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The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis
     

The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis

4.6 5
by Thomas Goetz
 

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The riveting history of tuberculosis, the world’s most lethal disease, the two men whose lives it tragically intertwined, and the birth of medical science.
 
In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB—often called consumption—was a death sentence. Then, in a

Overview

The riveting history of tuberculosis, the world’s most lethal disease, the two men whose lives it tragically intertwined, and the birth of medical science.
 
In 1875, tuberculosis was the deadliest disease in the world, accountable for a third of all deaths. A diagnosis of TB—often called consumption—was a death sentence. Then, in a triumph of medical science, a German doctor named Robert Koch deployed an unprecedented scientific rigor to discover the bacteria that caused TB. Koch soon embarked on a remedy—a remedy that would be his undoing.
 
When Koch announced his cure for consumption, Arthur Conan Doyle, then a small-town doctor in England and sometime writer, went to Berlin to cover the event. Touring the ward of reportedly cured patients, he was horrified. Koch’s “remedy” was either sloppy science or outright fraud.
 
But to a world desperate for relief, Koch’s remedy wasn’t so easily dismissed. As Europe’s consumptives descended upon Berlin, Koch urgently tried to prove his case. Conan Doyle, meanwhile, returned to England determined to abandon medicine in favor of writing. In particular, he turned to a character inspired by the very scientific methods that Koch had formulated: Sherlock Holmes.
 
Capturing the moment when mystery and magic began to yield to science, The Remedy chronicles the stunning story of how the germ theory of disease became a true fact, how two men of ambition were emboldened to reach for something more, and how scientific discoveries evolve into social truths.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
06/15/2014
Goetz (Decision Tree; former executive editor, Wired) offers a brief and insightful double biography of two doctors: German-born Robert Koch (1843–1910), the "father of microbiology," who was convinced he had found a remedy for tuberculosis, and Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930), who traveled to Germany to witness this cure and eventually helped to debunk it. Koch used meticulous application of scientific principles to discover the cause of the disease and Doyle employed the scientific approach as a model for his fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes's crime-solving methods. Koch's life, from his initial work with anthrax through the discovery of the cause of tuberculosis, the "tubercle bacillus," and his reported medicine development is described. It is combined with the story of Doyle's rise as a physician, his interest in Koch's work (including the trip to Germany to hear about his remedy), as well as his desire to share the events, and how he used those medical skills to create the Holmes episodes. VERDICT This book will be of interest to those who enjoy reading about history and science and 19th-century Europe, as well as fans of Sherlock Holmes. It is a pleasure to read, contains solid notes for additional information, and will have a wide appeal.—Eric D. Albright, Tufts Univ. Lib., Boston
Publishers Weekly
01/13/2014
Former Wired executive editor Goetz (The Decision Tree) offers an intriguing medical and literary history based on “accidental partners in a profound social shift toward science and away from superstition.” Robert Koch, a meticulous and ambitious German country doctor-turned-scientist, isolated the bacteria causing TB and, Goetz writes, in doing so “offered a template” not only for medical science but for “all scientific investigation.” Physician and Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle also viewed “science as a tool,” and Koch’s work in microbiology “provided the template” for Doyle’s fictional detective’s fascination “with minuscule detail.” Though his scientific work remains an important legacy, Koch never achieved the fame he sought in finding a cure for TB. Yet, Goetz notes, “Koch’s science became a kind of remedy nonetheless,” changing the perception of the disease as “something that could be understood and defended against.” Ironically, Doyle, though an admirer of Koch, would ultimately help debunk Koch’s failed theory that an injection of “lymph” could cure TB. But this pair’s fascinating, convergent stories have much more in common, as Goetz aptly demonstrates that both Koch and Doyle were doggedly inquisitive men who discovered that neither germs nor crime are any match for science. Agent: Chris Calhoun. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“A thoughtful, patient, ultimately fascinating account of the struggle of 19th century science, and society, to come to grips with the germ theory of illness, and develop new technologies to take on one of humanity’s oldest scourges, tuberculosis.”
-- Forbes

“A gripping story... with great verve, painting word pictures full of color and telling detail... vividly evokes the rivalries rife in the scientific world.”
-- Washington Times
 

“An enjoyable chronicle.”
--  The Wall Street Journal

"Immensely pleasurable... a superb narrative...  [Goetz is] a fluid and elegant writer, with a knack for painting the personalities of those involved."
The Lancet

“Weaves the suspense of a Sherlock Holmes mystery into a tale of ambition, obsession, scientific discovery and skepticism at the dawn of modern medicine.”
Discover Magazine
 
“A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating journey through several decades of European history and an intimate portrait of two once-obscure doctors who shaped it. It's a book that illustrates how the imagination and the intellect can work in concert to cure a disease, or to delight an audience of millions.”
–  Los Angeles Times

The Remedy is a highly entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking book, leaving the reader with a much deeper appreciation of how much safer — and in many ways, predictable — our lives are today thanks to the toil and efforts of men such as Robert Koch and his contemporaries."
Boston Globe

The Remedy achieves a rare feat: serious, accurate scientific writing that is also engaging and entertaining.”
--Shelf Awareness

“Goetz weaves together a compelling narrative, chronicling the struggle to find the causes and cures for some of the most ferocious diseases that have stalked humans (and animals) through time: cholera, smallpox, anthrax and tuberculosis... Perhaps most importantly, The Remedy reminds us of how far we have come, and how much we take for granted in modern medicine.”
Bookpage

"An intriguing medical and literary history… fascinating, convergent stories [of] doggedly inquisitive men who discovered that neither germs nor crime are any match for science."
Publishers Weekly

“A beguiling real-life medical detective story.”

Kirkus Reviews

"The Remedy is a rare, thrilling achievement: a book that helps us understand the roots of transformative ideas that simultaneously manages to tell a story worthy of a 19th-century novel, full of surprising links, rivalries, and intellectual triumph."
Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map  
 
"In The Remedy, Thomas Goetz offers a wonderfully original origins story for modern science. He weaves together one of the great achievements of the nineteenth century--the germ theory of disease--with the creation of the fictional superhero of science, Sherlock Homes, with grace and surprise."
Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
 
 

"A thoughtful, patient, ultimately fascinating account of the struggle of 19th century science, and society, to come to grips with the germ theory of illness, and develop new technologies to take on one of humanity’s oldest scourges, tuberculosis."
Forbes

"A gripping story... with great verve, painting word pictures full of color and telling detail... vividly evokes the rivalries rife in the scientific world."
Washington Times

"An enjoyable chronicle."
The Wall Street Journal

"Immensely pleasurable... a superb narrative...  [Goetz is] a fluid and elegant writer, with a knack for painting the personalities of those involved."
The Lancet

"Weaves the suspense of a Sherlock Holmes mystery into a tale of ambition, obsession, scientific discovery and skepticism at the dawn of modern medicine."
Discover
 
“A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating journey through several decades of European history and an intimate portrait of two once-obscure doctors who shaped it. It's a book that illustrates how the imagination and the intellect can work in concert to cure a disease, or to delight an audience of millions.”
Los Angeles Times

The Remedy is a highly entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking book, leaving the reader with a much deeper appreciation of how much safer — and in many ways, predictable — our lives are today thanks to the toil and efforts of men such as Robert Koch and his contemporaries."
Boston Globe

The Remedy achieves a rare feat: serious, accurate scientific writing that is also engaging and entertaining.”
--Shelf Awareness

“Goetz weaves together a compelling narrative, chronicling the struggle to find the causes and cures for some of the most ferocious diseases that have stalked humans (and animals) through time: cholera, smallpox, anthrax and tuberculosis... Perhaps most importantly, The Remedy reminds us of how far we have come, and how much we take for granted in modern medicine.”
Bookpage

"An intriguing medical and literary history… fascinating, convergent stories [of] doggedly inquisitive men who discovered that neither germs nor crime are any match for science."
Publishers Weekly

"A beguiling real-life medical detective story."
Kirkus Reviews
 
"The Remedy is a rare, thrilling achievement: a book that helps us understand the roots of transformative ideas that simultaneously manages to tell a story worthy of a 19th-century novel, full of surprising links, rivalries, and intellectual triumph."
—Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map  
 
"In The Remedy, Thomas Goetz offers a wonderfully original origins story for modern science. He weaves together one of the great achievements of the nineteenth century--the germ theory of disease--with the creation of the fictional superhero of science, Sherlock Homes, with grace and surprise."
—Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-23
The story of a pair of unlikely heroes who crossed paths in Berlin in 1890 and forever changed the landscapes of medicine and literature. In the late 19th century, tuberculosis was an incurable scourge that killed indiscriminately and ravaged populations; for decades, it was the leading cause of death in Europe and the United States. The origin of the disease was a complete mystery, as was its uncanny ability to travel from one person to another. One young country doctor in Germany, Robert Koch (1843–1910), became determined to apply new theories of microbiology to his study of TB. His great breakthrough, that "germs" are isolatable bacteria that have infectious properties, profoundly changed the field of medicine. Meanwhile, another young country doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle, followed news of Koch's discovery from England. A moonlighting writer, Doyle traveled to Berlin when Koch announced a demonstration of a "cure" he'd devised from his laboratory research. Doyle's disappointment was acute; while Koch's germ theories were revolutionary, his remedy was bunk. Doyle pulled no punches in his takedown of Koch's remedy, but what he learned about Koch's methodology and earlier success left an indelible impression on his fiction. The idea of scientific detective work inspired Doyle to give up medicine and pursue literature full-time, and the character Sherlock Holmes—with his signature "science of deduction" technique—was born. Atlantic correspondent Goetz (The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine, 2010) weaves these two narratives through a history of medical best practices, a fascinating period marked by improved hygienic practices and the possibility of new vaccines. Koch's legacy remains robust (he was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905 despite his remedy gaffe), and his great accomplishment is a tenet that Doyle held dear in his stories: There exists a possibility of defense from any attacking agent, so long as the right clues are uncovered. A beguiling real-life medical detective story.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698148574
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/03/2014
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
224,722
File size:
2 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A thoughtful, patient, ultimately fascinating account of the struggle of 19th century science, and society, to come to grips with the germ theory of illness, and develop new technologies to take on one of humanity’s oldest scourges, tuberculosis."
Forbes

"A gripping story... with great verve, painting word pictures full of color and telling detail... vividly evokes the rivalries rife in the scientific world."
Washington Times

"An enjoyable chronicle."
The Wall Street Journal

"Immensely pleasurable... a superb narrative...  [Goetz is] a fluid and elegant writer, with a knack for painting the personalities of those involved."
The Lancet

"Weaves the suspense of a Sherlock Holmes mystery into a tale of ambition, obsession, scientific discovery and skepticism at the dawn of modern medicine."
Discover
 
“A thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating journey through several decades of European history and an intimate portrait of two once-obscure doctors who shaped it. It's a book that illustrates how the imagination and the intellect can work in concert to cure a disease, or to delight an audience of millions.”
Los Angeles Times

The Remedy is a highly entertaining, interesting, and thought-provoking book, leaving the reader with a much deeper appreciation of how much safer — and in many ways, predictable — our lives are today thanks to the toil and efforts of men such as Robert Koch and his contemporaries."
Boston Globe

The Remedy achieves a rare feat: serious, accurate scientific writing that is also engaging and entertaining.”
--Shelf Awareness

“Goetz weaves together a compelling narrative, chronicling the struggle to find the causes and cures for some of the most ferocious diseases that have stalked humans (and animals) through time: cholera, smallpox, anthrax and tuberculosis... Perhaps most importantly, The Remedy reminds us of how far we have come, and how much we take for granted in modern medicine.”
Bookpage

"An intriguing medical and literary history… fascinating, convergent stories [of] doggedly inquisitive men who discovered that neither germs nor crime are any match for science."
Publishers Weekly

"A beguiling real-life medical detective story."
Kirkus Reviews
 
"The Remedy is a rare, thrilling achievement: a book that helps us understand the roots of transformative ideas that simultaneously manages to tell a story worthy of a 19th-century novel, full of surprising links, rivalries, and intellectual triumph."
—Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map  
 
"In The Remedy, Thomas Goetz offers a wonderfully original origins story for modern science. He weaves together one of the great achievements of the nineteenth century--the germ theory of disease--with the creation of the fictional superhero of science, Sherlock Homes, with grace and surprise."
—Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution

Meet the Author

Thomas Goetz is a science writer and health-care innovator. The cofounder of Iodine, a health technology company, he has served as entrepreneur in residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and executive editor at WIRED. His writing has been selected repeatedly for the Best American Science Writing and Best Technology Writing anthologies. He lives in San Francisco.

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The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
lovelybookshelf More than 1 year ago
The Remedy takes you through medical and literary history, right around the time the foundation was laid for modern medicine. Handwashing was controversial. Hospitals had open jars of ointment in the operating room, and surgeons would scoop out what they needed without washing their hands in between patients. This book made me thankful for germ theory. For basic hygiene. For vaccines! I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. I really got a feel for how relentless tuberculosis was, and how hopeless it seemed. Would the public be convinced of Koch's findings? Would other scientists be swayed? I found this book to be absolutely riveting, and that surprised me when I considered it's basically a non-fiction book about germs, medicine, and scientific research. But it reads in a narrative style, in layman's terms; so it was enjoyable throughout, and I didn't once feel bogged down. The Arthur Conan Doyle connection was a teensy bit looser than I had hoped it would be, but it was an interesting angle nonetheless. I was impressed by how cutting-edge Sherlock Holmes's forensic methods were for the time, and what a huge impact these novels had on the scientific community. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
InTheBookcase More than 1 year ago
In "The Remedy" you will find out the shocking tale of a tiny slice of medical history that has been tucked away in the vast volumes of bygone times. When I first found out about Thomas Goetz's book, I immediately became intrigued with the fact that the beloved Arthur Conan Doyle (author of the world's favorite detective stories!) somehow involved himself in the cure for such a tremendous disease as Tuberculosis. And how did he do it? In the 19th century, consumption (or TB) took 25% of all deaths in America and England. For someone to locate a medicine for it would be life-changing for hundreds of thousands.  While reading, I became simply amazed with all the information contained in this one book. Somehow the author fits in everything you need to know about medical science of the 1800s, the emerging germ theories of the time, the physicians and scientists that got us to where we are today, and 2 very important men at the center of the story... Dr. Robert Koch, a German physician who discovers the TB bacteria. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor from the UK, with a hand for writing, and an eye for spotting details. (No wonder Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes... for you will see Holmes's methods at work in the real world, utilized by Conan Doyle himself.) "To grasp the significance of Koch's discovery, we must first get our heads around this: To live in the nineteenth century was to experience infectious disease as a constant, to have unexplained illnesses afflict and dispatch loved ones without warning. Simply put, more people died of more things back then than do now...." (Page 89) Goetz is a master on the subjects he brings out in the book. He has put together many facts about science and medicine, and draws the parallels of history well. So as not to build your hopes too high before reading "The Remedy"... Conan Doyle does not come up with the astounding elixir for an incurable disease himself. But I think he helped bring details to the public eye that others hadn't taken the time to notice. Cons: The one thing I disapprove of is the author's use of a couple words in the text. Usually I would deduct a star in my review for this type of foul language, but I still love the book so much because of the infinite information it offers. However, I do wish the text wasn't marred at all. In the end, "The Remedy" is an amazing story to be told. It's a fantastic "mix of literature and history and science" (Goetz's words). I think it will be a while before I can find another historic tale as gripping as this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More than a book about the history of medicine and the fascinating story of the discovery of the causative agent of tuberculosis, The Remedy also details one of the more interesting and untold aspects of science: competition and the role of the nemesis, as it evolved between Koch and Pasteur, and the hubris it can sometimes produce. This is a great read for those interested in the history of science and the importance of the late 19th century in moving us into the modern medical age. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago