as interesting as the first half of the book. I would say the author did a very good job staying neutral on the topics that he discussed, but I felt that the chapter on statins had more personal opinions interjected. That could be why I didn’t enjoy that part as much as the other parts of the book that felt very well researched. Something that really stood out to me was how great the author’s introduction chapter was. I was pulled in immediately! I also really enjoyed the writing in this book. I didn’t find it boring or dry, and I learned so much from every chapter. I just preferred the first half so much more than the second half. (personal preference thing) I also loved hearing about how some of the biggest discoveries in medicine came to be, and how some of them were accidents. I’m glad I read this book! It makes me want to read more about the history of drugs and vaccines.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Blake Roche

    I love Thomas Hager's other books, The Demon Under the Microscope and The Alchemy of Air. They're some of my favorite nonfiction writing and I regularly recommend them to friends. But this one is WEIRD. I'm not sure what happened here, but there's just a lot wrong. The author leads early on with the fact that his publisher recommended the idea. I'm not sure if his resulting ideas were guided heavily by them or whether he just had to rush to get this out...but this is definitely his least thoroug I love Thomas Hager's other books, The Demon Under the Microscope and The Alchemy of Air. They're some of my favorite nonfiction writing and I regularly recommend them to friends. But this one is WEIRD. I'm not sure what happened here, but there's just a lot wrong. The author leads early on with the fact that his publisher recommended the idea. I'm not sure if his resulting ideas were guided heavily by them or whether he just had to rush to get this out...but this is definitely his least thorough and least interesting book. The author also mentions in the intro how he writes about MORE than just the 10 drugs in the title...but I'd honestly recommend a new title - "TWO DRUGS that I wanna talk about (opiates and statins), with a few other short stories sprinkled in there to throw you off my trail." Seriously. A full HALF of this book is about opiates and opioids, or at least it felt that way. Sure they're interesting, but it just seems like a long-winded, publisher-driven, pandering-to-the-public over a current outcry blog post. The other chapters are interesting in their small doses (chlorpromazine, smallpox inoculation, and MoAbs), but just as I thought we'd gotten away from opiates, here he comes back with a diatribe on their dangers and commentary on their place in society today. I just don't get it. He ends the book (probably a good quarter) with another blog-post-esque chapter on statins. I can easily see this anger and contrary attitude being the impetus for the entire book as well. The whole thing just feels like a weirdly biased rant about pharmaceuticals with a few interesting stories and facts in between. I've always appreciated Hager's ability to transform bland scientific facts and research into a moving narrative, but here it's just disconnected and agenda-driven. The worst of his books, but still an interesting read I suppose. Check it out? Maybe? Or not.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Every time we take a pill, a shot or vaccination, we rarely think about how it was created, it’s history or the motivation behind it. We take what we need, what we don’t need, and try to keep going about our lives. Thomas Hager breaks down the timeline throughout history on how we got to where we are today through his book, Ten Drugs, by focusing on ten drugs (with a number of honorable mentions) starting with the source of what you could argue started it all: opium. Hager made it very clear in t Every time we take a pill, a shot or vaccination, we rarely think about how it was created, it’s history or the motivation behind it. We take what we need, what we don’t need, and try to keep going about our lives. Thomas Hager breaks down the timeline throughout history on how we got to where we are today through his book, Ten Drugs, by focusing on ten drugs (with a number of honorable mentions) starting with the source of what you could argue started it all: opium. Hager made it very clear in the beginning that the book was written for those who did not have a background in science or medicine. Because of this, the book wasn’t heavy on science or medical terms, was filled with interesting facts and was easy to connect to. Medication, with all the good and bad sides to it, is a fascinating subject and this book made a lot of things clearer. It also was humorous at times to learn how certain medications were discovered and how the anti-vaxxers movement started long before any of us alive today where even born. My fascination with Big Pharma and how prescription medication became a big business had me intrigued to read this book, but now knowing the history and all of the pioneers that have done a lot of good, tried to do a lot of good, and that have done it for the profit made me understand why our society today is greatly influenced by this industry. By the end of the book, I felt the same way as the author. I am grateful and excited for the future of medicine, but personally, I would rather a lot of the focus be turned to eradicating and preventing diseases instead of life-long drug use in order to deal with the symptoms of whatever ailment a person may have and constantly trying to find the next big blockbuster drug.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mia

    I loved this one. It's not a science book per se, if you're looking for chemical structures and detailed descriptions of certain drugs, this may disappoint you. It's written like a novel and the author has a great, engaging way to present information. I got goosebumps at times because you're really feeling with these people and their discoveries (even if it all happened so long ago). Sometimes it's just a tad cheesy, but that was fine for me, I love this. It stays in your mind (especially the Cha I loved this one. It's not a science book per se, if you're looking for chemical structures and detailed descriptions of certain drugs, this may disappoint you. It's written like a novel and the author has a great, engaging way to present information. I got goosebumps at times because you're really feeling with these people and their discoveries (even if it all happened so long ago). Sometimes it's just a tad cheesy, but that was fine for me, I love this. It stays in your mind (especially the Chapter about Lady Mary Montague, which is extremely fitting even today.) The drugs he choose were very interesting as well as the stories behind them, with a huge focus on opioids and the current addiction crisis in the US. So if you read the Introduction, which is a fantastic start to know what you're in for, because the author tells you exactly what his book is / isn't, and like it, I'm sure you'll enjoy the book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kyle Muntz

    Read most of this in one night. It's a great survey of medical history, which (aside from the usual suspects) covered some important landmarks I've never read about before: heart medication, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, antibiotics, viagra, etc. All of these have much more interesting stories than I'd ever imagined. The book also, without entirely meaning to, shows the gradual birth of Big Pharma and the terrible creature it's become, plus an interesting look at how evolving attitudes toward Read most of this in one night. It's a great survey of medical history, which (aside from the usual suspects) covered some important landmarks I've never read about before: heart medication, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, antibiotics, viagra, etc. All of these have much more interesting stories than I'd ever imagined. The book also, without entirely meaning to, shows the gradual birth of Big Pharma and the terrible creature it's become, plus an interesting look at how evolving attitudes towards patenting have affected the field as a whole.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Wish I read this book before getting my masters in pharmacology. Would read it again!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nivetha

    A comprehensive review of drugs that changed medicine. Higher rating warranted if not for the chapter on statins. They do save lives & I fear some readers may be discouraged from believing that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Well written, agenda-less (not pro- or anti-big pharm), enjoyable read on 10 drugs that changed human history- from opiods to birth control, antibiotics to statins. If you enjoy Mary Roach's books or books like The Disappearing Spoon (which has far more hard core science than this does), this is well worth your time. Well written, agenda-less (not pro- or anti-big pharm), enjoyable read on 10 drugs that changed human history- from opiods to birth control, antibiotics to statins. If you enjoy Mary Roach's books or books like The Disappearing Spoon (which has far more hard core science than this does), this is well worth your time.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hazel Bright

    This one had me quoting it for about a week. When I offered to loan my copy to my husband, he said he didn't need to read it since I surely had recited most of the book to him already. I gave it to him anyway. Fun and fascinating. One quibble: while the author correctly notes that statin drugs work well to reduce blood cholesterol and do little to reduce death from heart disease, he also says that one of the problems with statins is that people use them irresponsibly, and use their statin intake This one had me quoting it for about a week. When I offered to loan my copy to my husband, he said he didn't need to read it since I surely had recited most of the book to him already. I gave it to him anyway. Fun and fascinating. One quibble: while the author correctly notes that statin drugs work well to reduce blood cholesterol and do little to reduce death from heart disease, he also says that one of the problems with statins is that people use them irresponsibly, and use their statin intake as an excuse to put "butter on their steaks." In fact, if they did put butter on their steaks and cut out the Texas Toast, they would probably not need statins. Buttered steaks are probably far healthier than the "heart healthy diet" recommended by the American Heart Association that includes a lot of refined carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the author is perpetuating the "low-fat diet is a healthy diet" myth, which has been found to be completely incorrect. The only time fats in the diet are harmful is when they are combined with a lot of sugar and refined flour. Sugar and refined flour are the real bad guys, not the fat.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    A history of pharmacology that spotlights 10 drugs. Each drug is marketed as a wonder only to be undone by its side effects. Pros and cons to each one, yet it seems like people think there will still be a "magic bullet." Excellent. A history of pharmacology that spotlights 10 drugs. Each drug is marketed as a wonder only to be undone by its side effects. Pros and cons to each one, yet it seems like people think there will still be a "magic bullet." Excellent.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Raluca

    I do seem to have a soft spot for these "explaining the world through [number] of [things]", and Ten Drugs is up there with the best of them, if perhaps lacking a touch of the stylistical wonders that make The Botany of Desire and Stuff Matters absolute gems. In discussing everything from opium to antibiotics to Viagra, Hager touches on history, chemistry, biology, and even economics in a very accesible, yet not dumbed-down way. (At least for a reader who should know more about all these topics I do seem to have a soft spot for these "explaining the world through [number] of [things]", and Ten Drugs is up there with the best of them, if perhaps lacking a touch of the stylistical wonders that make The Botany of Desire and Stuff Matters absolute gems. In discussing everything from opium to antibiotics to Viagra, Hager touches on history, chemistry, biology, and even economics in a very accesible, yet not dumbed-down way. (At least for a reader who should know more about all these topics than she actually does.) I particularly liked his segment on how Big Pharma works, which, while nothing revolutionary, kept a good balance between "trust all the doctors, take all the pills" and "pharma bad, take eucalyptus oil".

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carlos Martinez

    Ten Drugs that Shook the World! This is a really fun and interesting book, overflowing with neat facts about opiates, statins, antibiotics, antidepressants, monoclonal antibodies, and more. The writing is enjoyably casual and engaging, and the balance of not-too-challenging pop science and anecdote made it ideal for consumption in audiobook form. The author mainly restrains himself from drawing big bold conclusions relating to the pharmaceutical industry, but where he does so, his ideas are deci Ten Drugs that Shook the World! This is a really fun and interesting book, overflowing with neat facts about opiates, statins, antibiotics, antidepressants, monoclonal antibodies, and more. The writing is enjoyably casual and engaging, and the balance of not-too-challenging pop science and anecdote made it ideal for consumption in audiobook form. The author mainly restrains himself from drawing big bold conclusions relating to the pharmaceutical industry, but where he does so, his ideas are decidedly sensible. His main conclusion is that the pharmaceutical industry has produced some incredibly important advances for humankind, but it needs much more regulation and a turn away from cynical profiteering and towards cooperation and free exchange of information. Public investment for public good.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Although Americans make up 5% of the world's population, they are consuming 50% of the drugs. This is a good book on the history of well known drugs, like opium, morphine, heroin, opioids, antibiotics, birth control pills, and Viagra. Much of it is told as stories about how the creators found or made the drugs. Although Americans make up 5% of the world's population, they are consuming 50% of the drugs. This is a good book on the history of well known drugs, like opium, morphine, heroin, opioids, antibiotics, birth control pills, and Viagra. Much of it is told as stories about how the creators found or made the drugs.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Joseph L.

    Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at: https://youtu.be/-ETbAj9bUr4 Watch a detailed review along with my favorite ideas and takeaways at: https://youtu.be/-ETbAj9bUr4

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