Book Review: The Demon Under The Microscope

Demon under the microscope

I just finished Thomas Hager’s The Demon Under the Microscope and am disappointed…that it had to come to an end!

I read a lot of books (I actually listened to this on audiobook via Audible), but few are so good you don’t want them to end. The Demon is the true story of the discovery of the first of what are now classified as antibiotic drugs.

You might be thinking, how interesting could a book about a scientist in a lab be? Very.

It’s amazing that a story like this is not told in our history classes. The theme of the book seems unfamiliar to us because we have grown up in the era of antibiotics. It’s rare that we die of simple infection anymore, it wasn’t a 100 years ago. A simple strep or staph infection could kill you (it did kill Calvin Coolidge, Jr. and nearly killed Franklin Roosevelt, Jr.).

The book starts in a battlefield hospital of a German camp during World War I where men were dying everywhere and suffering extraordinary pain, not from their battlefield wounds, but from infection. Gerhard Domagk, a young German tasked with caring for these men was forever changed by what he saw, he pledged his life to finding a solution to infection.

Against all odds, Domagk and his colleagues spent years searching for a substance that would be a “magic bullet” in curing disease, they found it right before World War II began, just in time to relieve some of the suffering he had witnessed many years earlier.

The Demon is less a story of the first blockbuster drug and more of a story about the human condition, science, suffering, evil, life as a German under Hitler and the dawning of an age that had never before been experienced by mankind…the ability to cure.  Domagk eventually received the Nobel Prize.

Reading The Demon, it’s hard not to be both hopeful about the future and at the same time terrified.

Only 100 years ago women died from infection after giving birth, two-thirds of the time the infection was passed to them by the doctor. It was a different world and one we could not imagine today (at least in the developed world, travel to the third world and you might be transported back), death from disease and infection was an accepted part of life.

Today, we routinely run to the doctor for a dose of antibiotics at the first sign of an infection – progress, yes, but at a potential price. What if science can’t keep up with the quickly evolving bacteria? Is our overuse of antibiotics creating superbugs that are immune? The Demon Under The Microscope may be the first of many stories in our future of man fighting back against infection.

The story of Domagk and his fellow scientists is a story of hope, frustration, perseverance and pure will. It’s a story I will never forget.

Scott Dauenhauer CFP, MSFP, AIF
Meridian Wealth Management


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