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Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Cooper and Ainsberg present an inspirational record of how the confluence of just the right people at just the right time in just the right places launched a boon for diabetics the world over. When Elizabeth Hughes Gossett was laid to rest in 1981 at the age of 73, few people knew that, by all rights, she should never have lived long enough to enter high school, much less graduate college, marry, and have children. Fewer still may have known or appreciated that while still a child, she risked what little life she may have had left by participating in a medical experiment that, if successful, would save her own and millions of other lives. A remarkable story, made more so by the efforts of Frederick Banting, who tipped fate in Elizabeth’s favor. Just as the honeybee believes its wings will carry it through the air against all physical odds, Banting believed he could perfect a product—insulin—that would save the lives of diabetics. Bees fly and Banting did, and this account makes worthy reading. --Donna Chavez


"The twentieth century witnessed many medical miracles, but perhaps none was so transformative as the discovery of insulin for the treatment for diabetes. Breakthrough is the fascinating tale of Nobel prize-winning research, of a young girl who should have died as a child but instead lived to see seven grandchildren, and of a drug that turned a death sentence into something more akin to a chronic nuisance. This book is an important read for anyone with diabetes. It is an enjoyable read for those who love mystery and human drama."--Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University 


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312648707
  • ASIN: B0055X5OB2
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #951,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This book details the discovery of insulin and how that discovery affected the lives of Elizabeth Hughes and her family. Cooper, a playwright, and Ainsberg, an author, put together this book as a collaborative project. The book juxtaposes the details of the discovery and development of insulin as a therapy for diabetes with the diagnosis and subsequent health decline of Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of Charles Evans Hughes. Elizabeth Hughes was first diagnosed with diabetes in April 1919 at the age of 12. At that time, the best therapy for diabetes was Allen's starvation treatment, in which patients were put on a strict dietary regime which kept them on a knife's edge between sugar poisoning and outright starvation; indeed, as Cooper and Ainsberg note in this book, many of Allen's patients succumbed to starvation. Allen's severe dietary restrictions were no cure for diabetes, but merely a stopgap measure, with the hope that it would enable patients to survive long enough for a diabetes cure to be found. Elizabeth Hughes was one of the Allen's most famous patients, and one of the first for whom the starvation gamble paid off when insulin treatments began to be tested on human patients in 1922.

This book delves into the gritty details of the discovery and development of insulin, how a young doctor named Frederick Banting with no research experience but a unique idea was able to persuade veteran Toronto researcher Charles Best to let him try a summer project in his lab. Cooper and Ainsberg relate the details of Banting and Best's subsequent strife-filled collaboration. They also discuss the family background of Elizabeth Hughes and her well-known father, Charles Evans Hughes.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By The Reviewer Formerly Known as Kurt Johnson TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover
When I was a mere eleven years old, my parents noticed my brother attempting to smuggle a pitcher of water up to his bedroom. He admitted that he had been drinking a lot of late, and my parents became alarmed. Rushing him off to the hospital he was quickly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was a strange and frightening time for the whole family, and I read everything I could on the disease to get an understanding of what was happening to my brother.

This book, takes the reader back in time to that amazing transitional time in 1922 when the diagnosis of diabetes changed from being a sentence of death, when the discovery of insulin gave so many people world-wide back their lives. It looks at the victims of the disease, focusing primarily on Elizabeth Hughes, daughter of the Secretary of State of the United States, and looks at the researchers whose activities resulted in the most important breakthrough in the treatment of the disease.

First off, I must agree that this book does take the barebones story of what happened in 1922 and before, fleshes it out with a good deal of "imagined" detail. Therefore this book is probably not terribly useful to someone who wants a reliable and scholarly history.

What this book is is more of what I would call a "popular history," that is, a book written to tell the story of the discovery of insulin, but in an entertaining and engaging manner. I for one found this to be a very informative and entertaining book. The early part that dealt with what families went through before the discovery of insulin was quite literally heartbreaking. And I must admit that when I got to the part where peoples lives were being returned to them (as opposed to living in a concentration camp-like sanitarium), I quite literally got tears in my eyes.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Rodriguez on April 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Just finished the book and as a type 1 diabetic (23 years now) I have to say it was pretty interesting. I like reading about the trials and tribulations of the work Banting and Best did. The story of Elizabeth Hughes, while interesting, really got in the way of the actual Breakthrough portion of the story.

Reading her parts left me with a feeling of "so what?" I would have rather had more time and pages devoted to Banting and Best. I understand telling her story was for dramatic effect but in the end I feel her story just fell flat. I think, in part, that has to do with the fact that she hid her diabetes for the rest of her life. I understand that is a product of the times she was brought up in but really this breakthrough story was about the discovery of insulin, not a little girl who happened to use parental influence to get said insulin and hide her disease for the rest of her life.

The other thing that bothered me about the book was the authors' making up conversations and situations that they explicitly state either did not or could not have happened. I understand the want for drama but when talking about such an important subject I found it to be a little over the top and call into question how factual they were being on other portions of the book.

In the end the book is a good read about a subject and drug near and dear to me. So would I recommend it? Yes, with the caveat that the reader do further research to get the real story about insulin and its discovery.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Andy in Washington TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I was expecting a history of insulin-how it was discovered, the details of purifying and testing it, and the problems of large scale production. Cooper and Ainsberg touch on these subjects, but it was far from a detailed description of these events. Instead the book meanders through the lives of several famous Americans a couple Canadians and the odd Scotsman.

The High Points:

>The book was eminently readable, and written in a pleasant tone. I ended up reading it in two sittings, and enjoyed the narrative.

>The history of insulin is presented through the eyes of patients and doctors involved. There were some surprising details about the early treatments for diabetes, which make injections seem mild in comparison.

>There is a smattering of the history and motivations of the medical men behind the discovery, and a peek into the rivals of the academic and research environments.

The Low Points:

>The book goes down a number of blind allies that really do not add to the story, even as background information. Further, the book often skips around from subplot to subplot, which made me impatient to get back to the story.

>The actual discovery and trials of insulin are almost an afterthought to the book. Instead the narrative concentrates on the biographies of the Hughes family, and their political and medical history. Interesting material, but not what I was expecting.

>There were entire "discussions" in the text which appear to be more fabricated than actual history. While it helps the readability, it does diminish from the factual content-especially as some of the relationships were full of conflict.
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