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Review: ‘The Remedy’ by Thomas Goetz

Title: The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis
Author: Thomas Goetz
Genre: Nonfiction
Year: 2014
Publisher: Gotham
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Rating: ★★★★☆

Review: Today, we accept without question that germs cause disease. We wash our hands to avoid harmful bacteria and get vaccinations for deadly diseases to build immunity. The world before the mid-1800s was much different — doctors could identify symptoms of disease, but were lost to explain the cause.

Robert Koch, a German doctor, was one of the first men to identify the cause of many common diseases. He was also responsible for developing many of the rigorous scientific methods needed to prove that bacteria are the cause of disease, rather than a product of disease. But today Koch is perhaps better known for a moment when he abandoned his carefully built protocols and claimed to have found a cure for tuberculosis, one of the most terrible diseases of his time.

The Remedy chronicles Koch’s work, as well as the work of other scientists who helped usher in a new age of science-based medical knowledge.

One of the quirky appeals of this book is the connection between Koch and Arthur Conan Doyle, although it is a little more tangential than the subtitle of the book would have you believe. But it’s still an interesting story — especially in the way that the work of scientists like Koch inspired Doyle in his practice and in his creation of Sherlock Holmes.

At the time Koch was at his peak, Doyle was a physician practicing in a small, seaside village in England. Like Koch, he followed the work of other prominent scientists and believed fervently in germ theory and the scientific methods being used to defend it. When Koch announced his remedy for tuberculosis, Doyle traveled to Berlin to cover the event. After reviewing the presentation, Doyle was one of the first people to argue that Koch’s remedy was based on sloppy science. While Doyle’s denouncement was slow to be supported, the incident played a pivotal role in convincing Doyle to abandon medicine and pursue his fiction writing full time.

The Remedy is a wide-ranging but totally readable book. Goetz uses the birth of modern medicine and the birth of Sherlock Holmes to explore many facets of life in the 1800s. I also think Goetz was fair to Koch, crediting him for the incredible work he did while pointing out the ways hubris and a competitive nature led him to questionable decisions. The Remedy is a great read that I definitely recommend.

Other Reviews: S. Krishna’s Books | Jenn’s Bookshelves |

Special Giveaway!

I don’t often do giveaways, but I enjoyed this book so much that I was excited when the publisher, Gotham, agreed to share one finished copy with a reader. To enter the giveaway (open to U.S. residents only — sorry!), please fill out this form. The giveaway will be open until 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 11.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Melinda @ The Book Musings April 8, 2014, 5:47 am

    A pity I can’t enter the giveaway :(

    • Kim April 20, 2014, 12:32 pm

      I’m sorry about that… the publisher is sponsoring it, so they set the parameters.

  • Jenn Lawrence April 8, 2014, 6:59 am

    I knew you were going to enjoy this one!

  • Farin April 8, 2014, 11:44 am

    Yay! I’m so happy you liked it!

  • Words for Worms April 8, 2014, 8:16 pm

    I enjoyed this one, too! I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I’m kind of jazzed about trying some more. A love a good disease story!

    • Kim April 20, 2014, 12:33 pm

      There are a ton of good historical disease stories. One I especially liked was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

  • Trisha April 8, 2014, 9:14 pm

    I read a review of this one on a different blog and immediately added it to the wish list, so I am glad to hear you liked it too!

  • Jenny @ Reading the End April 9, 2014, 8:26 pm

    Oh it IS fun to read about the history of science. I keep forgetting how much I enjoy learning about what people knew when, and how scientific paradigms got changed. I need to find and subscribe to a journal about the history of science — wouldn’t that be fun to read?

  • Jennine G. April 10, 2014, 6:54 am

    There was a guy who claimed germs were on our hands and not washing hands was what caused so many infections after surgeries. He was ostracized and kinda kicked out of the medical profession (so I read). Wondering if that was before Koch.

    • Kim April 20, 2014, 12:34 pm

      It was around the same time, just a bit before, I think. They mention that story in this book, but I’m drawing a bit of a blank on the timeline of all of it at the moment.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey April 14, 2014, 7:44 am

    This one sounds so good! I really love when people I know about show up in stories other than their own, as with Doyle here.

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