Quinine: Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World

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Overview

Quinine: The Jesuits discovered it. The Protestants feared it. The British vied with the Dutch for it, and the Nazis seized it. Because of quinine, medicine, warfare, and exploration were changed forever.

For more than one thousand years, there was no cure for malaria. In 1623, after ten cardinals and hundreds of their attendants died in Rome while electing Urban VII the new pope, he announced that a cure must be found. He encouraged Jesuit priests establishing new missions in Asia and in South America to learn everything they could about how the local people treated the disease, and in 1631, an apothecarist in Peru named Agostino Salumbrino dispatched a new miracle to Rome. The cure was quinine, an alkaloid made from the bitter red bark of the cinchona tree.

From the quest of the Englishmen who smuggled cinchona seeds out of South America to the way in which quinine opened the door to Western imperial adventure in Asia, Africa, and beyond, and to malaria's effects even today, award-winning author Fiammetta Rocco deftly chronicles the story of this historically ravenous disease.

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Editorial Reviews

Sunday Times (London)
“An absorbing and superbly researched history of malaria and its cure.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Rocco tells her four-century saga briskly, with a confident blend of scholarship and memoir.”
Evening Standard (London)
“Lively, elegantly written and often fascinating”
New York Times Book Review
“An engrossing story...written with immense verve and confidence...crisp and fluent...a gripping and highly readable tale.”
Wall Street Journal
“Ms. Rocco tells her four-century saga briskly, with a confident blend of scholarship and memoir.”
Sunday Times (London)
“An absorbing and superbly researched history of malaria and its cure.”
New York Times Book Review
“An engrossing story...written with immense verve and confidence...crisp and fluent...a gripping and highly readable tale.”
Evening Standard (London)
“Lively, elegantly written and often fascinating”
The New York Times
Within the genre of nonfiction book that homes in on a particular substance or subject — salt, maps, the color magenta — it helps the writer to have an exceptional affinity with the material. Fiammetta Rocco certain has the inside track on malaria. She has had it herself. Her father has had multiple recurrences. Her grandparents lived on a farm in Africa, where malaria was even more prevalent than tick fever, filariasis, beriberi, bilharzia, kwashiorkor or rinderpest. … Thus equipped with family memories, Ms. Rocco sets out to explain everything you ever wanted to know about malaria (it resembles yellow fever, absent the black vomit) and more. — Janet Maslin
NY Times Sunday Book Review
Especially for a first book, this is an exceedingly accomplished piece of work, ranging over four centuries and five continents, involving too the history of Rocco's own family, long entwined with the disease. — Derek Bickerton
Publishers Weekly
Before the discovery of malaria's causes and treatments, the mosquito-borne illness was a killer that held sway over tropical countries and extended deadly tendrils into more northern climes. Born in Kenya, Rocco (literary editor at The Economist) was exposed to the disease at an early age. Four of the girls from her primary school class died of cerebral malaria before they turned 40, and she herself contracted the illness in her teens, a fact which may have spurred her desire to write this engaging history of malaria's most popular cure: quinine. Using anecdotes from her far-ranging research as a narrative hook, Rocco traces the history of quinine from its discovery in the 17th century by Jesuit missionaries in Peru to its use by expanding European colonial powers and its role in the development of modern anti-malaria pills. The priests learned of the bark of the cinchona tree, which was used by Andean natives to cure shivering, at a time when malaria, then known as Roman ague or marsh fever, was devastating southern Europe. The Jesuits eagerly began the distribution of the curative bark. It also helped European explorers and missionaries survive the disease as they entered new territories. Rocco's many descriptions of her travels and of her personal experiences with malaria keep her story interesting and immediate, and she stirs in enough science to explain the how malaria and its cure actually work, making this a good choice for fans of memoir and science history. 16-page b&w photo insert. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A seasoned, filigreed history of malaria and its treatment. Malaria is still one of the great scourges, turning the blood to sludge, blackening the liver and spleen: "Malaria is so common, and so deadly, that the WHO estimates one person dies of it every fifteen seconds. . . . Yet the mosquito that carries it is little larger than an eyelash." Economist literary editor Rocco describes-in fine writing that speaks both of personal experience and well-edited research-the nature of the disease, its spread from place to place, how two missionaries working in Peru learned of the bark that cured the shivering disease, how seedlings were smuggled out of the country to a British plantation in the Nilgiri Hills of southwest India, and how the European pharmacopoeia evolved, with its tapping of drugs and chemicals from colonial and missionary outposts. But what keeps the engine of the narrative moving is the ever-present understanding that "political rivalry, religious pressure, scientific one-upmanship and petty human jealousy all had a part to play in the quest for the magical tree that produced the Jesuit powder that cured the ague." Rocco is an adept in the medical detective story, in the tradition of Berton Rouché, detailing the work of Ronald Ross, Patrick Manson, and W.G. MacCullum as they seek to unravel the source of the parasite. Then there is the subtext, which Rocco exploits with care, that malaria served as a brake to colonialism, proselytism, and their fellow traveler, war: that commerce and religion would not be able to level all in their path. This is also a cautionary tale on the pillage of natural resources, nurtured by the Jesuits, then heedlessly harvested by bark hunters. Snappyand sharp, picaresque but scholarly: it's almost a crime that so heinous a disease should be treated to so grand a biography. (16-page b&w photo insert, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060959005
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/17/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 960,595
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Fiammetta Rocco was raised in Kenya. Her grandfather, her father and she herself all suffered from malaria. Ms. Rocco's investigative journalism has won a number of awards in the United States and in Britain. She lives in London, where she is the literary editor of the Economist. This is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

The Miraculous Fever-Tree

Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World
By Fiammetta Rocco

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Fiammetta Rocco All right reserved. ISBN: 0060199512

Chapter One

Sickness Prevails – Africa

'Malaria treatment. This is comprised in three words: quinine, quinine, quinine.' - Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford, 1909-17

'If you ever thought that one man was too small to make a difference, try being shut up in a room with a mosquito.'

- The Dalai Lama, 1977

My grandparents had been married for many years when they left Europe for Africa in 1928, though not to each other.

My Parisian grandmother, Giselle Bunau-Varilla, had had at least two husbands, if not three. My Neapolitan grandfather, Mario Rocco, was being sought by Interpol for trying to kidnap his only child. His first wife, a tall, thin Norwegian with wide cheekbones and a finely arched brow, had been labouring for years to expunge him from her life. She wanted, above all, to change their daughter's identity from Rosetta Rocco, a Catholic, to Susanna Ibsen, a Protestant - and to be rid of her husband forever.

The Neapolitan solution was to remove the child by force and go into hiding, a plan that ultimately failed, though not before it had annoyed the authorities and landed mygrandfather in a great deal of trouble.

As an antidote, a year-long safari in the Congo seemed a welcome distraction to all concerned. Yet as the moment of departure drew near, both my grandparents were filled with the excitement of the unknown. Their journey turned from being an all-too welcome respite from their domestic travails to a grand, passionate tropical adventure.

A few hours before New Year 1929, they boarded the sleeper train in Paris that was bound for Marseilles. My grandmother, as always, could be counted on to remain calm even while eloping to Africa with someone else's husband. My grandfather, who had jet-black hair with a deep white
streak that swept back from his forehead, only felt his fine sense of the dramatic swell as he put Paris behind him. 'Don't even tell my in-laws what continent I shall be in,' he wrote to his family from the train.

In Marseilles they boarded the SS Usambara, a passenger ship of the Deutsch Öst Afrika line that would bear them across the Mediterranean to Port Said, through the Suez Canal, and down the East African coast to Mombasa. From there, the plan was to travel by train and on foot across Africa's thick equatorial waistline to the heart of the continent. They thought they would be away for at least a year. Longer, perhaps.

My grandparents were accompanied by a sizeable quantity of luggage. To equip themselves for a hunting trip that would take them as far west as the Ituri forest on the banks of the Congo river, they had paid a visit to Brussels, to the emporium of Monsieur Gaston Bennet, a specialist colonial outfitter who sold ready-prepared safari kits with everything a traveller might need for a journey of three, six or even nine months.

Monsieur Bennet's inventory sounds much like the necessities that H. Rider Haggard's hero Alan Quartermain packed when he set off in search of King Solomon's Mines. For their extra-long hunting trip, he sold my grandparents four heavy-calibre rifles, including a double-barrelled Gibbs .500 which my grandfather Mario, with manly Neapolitan excitement, described in his diary as 'una vera arma' - a real weapon - and a .408 Winchester for my grandmother Giselle, who hoped to shoot an elephant. Eight months later she killed a lone male; its tusks soared high above her head when it lay dead on its side. She allowed herself to be photographed alongside the beast, leaning heavily on the barrel of her rifle as if it were a staff. But the truth is that she felt a little sick at what she had done. Killing the elephant unnerved her. She was five months pregnant at the time, which may have made her especially sensitive. She never shot an animal again.

As well as the rifles, my grandparents were outfitted with two pairs of shotguns, a twelve-bore and a lady's twenty-bore; five hundred kilos of ammunition in watertight boxes; six trunks of tropical clothing; twelve cases of brandy; eight of books; a typewriter; a gramophone with my grandfather's favourite record, 'My Cutie's Due at Two-to-Two Today'; coloured beads for gifts; and enough sketchpads, pastels and modelling clay to last them a whole year - my grandfather was a painter and my grandmother a sculptress. Their effects were packed into tin trunks weighing not more than twenty-five kilos each, the maximum that would be carried by an African porter. Giselle stood barely an inch over five feet and always wore a turban, which had the effect of both hiding her incipient baldness and making her seem taller than she really was. When my grandparents reached the Ituri forest she unpacked her clay and set about modelling a local Tutsi chief who towered nearly two feet above her. He watched her as she worked, his face impassive. He said nothing, but his children danced around and called her 'Potipot', she who works with clay.

In addition to the safety precautions of heavy Damascus-barrelled guns and several changes of boots, Monsieur Bennet packed my grandparents a sizeable medicine chest that was manufactured from black metal and lined with marbled endpapers to absorb any moisture and keep its contents safe from ants. In it he placed gauze bandages and sutures, several bottles of Dr Collis Brown's Elixir, a concoction made of morphine, cannabis and treacle that had been invented in 1856 and was recommended for treating diarrhoea, boric acid for the eyes, carbolic acid against lion and leopard scratches, Epsom salts and castor oil for constipation, and a brown goo called Castellani's Paint to fight skin fungi. There were also twenty-four sets of steel syringes and needles, each packed in a small metal box with a tight lid for easy boiling, the best method of sterilisation in the bush ...

(Continues...)


Excerpted from The Miraculous Fever-Tree by Fiammetta Rocco
Copyright © 2003 by Fiammetta Rocco
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Maps: Early Eighteenth-Century South America
Maps: Central Africa
Maps: World Map of Malaria
Acknowledgements
Introduction: The Tree of Fevers
1 Sickness Prevails - Africa 1
2 The Tree Required - Rome 25
3 The Tree Discovered - Peru 55
4 The Quarrel - England 84
5 The Quest - South America 108
6 To War and to Explore - From Holland to West Africa 139
7 To Explore and to War - From America to Panama 168
8 The Seed - South America 206
9 The Science - India, England and Italy 250
10 The Last Forest - Congo 281
Notes on Sources 315
Further Reading 333
Index 339
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First Chapter

Quinine
Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World

Chapter One

Sickness Prevails – Africa

'Malaria treatment. This is comprised in three words: quinine, quinine, quinine.'
-- Sir William Osler, Regius Professor of Medicine, Oxford, 1909-17

'If you ever thought that one man was too small to make a difference, try being shut up in a room with a mosquito.'
-- The Dalai Lama, 1977

My grandparents had been married for many years when they left Europe for Africa in 1928, though not to each other.

My Parisian grandmother, Giselle Bunau-Varilla, had had at least two husbands, if not three. My Neapolitan grandfather, Mario Rocco, was being sought by Interpol for trying to kidnap his only child. His first wife, a tall, thin Norwegian with wide cheekbones and a finely arched brow, had been labouring for years to expunge him from her life. She wanted, above all, to change their daughter's identity from Rosetta Rocco, a Catholic, to Susanna Ibsen, a Protestant -- and to be rid of her husband forever.

The Neapolitan solution was to remove the child by force and go into hiding, a plan that ultimately failed, though not before it had annoyed the authorities and landed my grandfather in a great deal of trouble.

As an antidote, a year-long safari in the Congo seemed a welcome distraction to all concerned. Yet as the moment of departure drew near, both my grandparents were filled with the excitement of the unknown. Their journey turned from being an all-too welcome respite from their domestic travails to a grand, passionate tropical adventure.

A few hours before New Year 1929, they boarded the sleeper train in Paris that was bound for Marseilles. My grandmother, as always, could be counted on to remain calm even while eloping to Africa with someone else's husband. My grandfather, who had jet-black hair with a deep white streak that swept back from his forehead, only felt his fine sense of the dramatic swell as he put Paris behind him. 'Don't even tell my in-laws what continent I shall be in,' he wrote to his family from the train.

In Marseilles they boarded the SS Usambara, a passenger ship of the Deutsch Öst Afrika line that would bear them across the Mediterranean to Port Said, through the Suez Canal, and down the East African coast to Mombasa. From there, the plan was to travel by train and on foot across Africa's thick equatorial waistline to the heart of the continent. They thought they would be away for at least a year. Longer, perhaps.

My grandparents were accompanied by a sizeable quantity of luggage. To equip themselves for a hunting trip that would take them as far west as the Ituri forest on the banks of the Congo river, they had paid a visit to Brussels, to the emporium of Monsieur Gaston Bennet, a specialist colonial outfitter who sold ready-prepared safari kits with everything a traveller might need for a journey of three, six or even nine months.

Monsieur Bennet's inventory sounds much like the necessities that H. Rider Haggard's hero Alan Quartermain packed when he set off in search of King Solomon's Mines. For their extra-long hunting trip, he sold my grandparents four heavy-calibre rifles, including a double-barrelled Gibbs .500 which my grandfather Mario, with manly Neapolitan excitement, described in his diary as 'una vera arma' -- a real weapon -- and a .408 Winchester for my grandmother Giselle, who hoped to shoot an elephant. Eight months later she killed a lone male; its tusks soared high above her head when it lay dead on its side. She allowed herself to be photographed alongside the beast, leaning heavily on the barrel of her rifle as if it were a staff. But the truth is that she felt a little sick at what she had done. Killing the elephant unnerved her. She was five months pregnant at the time, which may have made her especially sensitive. She never shot an animal again.

As well as the rifles, my grandparents were outfitted with two pairs of shotguns, a twelve-bore and a lady's twenty-bore; five hundred kilos of ammunition in watertight boxes; six trunks of tropical clothing; twelve cases of brandy; eight of books; a typewriter; a gramophone with my grandfather's favourite record, 'My Cutie's Due at Two-to-Two Today'; coloured beads for gifts; and enough sketchpads, pastels and modelling clay to last them a whole year -- my grandfather was a painter and my grandmother a sculptress. Their effects were packed into tin trunks weighing not more than twenty-five kilos each, the maximum that would be carried by an African porter. Giselle stood barely an inch over five feet and always wore a turban, which had the effect of both hiding her incipient baldness and making her seem taller than she really was. When my grandparents reached the Ituri forest she unpacked her clay and set about modelling a local Tutsi chief who towered nearly two feet above her. He watched her as she worked, his face impassive. He said nothing, but his children danced around and called her 'Potipot', she who works with clay.

In addition to the safety precautions of heavy Damascus-barrelled guns and several changes of boots, Monsieur Bennet packed my grandparents a sizeable medicine chest that was manufactured from black metal and lined with marbled endpapers to absorb any moisture and keep its contents safe from ants. In it he placed gauze bandages and sutures, several bottles of Dr Collis Brown's Elixir, a concoction made of morphine, cannabis and treacle that had been invented in 1856 and was recommended for treating diarrhoea, boric acid for the eyes, carbolic acid against lion and leopard scratches, Epsom salts and castor oil for constipation, and a brown goo called Castellani's Paint to fight skin fungi. There were also twenty-four sets of steel syringes and needles, each packed in a small metal box with a tight lid for easy boiling, the best method of sterilisation in the bush ...

Quinine
Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World
. Copyright © by Fiammetta Rocco. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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