The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.
We know it simply as "the pill", yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid. Spanning the years from Sanger's heady Greenwich Village days in the early 20th century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.
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Important history but repetitive themes
The time was well spent, and I enjoyed the focus on 4 main characters in bringing the story alive. However I found the focus on several main themes (e.g., the context of the times) was repetitive and got tiresome. The book could have been better edited I thought.
I was always interested in the subject matter, as I was very active in the women's health movement in the 1970s.
I was very annoyed by the narrator's cadence, her sing song manner of narrating the book, and her emphasis on wrong phrases (or so I thought). This was my least favorite aspect of the listening experience and the worst narrator I've listened to.
Yes it was as an important piece of social history.
I was very struck by the details of how clinical medical research was conducted in the 40s and 50s- with little informed consent, on mental patients and prisoners with no protections at all. It was also amazing how the Pill was developed- with very little real funding and only through the largess of basically one wealthy champion, but always with Margaret Sanger at the forefront.
- Brad Yeary