Summary and book reviews of The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig

The Birth of the Pill

How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

by Jonathan Eig

The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig X
The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2014, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2014, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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About this Book

Book Summary

The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

We know it simply as "the pill," yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Spanning the years from Sanger's heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

O N E
A Winter Night

Manhattan, Winter 1950 She was an old woman who loved sex and she had spent forty years seeking a way to make it better. Though her red hair had gone gray and her heart was failing, she had not given up. Her desire, she said, was as strong and simple as ever: She wanted a scientific method of birth control, something magical that would permit a woman to have sex as often as she liked without becoming pregnant. It struck her as a reasonable wish, yet through the years one scientist after another had told her no, it couldn't be done. Now her time was running out, which was why she had come to an apartment high above Park Avenue to meet a man who was possibly her last hope.

The woman was Margaret Sanger, one of the legendary crusaders of the twentieth century. The man was Gregory Goodwin Pincus, a scientist with a genius IQ and a dubious reputation.

Pincus was forty-seven years old, five feet ten and a half inches tall, with a bristly ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The Birth of the Pill is a revealing and thoroughly researched account of the players who put everything on the line — money, prestige, careers — to create a product they truly believed in. Eig’s account is impressive, not just as an insight into a slice of American history, but as a reminder of the path of women’s rights across well over half a century. It’s a searing testament to how much has been gained since — and just how much things have remained the same.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (814 words).

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Media Reviews

Examiner.com
Fascinating… Weaving medical, corporate, and political history with rich biographical detail, Eig turns the history of the pill into a scientific suspense story full of profoundly human characters. The result is cultural history at its finest.

Library Journal
More biography than science, this work will appeal to readers interested in popular history and cultural shifts during the 1950s. However, those seeking information on the biological and pharmaceutical aspects of birth control pills will be disappointed.

Kirkus Reviews
A well-paced, page-turning popular history featuring a lively, character-driven blend of scientific discovery and gender politics.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Eig's fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history.

Booklist
An engrossing and paramount chronicle… [Eig] brings his keen understanding of competition and outlawry, his affinity for rebels, and vigorous and vivid writing style to this dramatic tale of strong personalities, radical convictions, and world-altering scientific and social breakthroughs.

Author Blurb T. J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
The pill is that rare invention that transforms the world… The Birth of the Pill is vivid, compelling, and important.

Author Blurb Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank
Jonathan Eig turns the history of the pill into a smart and spicy account of the unlikely bonds that linked a millionaire activist, a free-loving crusader, a Roman Catholic gynecologist, and a maverick scientist.

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Beyond the Book

Surprising Facts About The Pill

The Pill The pill wasn't an accident, but it was a surprise.
The birth-control pill has been labeled the most important invention of the twentieth century, but no drug company, no university, and no government agency wanted anything to do with it in the beginning. The pill never would have been developed if not for a small group of radicals hell-bent on changing the world.

In the 1950s, it was illegal in most of the United States to disseminate information about birth control.
To get around the law, the inventors of the pill had to be sneaky. They tested the pill at first as a fertility drug. After that they tested it on women in mental institutions - without asking permission - and on women in the slums of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

...

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