Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The Birth Of The Pill by Jonathan Eig

Title: The Birth Of The Pill
Author: Jonathan Eig
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India


What does a revolution need? A dream, of course. What does the achievement of that dream require? Research, plotting, manipulation, hard work, dedication, agitation, resource and enough stubbornness to see it through. Four pioneers — Margaret Sanger, George Pincus, John Rock and Katharine Dexter McCormick — wrote a remarkable chapter of human history with the discovery and propagation of the oral contraceptive for women. Jonathan Eig, in his book ‘The Birth of the Pill,’ charts the evolution of birth control while documenting the works of those involved in the process. He has written a well-researched account of what went into making oral contraception available to the masses.
The book though recounts of what’s already known about the discovery of oral contraceptive, it also adds a significant amount to what went on behind the scene. It is in no way a mere compilation of scientific jargon, rather, the narrative provides a glimpse into the American society of that era. It also highlights the political scenario of the said time period.
The book opens in 1950 with Sanger looking to science for a contraceptive that women could control and that was extremely effective. There was the condom and the diaphragm but while the former depended on the whims of men and their preferences, the latter wasn’t a full proof option against unwanted pregnancy. Against this backdrop, Sanger sought out Gregory Pincus who was a former Harvard University biologist. He had been chucked out from the university for his unorthodox methods. The press had nicknamed him “Victor Frankenstein” for his efforts to mate rabbits in a Petri dish, experiments that were the predecessors of in vitro fertilization. With initial funding from Sanger, Pincus developed a hormone treatment for rabbits and rats that prevented ovulation in the females of the breed. Sanger then enlisted philanthropist and suffragist Katharine McCormick to fund the development of a similar hormone treatment for women. Gynecologist John Rock, the fourth “crusader,” teamed with Pincus on his research. By the mid-1950s, they had developed a working trial of what is now universally known simply as “the pill.” These activists and researchers made some dubious ethical choices like running human trials on non-consenting asylum patients but it was for the greater good. Eig doesn’t judge them for their shortcomings and gives the reader their freedom to come to their own conclusion.
The breezy tone employed by the writer calls for an easy reading. The use of medical terms has been kept to a minimum. But the book tends to be repetitive and without a proper chronological order. At times the narrative jumps around a lot creating unwanted confusion. Nevertheless, the appeal of the history behind the inception of the contraception is worth knowing. 

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About the Author:

Jonathan Eig, a former senior special reporter at the 'Wall Street Journal', is the author of three highly acclaimed books, two of which appeared on the 'New York Times' bestseller list. His first book, Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig (Simon and Schuster, 2005), won the Casey Award for best baseball book of 2005, his second book, Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season (Simon and Schuster, 2007), was named one of the best books of the year by the Chicago Tribune, Sports Illustrated and the Washington Post. In his third book, Get Capone (Simon and Schuster, 2010), Eig discovered thousands of pages of new material on Capone, affirming his trustworthy reporting reputation in what the New York Times called a "multifaceted portrait," a "gore-spattered thriller," and "as much a dark history of urban America between the world wars as it is another mobster's life story." And in 'The Birth of the Pill', Eig again tackles an enormous volume of unexamined personal correspondence in this original and richly textured narrative.

* I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
** Picture courtesy: 

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