This is a controversial history of medicine and medical drugs from a completely new angle - and a wake-up call to us all. Instead of merely placing cures in the culture of their day, Druin Burch dares to ask 'did they work?'. The answer is a resounding no. We follow the stories of major drugs like opiates, quinine and aspirin, and meet startling accounts of use and abuse, of accidental findings, and of heroic labours to understand their impact. Clearly these were powerful substances that had a major effect on the human body, but no one was quite sure how they worked, or if, in the long term, they really did effect a cure or merely relieved symptoms, masking the real problems. After the Second World War things started to change, beginning with antibiotics. But the great leap forward came with the development of reliable testing - unglamorous statistics and data that saved millions of lives.The real heroes are the men and women who have persuaded the world of the vital importance of blind, randomised, controlled trials as against the 'intuition' of doctors. Only by such testing can we avoid the horrors of misapplied drugs like thalidomide.
And only by long-term tests, as well as those undertaken before a drug's release, can we discover that apparent miracle cures may bring more harm than benefits. We want to put our faith in doctors and the drugs they offer, but for centuries this faith has been misplaced. We need to ask more about how our new wonder drugs work and how they have been tested. We need to question our own doctors; to make the medical profession as a whole examine its prejudices; to press governments against handing control to powerful global companies. "Taking the Medicine" - written with passion and wit, packed with fascinating stories and scientific surprises - is both alarming and optimistic. By understanding the past, we can safeguard the future.