The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse: The Remarkable Autobiography of the Award-Winning Scientist Who Synthesized the Birth Control Pill Kindle Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
- ASIN : B00IATKIYQ
- Publisher : Plunkett Lake Press (February 5, 2014)
- Publication date : February 5, 2014
- Language : English
- File size : 2526 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 352 pages
- Lending : Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,031,514 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Djerassi and Syntex came to chemistry when the significance of steroid compounds was first recognized. One, cortisone, was remarkable in the treatment of arthritis, but it was extracted from butchered animals making it costly and rare. Russell Marker of Pennsylvania State University discovered a wild yam growing in Mexico that contained an easily isolated steroid that could be converted to other steroids. In an age when a gram of cortisone was worth $200, Syntex synthesized a mason jar of it (worth $1MM) and had it delivered to a drug company by armored car. On this basis, Syntex was founded as a commercial source of steroids. Once steroids became practical and available, Syntex and Djerassi played a key role in exploring their potential resulting in synthetic hormones and eventually birth control pills. Djerassi does a good job describing the competitive nature of synthesis and publication of key steroids. Drug companies and leading chemists hurried to be first to publish.
In 1952, Djerassi moved to an academic position at Wayne State University in Detroit. There he continued research on steroids. The potential of steroids to prevent ovulation was recognized early in the 1950s and Seale and Parke-Davis both had an interest, but they feared the opposition of the Catholic Church and potential boycotts of major products. Finally, Ortho Division of Johnson & Johnson came to market first, followed a few years later by Searle and Parke-Davis.
In 1959, while on a two year sabbatical from Wayne State and working as director of research at Syntex in Mexico City, Djerassi was offered a position at Stanford University in Palo Alto. WS Johnson had been appointed head of the new department being created at Stanford. Syntex was acquired from its Mexican owners by Allen and Co., an investment bank, in the mid-fifties and taken public. The stock had done very well. In 1959, Syntex followed Djerassi to Palo Alto so Djerassi at Stanford could continue as an officer at Syntex.
Djerassi's career spanned the era when numerous instruments were developed to assist in determining the structure of organic chemicals. Instruments replaced wet methods which were laborious and much less informative. Djerassi made his mark in several instrumental methods included Optical Rotary Dispersion, where he published a book, and mass spectroscopy of organic compounds. He worked out the rules for fragmentation patterns that greatly increased the utility of mass spectroscopy in elucidating structure.
Syntex was acquired by Roche in 1994.
This book is a detailed telling of the professional career of a major scientist. It will be of interest as a company profile, telling of the challenges faced by Syntex as it pursued many ventures. It also describes the world of academia, the competitive aspects, as well as the value of the famous network of associates. Drug research has moved on to other topics and newer styles, but the same basic concept-a promising research lead is pursued to fully develop its potential-proved highly successful in the case of steroids, and is still the basic model that creates new drugs. Those considering careers in drug research will find it informative. Much of the story is well told, but parts will be appreciated more by those with some chemistry background.
Frank autobiography of a fascinating man
This shouldn't been all that surprising, as great science is made not by incremental data gathering, as most think, but by great leaps of inspiration, creativity, and synthesis of ideas. The best scientists, then, are equally as creative as the best artists- perhaps more so, as science is a much more complicated affair. We're often surprised to learn of a physicist who paints, or a biologist who writes poetry. Think of how much more surprised we'd be to learn of a poet who did cosmology, or a sculptor who dabbled in prime number theorizing.
Carl Djerassi is a chemist who writes novels and poetry, but that aspect of his life is much less interesting than his accomplishments in science. He's best known as the "father of the contraceptive pill", but his accomplishments in steroidal chemistry go far beyond that. Many of his papers are landmarks in the field, the lab techniques he developed are the cornerstone of any analytic labs today, and his students went on to become leading figures in academia and industry. He helped build up one of the most important drug companies in the world, started two great chemistry departments, and yes, wrote several novels, much poetry, and one honest and fascinating autobiography.
"I have no regrets that the Pill has contributed to the sexual revolution of our time and perhaps expedited it, because most of those changes in sexual mores would have happened anyway."
Djerassi give us an incisive picture of his personal life. But the biggest part of this book tells the intriguing story of the synthesizing of the Pill and the problems to prove that there were only minor side-effects: a battle with the FDA. A good lesson for every scientist.
He is perhaps too harsh for the environmental fundamentalist. But he remarks among other things that "... in general, life in the modern industrial world has not contributed to increased death from cancer", and that "99.9 percent of all pesticides consumed by humans are derived not from synthetics but rather from the plants themselves".
Also interesting is the story of the Pugwash Conference, whose altruistic goal was corrupted by a struggle between the cold war warriors.
His biggest confession "At heart, I'm still a gambler."
Excellent work, not only for scientists.