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Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug Hardcover – August 26, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (August 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582343861
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582343860
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #344,549 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* According to British journalist Jeffreys' well-documented book, aspirin was born a little more than 100 years ago. That is, the word aspirin was coined in 1899 as a label for a new product, acetylsalicylic acid, manufactured by the German textile dye and pharmaceutical company Bayer. The concoction had been a known pain and fever reliever for well more than 6,000 years, but it took Bayer, which would eventually lose control of its baby in America for more than 75 years, to create the very first drug that owed its existence to a commercial rather than a scientific or medical ethic. Yes, aspirin was the earliest offspring of the increasingly uncomfortable yet wildly profitable marriage of medicine and commerce. What with Americans knocking back about 80 billion (yes, billion) 300 mg aspirin tablets a year, to say nothing of even more billions taken throughout the rest of the world, the story of this little white pill makes fascinating reading. Besides the drug's widely known medical applications for pain and fever relief, heart attack and stroke prevention, and more, its colorful history includes drama, pathos, plot twists, humor, intrigue and even a handful of scurrilous and despicable characters. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


'Fascinating ... Aspirin appears to be one of the most useful drugs ever discovered. Thanks to the work of all the scientists so deservedly recalled in this books, it is also extremely cheap: in fact no drug is cheaper. Perhaps there is something in the notion of providence after all' Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph 'This biography of aspirin has some cracking factoids' Scotland on Sunday 'An enthralling read ... fascinating ... the author pieces the jigsaw together in thriller style' David O'Donoghue, Sunday Business Post 'He tells a story which blends politics, big business, social and medical history, greed, incredible dedication and human folly in a lively page-turner read' Irish Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

In all, this very enlightening book made for good reading.
Newton Ooi
This reader also suggests you read a similar 5 star book from 1991 "Aspirin Wars, The: Money, Medicine, and 100 Years of Rampant Competition."
G. Reid
An amazing book detailing the most interesting history of a little aspirin tablet.
Joseph Klinger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Aspirin is follows aspirin through its birth (Ancient Sumer and/or Egypt using willow bark as medicinal treatment), childhood (purification, chemical synthesis), adolescence (the race for monopoly and profit), adulthood (most popular drug on the planet), mid-life crisis (advent of new drugs such as Tylenol and ibuprofen), and its sudden discovery that there is life after middle-age (use as heart medicine and its possible use for a variety of other medicinal purposes).

The story is well-paced for the most part and the writing is strong. It's always clear, even when explaining the chemistry, and Jeffreys knows when enough is enough and how to move fluidly from one stage of development to the next. He also does an excellent job of making this as much about people as about chemistry, offering up small but memorable characterizations of the many people involved in aspirin's development, beginning with a young Egyptologist who bought a "found" papyrus that turned out to be the largest medical reference of ancient Egypt.

Sometimes in his enthusiasm for his subject Jeffreys may overstate aspirin's influence a bit, such as its historical role in World War II and the Nazi govt. or its efficacy during the flu pandemic of the early 20th century or still-to-be-proven uses such as a cancer fighting drug. But none of these are way out of line and they happen so rarely, and are so reasonable that they detract hardly at all from the book's pleasure.

Personally, I found the ancient history and its early history the most interesting and compelling, while the sections on German Bayer's attempts to corner the market and its later influence in Nazism to be a little overlong. Not that they weren't interesting in their own right, just that they could have been cut a bit more.
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44 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Joel M. Kauffman on March 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The engaging writing actually was worth 4 stars, while the medical accuracy was about 1 star. It was fascinating to read about the personal characters of many of the main players with aspirin.

For the primary prevention of heart attacks, the author failed to note that most or all of the subjects were men in the various trials. Based on later work available to Mr. Jeffreys, this omission was serious, since MDs and others recommended aspirin for women as though they had been tested from the beginning.

The Physicians Health Study (PHS) of 7 years duration that generated all the rave headlines (p262) in 1989 did cut mostly non-fatal heart attack risk to 0.31 of placebo. Mr. Jeffreys failed to mention that the all-cause death risk was 0.96 and not statistically significant. Further, he neglected to mention that the PHS did not use aspirin, but used Bufferin™. This is not a trivial difference because of the beneficial magnesium content of Bufferin™. The later UK trial of plain aspirin on 5,500 male physicians for 7 years told a different story. The risk of non-fatal heart attack was a less impressive 0.68, and the mortality risk was 1.06. A later trial of 3.1 years that included separate results for women taking daily aspirin of unknown form gave them a mortality risk of 1.12.

Mr. Jeffreys fell for the ruse of relative risk (RR) rather than absolute risk (AR); Big Pharma uses RR to generate bigger numbers. For the 22,000 men in the PHS the reduction of AR per year of a first heart attack was just 0.11%, not a big deal. Aspirin for primary prevention is not worth the risk.

For secondary prevention of heart attacks (ones other than the first), Mr. Jeffreys correctly presented the fact that the RR with aspirin was down to 0.75-0.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We take aspirin for granted; we have had it as a handy analgesic since 1899. It has, however, a history far longer than that, and during its subsequent time as a commercial tablet, it has been at the heart of medical, advertising, scientific and historic controversies. In _Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug_ (Bloomsbury), Diarmuid Jeffreys has told the whole story of a drug that became a standard tablet only after many centuries of use, and then, when other pain relievers were crowding it out, became a nostrum for heart attack and stroke prevention, as well as other indications. It is a terrific story of many side branches, and Jeffreys has told it with a lively sense of humor (for there are many wrong-headed notions along the way, and many peculiar people) and also admiration for those who have pursued the development and use of aspirin in a scientific way.

Physicians in ancient Egypt used extracts from willow trees as analgesics, and probably learned about them from the Sumerians before. Hippocrates and Galen knew of it, but we lost wisdom about such things in the Middle Ages. The modern story begins with the Reverend Edward Stone who lived in Chipping Norton, England. Around 1757, Stone came to correct conclusions about willow bark, but used doubtful reasoning, for instance that it was bitter like quinine and so would help fevers. There was a boom in chemical synthesis in the nineteenth century, and Friedrich Bayer & Co., a German firm, succeeded in making pure ASA in quantities, and christened it Aspirin. There were few proven drugs on the market at the time, drugs like quinine and digitalis, and other than the opiates, there were no proven analgesics. This meant that Aspirin quickly became one of the most widely used drugs in the world.
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