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.
On a brisk spring evening in March 1882, Robert Koch walked into the library at the University of Berlin, and prepared to change the course of medicine for all time.
There were about 100 men gathered in the room, the greatest scientists in Germany. Koch barely acknowledged them as he began his demonstration. He showed his test tubes and cultures. He explained how he had tested and retested his work. There was no grandstanding, no theater. There was only evidence and explanationand finally, a declaration.
"All of these facts taken together can lead to only one conclusion," Koch said. "That in the bacilli we have the actual infective cause of tuberculosis."
Bacteria caused tuberculosis. The statement was so matter-of-fact in its delivery that Koch's claim seemed almost insignificant. There was no applause, no murmuring, no debate; the crowd was simply, utterly, absolutely speechless. Paul Ehrlich, a young scientist in the audience who would ...
The Remedy is well-paced: it reads like mystery or true crime, not like a history book. The link between Koch and Doyle can occasionally feel somewhat tenuous; the author surely makes more metaphorical use of it than their actual historical intersection can support. If his window on the past feels slightly narrow, however, he still makes good on his dual purpose of tracing both the history of TB and the development of the scientific method through medicine and fiction.
(Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).
Full Review (1093 words).
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