The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl Summary and Reviews

The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl

How Two Brave Scientists Battled Typhus and Sabotaged the Nazis

by Arthur Allen

The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl by Arthur Allen

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Book Summary

Few diseases are more gruesome than typhus. Transmitted by body lice, it afflicts the dispossessed - refugees, soldiers, and ghettoized peoples - causing hallucinations, terrible headaches, boiling fever, and often death. The disease plagued the German army on the Eastern Front and left the Reich desperate for a vaccine. For this they turned to the brilliant and eccentric Polish zoologist Rudolf Weigl.

In the 1920s, Weigl had created the first typhus vaccine using a method as bold as it was dangerous for its use of living human subjects. The astonishing success of Weigl's techniques attracted the attention and admiration of the world - giving him cover during the Nazi's violent occupation of Lviv. His lab soon flourished as a hotbed of resistance. Weigl hired otherwise doomed mathematicians, writers, doctors, and other thinkers, protecting them from atrocity. The team engaged in a sabotage campaign by sending illegal doses of the vaccine into the Polish ghettos while shipping gallons of the weakened serum to the Wehrmacht.

Among the scientists saved by Weigl, who was a Christian, was a gifted Jewish immunologist named Ludwik Fleck. Condemned to Buchenwald and pressured to re-create the typhus vaccine under the direction of a sadistic Nazi doctor, Erwin Ding-Schuler, Fleck had to make an awful choice between his scientific ideals or the truth of his conscience. In risking his life to carry out a dramatic subterfuge to vaccinate the camp's most endangered prisoners, Fleck performed an act of great heroism.

Drawing on extensive research and interviews with survivors, Arthur Allen tells the harrowing story of two brave scientists - a Christian and a Jew - who put their expertise to the best possible use, at the highest personal danger.

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Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Allen is unflinching in his retelling of this monstrous era, but he manages to avoid writing a depressing narrative. Instead, Weigl, Fleck and their vaccines illuminate the inherent social complexities of science and truth and reinforce the overriding good of man. An unforgettable book." - Kirkus

"A captivating story of ethics during wartime and the perils of working with the enemy." - Publishers Weekly

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Arthur Allen has written for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, the Associated Press, Science, and Slate. His books include Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver. He lives in Washington, DC.

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