The Remedy

The Remedy

Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis

Book - 2014
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During the surge of the deadliest and cruellest disease in history comes the unexpected encounter of two great men- one a pioneer of modern science, the other a pioneer of modern literature. In The Remedy , Thomas Goetz chronicles the riveting story of Robert Koch, a provincial doctor turned revolutionary scientist whose kitchen-sink discoveries inspired a new age of medicine - and ultimately aroused the interest and then the suspicion of another ambitious doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle.

The account begins in 1875, when a diagnosis of tuberculosis or consumption, was a death sentence. Doctors had little in their arsenal for treating this cunning disease and were even less certain about what caused it. But a scientific revolution was brewing. Koch, armed with but a microscope and a notebook, began to methodically pursue these things called 'germs'. His biggest discovery - one that would push medicine out of the dark ages - was of the bacteria that caused tuberculosis. After the accolades and honors, Koch set his sights on a greater glory- not just to identify the cause but to create a cure.

And then, he had it. When Koch announced his remedy for tuberculosis in 1890, euphoria swept the globe. Physician and aspiring writer Arthur Conan Doyle joined the throngs racing to Berlin for the public demonstration. But amid the frenzy over Koch's remedy, Conan Doyle quietly toured the wards of treated patients. He was staggered by what he found- Koch's remedy was either sloppy science or outright fraud.

Conan Doyle has no choice but to accuse one of the world's greatest scientists of an unfathomable error. The question was this- Whom would the world believe?

The Remedy , is a stunning tale of ambition and hubris, of discovery and deceit. It chronicles the profound shift in medical science from the nineteenth century of cod-liver oil and leeches to the twentieth century of microscopes and antibiotics. And it vividly explores how modern medicine emerges, not as the inevitable march of progress but as a lurching tumult of failed experiments and petty rivalries.

In a brilliant interweaving of scientific and literary history, Goetz vividly shows that Koch and Conan Doyle shared more than a chance meeting- they were collaborators in the new age of medicine. What Koch proved in his laboratory Conan Doyle brought to the world through his literature - especially through his new scientific detective, Sherlock Holmes. As The Remedy makes clear, without Robert Koch, Sherlock Holmes would never have existed.

Publisher: New York : Penguin Group (USA) ©2014.
ISBN: 9781592407514
Characteristics: xx, 298 pages :,illustrations ;,24 cm


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DBRL_IdaF Nov 14, 2016

Mild spoiler: Arthur Conan Doyle doesn't really appear until after page 100.

Goetz has accomplished a lot with this intricately woven book, pulling together many threads into a coherent, complex, yet engaging narrative. It's a story of medical discovery. It's also the story of two brilliant and flawed men who changed the world. And the story of how people are shaped by the times in which they live. And a look at how society comes to accept new information.

Robert Koch, a simple country doctor, working in the backroom of his medical practice, discovered the cause of anthrax and single-handedly proved germ theory, an idea which still had many skeptics back in the day. As his reputation and influence grew, he also helped invent a method for photographing microbes and ultimately uncovered the germ that causes TB, the most lethal disease in history. But there are a few morals to be gleaned from his life story, such as: Pride goes before a fall, and history is messy.

Arthur Conan Doyle, a practicing physician and part-time writer set out to cover the story of Koch's purported invention of a remedy for tuberculosis. He was one of the few people to report on it with clarity and reason. Not long after, his fascination with new methods of scientific detection led to the creation of Sherlock Holmes, changing his life and the world's literature forever. At the same time, Conan Doyle's wife was dying of TB.

Well-researched and documented.

May 30, 2015

Living in the 21st century, we think little about the state of medicine and common diseases in the 19th century. Tuberculosis, afflicting and ultimately responsible for the deaths of 25% of the population in Europe, seems an innocuous and nearly foreign concept to us now. Just how did the disease go from affecting nearly every household and family in the Western world, to something we no longer think about, much less fear? In The Remedy, Thomas Goetz presents the captivating birth of germ theory, discovered and advanced initially by little-known, small-town doctor Robert Koch. Koch's meticulous and thorough experiments with Anthrax bacteria convinced him that diseases were spread through contact with infected individuals, rather than the prevailing theory of "bad air" or "bad humors." Convincing the prevailing leaders in Western medicine during the late 19th century, however, was a monumental task. The Remedy reads like an engaging novel, and was difficult to put down. I'd previously known little about the origins of bacteriology and enjoyed every chapter. Particularly heartbreaking were the handful of paragraphs about Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who made the connection between puerperal fever during childbirth and the cleanliness (or lack thereof) of attending physicians' hands. I'd heard of Semmelweis and his work previously, but not that he was ultimately driven to madness because of the refusal of his contemporaries to believe in his discovery and convert to more hygienic practices. I found Arthur Conan Doyle's role in the story to be somewhat of a reach, almost an afterthought by the author stretching to tie two famous names together -- interesting with respect to his own rise to prominence, but the story really belongs to Koch.

Jul 26, 2014

"The Remedy" is an outstanding book of science history. It is very readable and Goetz makes the characters and the time period come alive. he main story is very dramatic, where an unknown amateur scientist, Robert Koch, working alone after hours manages to definitively overturn the misguided established doctrine and prove that microbes cause disease. Goetz also paints a vivid picture of the impact of infectious diseases during the nineteenth century.
Three is an intriguing cast of characters including Louis Pasteur as well as many of the leading men of science in Koch's homeland of Germany during the nineteenth century as well as the turn of the twentieth century.
I found the tie in to Arthur Conan Doyle a little far-fetched, but the treatment of Conan Doyle's life and work was interesting and informative.
The book was a great human as well as scientific story. If the goal of the Summer Reading Program is to read about science,you couldn't do better.

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