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Medicine, Science and Merck 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521662956
ISBN-10: 0521662958
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Editorial Reviews

From The New England Journal of Medicine

Writing one's life is a risky venture of memory, invention, and desire. With intellectual depth and formal rigor, Roy Vagelos and the historian Louis Galambos have written a serious and nourishing report of Vagelos's life in medicine, science, and the corporate world. Vagelos became chief executive officer of Merck by way of an authoritative career as a cardiologist and biochemist, as a National Institutes of Health scientist at the forward edge of research on the biosynthesis and control of cholesterol, as chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry at Washington University, and as a research scientist at Merck. His scientific life is animated by a set of enduring questions about lipids and heart disease. Spanning enzyme research, molecular genetics, human trials, and the marketing of statins, his career helped to usher in our current powers in preventive cardiology. His interior life has been informed by a set of enduring values, which were derived from the Greek immigrant experience of the Great Depression. By making ice cream and working the sandwich counter in his father's delicatessen in Westfield, New Jersey, Vagelos infused duty and familial loyalty into his bones. Medicine, Science, and Merck achieves the goals of autobiography by making the present transparent with the past, showing the subject -- as both narrator and protagonist -- reflecting on his past actions and making sense of them in the light of present knowledge. The book is a seamless weave of many stories -- of the familial and cultural, of the complex fellowship among colleagues, and of the science itself, all the way down to the tales of molecules. The reader not only absorbs each strand of the narrative but also recognizes that these strands are irrevocably linked, that there is no science without them. There is no need to "humanize" science or medicine; it comes to the reader, because the science or medicine itself is humanizing as long as one is equipped with the imagination to heed its generative purpose. (Vagelos's full given name is Pindaros Roy; he lives up to his namesake, the classical Greek poet Pindar.) This is also a moral book. Like an active pump on a membrane, Vagelos injects his idealism into Merck's corporate setting, enacting values of accountability, altruism, and devotion even while toeing the bottom line. Merck's decision to make ivermectin available free to cure river blindness in sub-Saharan Africa presages efforts of the industry, one hopes, to make other pharmaceutical agents affordable. This journey shines with optimism for all of us who have become demoralized by the failure of the ideals of science, medicine, and the corporate world and by the threat of defeat of our shared ethical vision. The book also gives heart to the reader to take a similar look at his or her journey, assessing its enduring values, measuring its missed opportunities, admiring its texture. Medicine, Science, and Merck brings into focus hard questions about the social costs of corporate profit structures, scientific pride, and the hunger for political power. No doubt this is but a partial report; no doubt others can tell competing versions of these events. Nonetheless, the moral freshness of the effort poses a challenge to us all to live within our cosmos as searchers, risk takers, beholders of the complexity of our world, and servants to its needs. Rita Charon, M.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 2004 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

Review

"...this book is good business history...makes a strong case for institutional autonomy of the pharmaceutical industry against government price controls of drugs." J.P. Brickman, United States Merchant Marine Academy, Choice

"...a very important book...a seemless weave of many stories...tremendous nourishment." Rita Charon, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia University

"A wonderful book about how one individual's values and vision have shaped one of America's most innovative companies. It is a tale that ranges from the fight against AIDS to the discovery of lifesaving heart medicines. Read this book, and you'll understand more about modern medicine, public health and how private sector science benefits mankind everyday." Former Senator Bill Bradley

"Roy Vagelos is a universally admired leader, and he has used his rare gifts of energy, creativity and idealism to profoundly affect our world. I encourage everyone to read the inside story of his central role in developing some of the most exciting, lifesaving innovations in modern medicine where he functioned in the combined role of scientist and model CEO." Bruce Alberts, President, National Academy of Sciences

"If you want the real story on the pharmaceutical industry, Medicine, Science and Merck is the best place to start. Vagelos and Galambos tell us what it takes to be an innovator in an American industry that has long been the world's leading source of new drugs and vaccines." William C. Steere, Chairman of the Board Emeritus, Pfizer Inc.

"Like so much of America, Medicine, Science, and Merck is, on the one hand, an intriguing story about an extraordinary American and a great American company. On the other and more importantly, it is also an intersecting and overlapping set of narratives about immigrants in America, medicine as a profession and an industry, and public policy that somehow transcends the fascinating story of an extraordinary American. Indeed this book succeeds in telling us a good deal about both ourselves and the nature of an important set of public policy issues that continue to grasp the public imagination and remain unresolved." Harold T. Shapiro, President Emeritus and Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton University

"This journey shines with optimism for all of us who have become demoralized by the failure of the ideals of science, medicine, and the corporate world and by the threat of defeat of our shared ethical vision. The book also gives heart to the reader to take a similar journey, assessing its enduring values, measuring its missed opportunities, admiring its texture." New England Journal
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521662958
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521662956
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #775,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 5, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Roy Vagelos lived a rags-to-riches dream. He culminated his career as CEO of Merck, a giant company whose employees used to take lunch breaks at the store where he swept the floors as a boy. This is an inspiring tale, but not directly instructive. The author offers no tips for doctors, scientists or executives, nor does he address most of the current hot-button issues facing pharmaceutical companies. Vagelos simply, matter-of-factly presents the story of one man's life and achievements, without preaching or teaching. He does offer insights into scientific research (maybe too many, but this is his passion), into competitive hiring and into his management approach. His discussion of Merck's public health initiatives provides a much-needed counterpoint to the bad press the pharmaceutical industry has received in recent years. We suggest this book to those interested in Merck's history, in the pharmaceutical industry, in biochemistry or in a perfect example of an American immigrant's rise to success.
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By gcy1 on November 23, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Truly an inspirational story from son of an immigrant to biochemistry professor to Director of Research Labs to CEO of Merck & Co. Dr. Vagelos shared his personal story with the readers. He made the decision to share the Merck medicine to cure river blindness in Africa, Without this humanitarian gesture, Drs. William C Campbell and Satoshi 'mura would not be co-winners of 2015 Nobel prize in Medicine.
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Format: Hardcover
Don't listen to any reviewers who tell you that they were disappointed not to have more about Roy Vagelos' "inner life" or "emotional life." Vagelos has had two stories to tell - one about the growth and development of medical science in business and the other implicitly about the dream of the ethnic American realized - and these stories are social, national and intellectual rather than "personal" in nature. The most exciting aspect of the book for me comes when he makes the leap from science to management - the final two steps up at Merck. As a reader, I like the Roy Vagelos who keeps to his personal style (seeing people face to face, visiting them where they work, solving problems through individuals rather than concepts, etc.) and who is willing to admit the limitations of that style (though, happily, they are few). This creates a sense of trust and believability (I mean in the writer-reader relationship), which is turn keeps us turning pages in what is otherwise a modest book.
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Format: Hardcover
This is both a personal and a scientific autobiography/biography, beautifully done. A good read, with the science and corporate life understandable to the nonscientific reader. An action-packed adventure of an individual, a close-knit Greek-American family, and the pursuit of science -- at NIH, in Paris, at Washington University, and at Merck. The book provides an invaluable window into the scientific process as a human undertaking, warts and all. Good for young people thinking about science and/or corporate careers, as well as adding a needed perspective to the history of science through its nuanced account of research within the pharmaceutical industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Dr. Vagelos has such an oversized ego he implores the reader to believe that every good thing that Merck ever did was his doing as CEO. The truth is his legacy was a Merck that went from being number one to an also ran with more problems that still trouble a once fine organization.
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