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The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat : The Story of the Penicillin Miracle (John MacRae Books) Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 12, 2004

ISBN-10: 0805067906

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • ISBN-10: 0805067906
  • ASIN: B0007D9VPU
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,059,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This book sets out to correct the misapprehension that Alexander Fleming, the first scientist to discover the antibacterial properties of the mold Penicillium notatum, was also responsible for developing the wonder drug that saved countless lives and ushered in the era of modern medicine. Although Fleming coined the term "penicillin," his tentative research on the mold produced few valuable results and was prematurely abandoned. More than a decade later, in 1940, a pathology team at Oxford University—headed by Howard Florey, Ernst Chain and the now almost forgotten Norman Heatley—resumed Fleming's preliminary work and eventually developed the world's first viable antibiotic. Although Fleming, Florey and Chain shared a Nobel Prize in 1945 for their revolutionary work, accolades and media attention were disproportionately bestowed on Fleming, and in the popular imagination he was transformed into the sole creator of penicillin. Lax (Woody Allen; Life and Death on 10 West) has written a commendable account of this historical oversight, conveying the thrill of discovery during the upheaval of WWII and skillfully translating the abstruse technicalities of lab work and medical jargon into enjoyable prose. Yet this book also shows that monumental discoveries are not always born of monumental stories, and the narrative contains trivial details and petty grievances that made up these scientists' circumscribed lives. Lax's treatment is disciplined and focused, but it would have been improved by a broader historical sweep and more involved discussions of penicillin's impact on the pharmaceutical industry. 18-page b&w photo insert not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Alexander Fleming may be one of only two Nobel laureates in medicine (the other being Ivan Pavlov) whose name is well known to the general public. In contrast, his co-laureates Howard Florey and Ernst Chain and their vital contributions to the translation of Fleming's 1928 observation of the antibiotic qualities of a penicillium mold into the lifesaving drug penicillin are little remembered. The discovery has been both lauded by hagiographers and dissected by revisionists, foremost among the latter being Gwyn Macfarlane, whose biographies, first of Florey and then of Fleming, did much to broaden the story. It is the reflective, analytic tone of Macfarlane's books that Eric Lax adopts. He not only affirms the roles of all three Nobel Prize winners but also brings into the foreground the "fourth man" of penicillin, Norman Heatley, who was a major source for this book before his death early this year. (Figure) Although Fleming recognized the possibilities of penicillium, his kitchen chemistry experiments produced gallons of "mold juice" that had inconclusive effects. Poor experimental design combined with weak presentation skills and a literary style that Lax describes as "miserly" did little to stimulate others' interest. It was not until 1939 that Florey, Chain, and Heatley took up the work of chemical extraction in Oxford, England. The technical problems were immense; the relationship between Florey, a brash Australian, and Chain, a temperamental German-Jewish refugee, was difficult; and in the wartime conditions, equipment and supplies became increasingly scarce. On May 25, 1940, one of the most famous animal experiments in medical history took place. Eight mice were inoculated with a fatal dose of streptococcus. Four were also injected with a crude penicillin extract. Within hours, the untreated mice were dead and the penicillin-treated mice were still alive. Penicillin's spectacular possibilities were obvious. Weeks later, France fell to Germany, and Britain was left to fight alone in the war. The Oxford group of scientists realized that if the city were invaded, they would have to destroy their work to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. At Heatley's suggestion, they rubbed their jackets with the penicillium spores so that if they had to flee, they could carry the secret with them. A year later, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, Florey and Heatley carried the secret to the United States to persuade scientists and companies to undertake the production work that had been so crippled by shortages in the United Kingdom. The entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 altered the course of history in regard to penicillin, and by the end of 1943 its production was the second-highest priority of the U.S. War Department. New climates and traditions of research then clearly emerged -- for instance, the British Medical Research Council believed that patenting medicines was unethical. They rejected Chain's urgent requests that the work be protected -- a refusal that bore, Lax suggests, more than a hint of anti-Semitism. American companies patented their production techniques, and Chain's prophecy that he would have to pay royalties to use his own invention proved correct, although whether the Oxford scientists could have patented their preliminary work remains debatable. The powerful personalities and the extraordinary circumstances in which they struggled on both sides of the Atlantic richly embellish this fresh and hugely enjoyable account of an important episode in medical history. Tilli Tansey, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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The way the author presents the story is very readable and not dry.
KenG
I do have my differences with Lax on some points, but as with any good book on a topic as significant as this, that is to be expected.
J. Chambers
It is a great shame that Florey has not gone down in history as the person to bring penicillin to the world.
Peter J. Donlon

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Paul Tognetti TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having little aptitude for the sciences and not being particularly well versed in them either, I am generally somewhat leery of picking up a book on a topic like this. But let me assure everyone that Eric Lax has given the world a very readable book here. "The Mold In Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle" chronicles the fascinating story of the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in his laboratory in England in the late 1920's. While penicillin appeared to offer great promise Fleming would become frustrated with his lack of progress and abandoned his research after just a couple of years. It was about a decade later that Dr. Howard Florey and a team of dedicated scientists including Ernst Chain and Norman Heatley would resume the research at Oxford and ultimately solve the puzzle of how to produce mass quantities of this amazing drug. The impact of penicillin was immediate and undeniable. Penicillin was surely one of the great discoveries of the 20th century!

"The Mold In Dr. Florey's Coat" is easily one of the best books I have read this year. The story grabbed me immediately and I simply could not put this book down. I now appreciate the trials and tribulations, the joys and the heartaches and the enormous expense involved in getting a new drug to market. This story reminded me a great deal of the drama surrounding the development of vulcanized rubber and of the bitter rivalry between Charles Goodyear and Thomas Hancock. In each case it seems that the wrong person ultimately received the lions share of the credit for the discovery. This is a wonderful book that I would highly recommend to all.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book covers more than twenty-five years of the quest for a viable bacteria fighter recounting the lives of the major players and further depicting the slow progress of medical invention combating infection through all history. The most critical era of this story, however, is coincidently the most important and harrowing years of the 20th century. The all too real threat of a Nazis invasion of Great Britain served as the backdrop for this story?s most vital moments.
Few would argue against the notion that the discovery and creation of Penicillin as a viable life saving medication is the most important medical event of the 20th century. Mr. Lax in a detailed, can?t put it down, page-turner manages to incorporate the nuances of all of the disparate personalities of the main characters whose devotion to their science and unrelenting commitment to the saving of untold millions of lives refuse to be deterred by the often overwhelming obstacles that faced them each day. In this new century when bringing a drug to market is reputed to take upwards of 10 to 15 million dollars, we watch as Dr. Florey goes before his money sources for research at Oxford and other entities of the time in hopes of raising $100.00 for supplies and comes away with $25.00. (That?s right, the decimal points were not misplaced) What we see to our amazement is that they made due.
Dr. Norman Heatley was a genius at coming up with a substitute for just about every necessary hospital research tool imaginable. We share his glee when he shows the rest of the team his latest Rube Goldberg contraption for making some vital process work.
There are countless anecdotes in the day-to-day stories of the mission?s successes and failures, all notes and attributions are scrupulously noted by Mr. Lax.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Most of us, if asked who discovered penicillin, would answer that it was Alexander Fleming. The answer is correct as far as it goes. Most of us would probably also think that having discovered how penicillin could fight infection, Fleming got the word out and manufacture of the miracle drug began, to the benefit of all humankind. The truth is that Fleming discovered the mold's antibiotic potential in 1928, and the drug went nowhere. He was not able to find a way to extract the active component of the mold and so he never made any use of it. He gave up trying in 1935. It was only three years later that a researcher unconnected with Fleming got curious about the mold's potential, and thought it would be worth investigation by his team at Oxford. Credit is given where credit is due in _The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat: The Story of the Penicillin Miracle_ (Henry Holt) by Eric Lax. Without the Oxford researchers, to whom Fleming was unconnected, the benefits of the drug would not have been available to Allied troops during the war, and Lax shows that developing the drug was a real wartime effort.

It was only by sheer luck in 1938 that the brilliant German biochemist Ernst Chain found Fleming's paper, and was immediately interested. Chain worked within the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford. He was part of a team that had been assembled by Howard Florey, an Australian physician devoted to research, a man who combined acute scientific instincts with skillful capacity to manage scientific team effort. Also recruited was Norman Heatley, a wizard in the lab with equipment and microscopic observation and analysis. It was this team that gave the world penicillin as a working drug.
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