Genre: nonfiction biographical science
Length: 256 pages of text, 320 pages total
Setting: Germany and England, late 1800s to early 1900s
Interest: This was brought to my attention by The Modern Mrs. Darcy in one of her summer reading guides (this post shows the other books I added from that list). Basically, I’m always on the lookout for new science books and the topic of this one sounded interesting.
Summary: The book starts out by following Richard Koch. He was a German doctor practicing just as germ theory was gaining credence among scientists. Koch dreamed of contributing to science like Pasteur, and developed a makeshift laboratory to do research. He was meticulous in his research, which brought him to the attention of other scientists, especially when he established bacteria as the cause of anthrax. Koch wasn’t satisfied with his renown, so he tackled tuberculosis and finding a cure. Arthur Conan Doyle was also a country doctor, who did a little writing on the side. He convinced a weekly review magazine to send him to see Koch’s reveal of his cure. Doyle wasn’t convinced it was a cure. Koch broke the cardinal rule of science and let his hypothesis influence the interpretation of the data. The end of the book discusses how Doyle created and wrote Sherlock Holmes stories.
Final thoughts: Wow was Koch impressive, and I don’t remember ever learning about him (probably because I never took a microbiology course). He discovered the bacterial basis of anthrax and tuberculosis, was the first to use white mice and petri dishes with agar, and managed some impressive research with very few resources. His tie to Doyle was a bit tenuous, though. Yes, their paths crossed, but they never actually interacted. Putting the two together in one book seems a bit forced to me, although it did encourage me to read the book in the first place.
The author did a great job of describing the conditions of the times. Anyone who romanticizes the 18th/19th century should read chapter four about the unsanitary conditions in Europe at the time – lack of soap, crowding, rampant tuberculosis, and so much spitting. It was the spitting that got to me. I didn’t realize how common TB really was (1 in 7 people in Europe had it at this time) and all the diseases that were actually TB, just presenting in different parts of the body. It was an interesting read.
Title comes from: The topic
Reading challenges fulfilled: an R in my title Reading the Alphabet Challenge, #23 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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