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Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation

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Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation
Medical Breakthroughs that Changed the World
By Sheryl Persson
Exisle Publishing, 2010
ISBN: 978-1921497063

A Book Review by Harry S. Chou - February 7, 2011

From smallpox to polio, medical science has saved thousands, if not millions of lives, thanks to the development of vaccines to defeat these age-old threats. In Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation: Medical Breakthroughs that Changed the World Sheryl Persson traces the development of countless vaccines and other 'cures' that have forever changed the course of human existence. She tells this salient story by interweaving the history and descriptions of these various diseases with the history of how the various treatments, vaccines, and cures were discovered, along with concise biographies of the many researchers who made these remarkable breakthroughs. The researchers covered in this book include Edward Jenner, Louis Pasteur, Robert Koch, Camille Guérin, Albert Calmette, Selman Waksman, Albert Schatz, Alexandre Emile Jean Yersin, Waldemar Haffkine, Shibasaburo Kitasato, Emil von Behring, Paul Ehrlich, Sahachiro Hata, Etienne Lancereaux, Ernest L. Scott, Frederick Grant Banting, Henry Best, James Collip, Alexander Bleming, Joseph Lister, Howard Florey, Ernst Chain, Jonas Salk, Albert Sabin, and many more.

Within the pages of this mesmerizing book, Persson traces the development of the smallpox vaccine and its application, and the discovery and importance of germ theory. She looks at the fight to defeat tuberculosis, a fight that we were once winning, but now the tide has turned and TB is once again, all too often, walking among humans unchecked. She looks at the efforts to defeat bubonic plague, the development of 'cures' for tetanus and diphtheria and treatments for syphilis and how these treatment measures led to the development of chemotherapy. She also looks into the discovery and uses of insulin and penicillin, as well as the polio vaccine, and the modern day miracle of designer drugs as seen through the prism of Gertrude Elion and George Hitchings's search for a cure for childhood leukaemia.

Eminently readable and informative, Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation takes readers on a remarkable journey through the history of some of the most extraordinary medical discoveries of the modern age. In writing this book, Persson included a great deal of information, but she has done so without overwhelming the reader. As well, you do not need a scientific background in order to understand the information presented. Most important, this book is well suited for readers of all ages and backgrounds. Rather than classify it as a history or science text, I would say that it leans more to being a collection of biographies that when combined, provide a detailed history of some the most important scientific and medical breakthroughs that have impacted human health and well-being.

In short, Smallpox, Syphilis and Salvation is a fascinating book and one which is sure to provoke much thought and further study on the part of the reader. For those interested in delving deeper into this fascinating topic, Persson has included a bibliography at the end of the text that can serve as a guide for further study. As well, her end notes include additional resources - both in print and online - that you can use to learn more about these remarkable breakthroughs.

Related Reviews:

Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World, by Irwin W. Sherman.
Discover how twelve diseases, namely porphyria, hemophilia, the Irish potato blight, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, syphilis, tuberculosis, malaria, yellow fever, the great influenza pandemic, and AIDS, changed the world and the very real threat they still pose for the future.

Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History, by Dorothy H. Crawford.
Written for the general reader, this book looks at both ancient and modern epidemics and how diseases develop and spread. It provides a general introduction to the role that microbes, and the diseases they often engender, have impacted human development and history.

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