Summary and book reviews of The Remedy by Thomas Goetz

The Remedy

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

by Thomas Goetz

The Remedy
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2015, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

Excerpt
The Remedy

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 explanation—and 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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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 Members Only (941 words).

Media Reviews

Forbes

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.

Washington Times

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

The Wall Street Journal

An enjoyable chronicle.

The Los Angeles Times

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Kirkus Reviews

A beguiling real-life medical detective story.

Author Blurb Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map
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.

Author Blurb Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses and The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution
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.

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Beyond the Book

Tuberculosis and...Sherlock Holmes

Did you know?

Schatzalp Sanatorium
  • At its height tuberculosis killed 1 in 7 people
  • According to Thomas Goetz in The Remedy, TB may have been "the most lethal disease in history, having claimed more than a billion lives since it was first identified in ancient Greece"
  • Two-thirds of active cases of TB would end in death
  • TB, like anthrax, is believed to have originated with agriculture about 9,000 years ago: springing from the soil and passing through the vectors of meat and milk
  • The pasteurization process, which kills off bacteria in milk, reduced the spread of TB
  • In the nineteenth century TB was believed to be caused by "miasma" (bad air) or heredity; only later was the cause revealed to be bacterial (Mycobacterium tuberculosis)
  • Through history, TB ...

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