Summary and book reviews of Happy Accidents by Morton Meyers M.D.

Happy Accidents

Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs

by Morton Meyers M.D.

Happy Accidents
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2007, 408 pages
    Paperback:
    Dec 2008, 408 pages

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Book Summary

A fascinating, entertaining, and highly accessible look at the surprising role serendipity played in some of the most important medical discoveries in the 20th century.

What do penicillin, chemotherapy drugs, X-rays, Valium, the Pap smear, and Viagra have in common? They were each discovered accidentally, stumbled upon in the search for something else. In the 1990s, Pfizer had high hopes for a new drug that would boost blood flow to the heart. As they conducted trials on angina sufferers, researchers noted a startling effect: while the drug did not affect blood flow to the heart, it did affect blood flow elsewhere! Now over 6 million American men have taken Viagra.

Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble across the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.” Within the scientific community, a certain stigma is attached to chance discovery because it is wrongly seen as pure luck. Happy accidents happen every day, but it takes intelligence, insight, and creativity to recognize a “Eureka, I found what I wasn’t looking for!” moment and know what to do next.

In discussing medical breakthroughs, Morton Meyers makes a cogent, highly engaging argument for a more creative, rather than purely linear, approach to science. It may just save our lives!

Introduction
Serendipity, Science’s Well-Guarded Secret

I exist
But only in you if you want me . . .
All things are meaningless accidents, works of chance
unless your marveling gaze,
as it probes, connects and orders,
makes them divine . . .

— Wilhelm Willms, “God Speaks”1

Contemplating the genesis of the great medical breakthroughs of the last century, most people picture brilliant, well-trained scientists diligently pursuing a predetermined goal — laboriously experimenting with first this substance and then that substance, progressing step by step to a “Eureka!” moment when the sought-after cure is at last found. There in the mind’s eye is Marie Curie stirring a vat of pitchblende over many years to recover minute amounts of radium, or Paul Ehrlich testing one arsenical compound after another until he finds Salvarsan, the “magic bullet” against syphilis, on his 606th attempt. In the contemporary setting, one...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Happy Accidents is not only for the medical specialists among us - far from it. Morton Meyers's style is totally accessible to the layman and very readable, filled with anecdotes and enhanced by the occasional illustration; not only providing an enlightening read but leaving the reader with a wealth of bite-sized "did you know" facts to share on any occasion when the subject of health and medicine comes up, which tends to be an increasingly popular topic as we get inexorably closer to shuffling off our mortal coil!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (558 words).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The anecdotes are lively and filled with miniportraits of important doctors ...but some chapters feel forcefully wedged in.

Booklist - Donna Chavez

Meyers' accounts of such happy accidents as the discoveries of the lifesaving anticoagulant Coumadin, the manic-depression therapeutic lithium, and others is a significant brief on creativity's critical role in medical research.

Library Journal

Meyers teases out the flashes of insight that have transformed routine experiments into Nobel prize-winning medical advances...the first and last chapters should appear on many syllabi for first-year medical students.

Kirkus Reviews

A character-rich account of the role of chance in scientific research...Illuminating science writing for the layman.

Reader Reviews

mike

Happy Accidents
This is a superb book that is well referenced. The style, though containing a great deal of "academic" material, is fluid and very readable. Dr. Meyers provides a great deal of insight from years as both a clinician and researcher that are practical ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Did you know?

The word 'serendipity' was coined by Horace Walpole in the 1740s after reading the fable The Three Princes of Serendip (set in the land of Serendip, now known as Sri Lanka). Walpole also coined the misnomer 'malaria' which derives from the Italian mal aria (bad air).

Sulfanilamide was produced as an unwanted byproduct of the German dye industry for years before an accidental discovery showed it to be a very effective antibiotic. The researcher who ...

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