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Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic

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Physician, researcher, and ethics professor Matt McCarthy is on the front lines of a groundbreaking clinical trial testing a new antibiotic to fight lethal superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to the life-saving drugs in our rapidly dwindling arsenal. This trial serves as the backdrop for Superbugs, and the results will impact nothing less than the future of h Physician, researcher, and ethics professor Matt McCarthy is on the front lines of a groundbreaking clinical trial testing a new antibiotic to fight lethal superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to the life-saving drugs in our rapidly dwindling arsenal. This trial serves as the backdrop for Superbugs, and the results will impact nothing less than the future of humanity. Dr. McCarthy explores the history of bacteria and antibiotics, from Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, to obscure sources of innovative new medicines (often found in soil samples), to the cutting-edge DNA manipulation known as CRISPR, bringing to light how we arrived at this juncture of both incredible breakthrough and extreme vulnerability. We also meet the patients whose lives are hanging in the balance, from Remy, a teenager with a dangerous and rare infection, to Donny, a retired New York City firefighter with a compromised immune system, and many more.


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Physician, researcher, and ethics professor Matt McCarthy is on the front lines of a groundbreaking clinical trial testing a new antibiotic to fight lethal superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to the life-saving drugs in our rapidly dwindling arsenal. This trial serves as the backdrop for Superbugs, and the results will impact nothing less than the future of h Physician, researcher, and ethics professor Matt McCarthy is on the front lines of a groundbreaking clinical trial testing a new antibiotic to fight lethal superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to the life-saving drugs in our rapidly dwindling arsenal. This trial serves as the backdrop for Superbugs, and the results will impact nothing less than the future of humanity. Dr. McCarthy explores the history of bacteria and antibiotics, from Alexander Fleming's discovery of penicillin, to obscure sources of innovative new medicines (often found in soil samples), to the cutting-edge DNA manipulation known as CRISPR, bringing to light how we arrived at this juncture of both incredible breakthrough and extreme vulnerability. We also meet the patients whose lives are hanging in the balance, from Remy, a teenager with a dangerous and rare infection, to Donny, a retired New York City firefighter with a compromised immune system, and many more.

30 review for Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tammy

    Science has never been my thing. I took the required classes to fulfill academic requirements and never looked back. This changed late last summer when my elderly mother was given an antibiotic to clear up an infection prior to surgery and had a violent reaction to the medication. To make a long story short, she wound up with life-threatening sepsis, spent a week in the hospital for treatment and, in fact, she never had an infection at the onset. I suppose this experience, although unrelated to Science has never been my thing. I took the required classes to fulfill academic requirements and never looked back. This changed late last summer when my elderly mother was given an antibiotic to clear up an infection prior to surgery and had a violent reaction to the medication. To make a long story short, she wound up with life-threatening sepsis, spent a week in the hospital for treatment and, in fact, she never had an infection at the onset. I suppose this experience, although unrelated to the book, is what prompted me to read Superbugs. McCarthy does a great job of grounding you in the discovery and history of antibiotics as well as their overuse and the subsequent development of resistant bacteria and fungi. Explanations about the difficulty of devising protocols and implementing pioneering trials are also addressed. The role of Big Pharma funding, pricing, and profit margins is covered, too. The good doctor humanizes his account by introducing you to a number of his patients; some of whom have happy outcomes and others less so. This is an accessible and very readable narrative and I, for one, am glad Dr. McCarthy and his mentor, Dr. Walsh, are leading the charge to find new drugs to outsmart and destroy these very nasty bugs.

  2. 4 out of 5

    India Clamp

    This is not my first book review of Author/MD/Assistant Professor of Medicine Matt McCarthy and given his content I will persevere to review additional literary orchestrations (as they are never trite). If virology is your “chocolate fix” then “Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” is the signal to “Graviora manent.” The question is what always motivates the genius. In this case a decade was spent in a lab as Little Flem asked himself, “How did bacteria thrive and how could they be killed?” This is not my first book review of Author/MD/Assistant Professor of Medicine Matt McCarthy and given his content I will persevere to review additional literary orchestrations (as they are never trite). If virology is your “chocolate fix” then “Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” is the signal to “Graviora manent.” The question is what always motivates the genius. In this case a decade was spent in a lab as Little Flem asked himself, “How did bacteria thrive and how could they be killed?” Not quite the Nobel prize winner (yet) we meet---via Dr. McCarthy---Alexander Fleming in his humble days as a “triage medic” transporting dead and dying patients. “...Little *Flem as he was known, was not drawn to controversy, or to combat or even conversation. (One colleague claimed that trying to speak to him was like playing tennis with a man who, when he received a serve, put the ball in his pocket.)” ---Matt McCarthy, MD Knowledge brings sadness and the question “Why?’ Confronted with wisdom that not all physicians act on behalf of patients. Recount of the Tuskegee study is given. Eighty two percent were black and twenty-two percent could not read or write. What must it be like to do 20 spinal taps on a quotidian basis and watch suffering men with syphilis? Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic” is on the level of literary star “Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD” in originality and brevity. Dr. Matt McCarthy opens wide the doors to a brilliant introvert and Nobel Prize winner Sir Alexander Fleming---who engineered the drug penicillin. He adored music. Sad, realistic and honest. Read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A wonderful, entertaining, well-cited look at the history, current status, and future of antibiotics in medicine. As you might guess if you've been reading my blog long, this blend of memoir, science, and medicine was perfect for me. Author Matt McCarthy is a professor at Cornell who treats patients with drug-resistant bacterial infections. In this book, he talks about his experience running his first clinical trial. He also covers some of the history of antibiotics and bring Summary: A wonderful, entertaining, well-cited look at the history, current status, and future of antibiotics in medicine. As you might guess if you've been reading my blog long, this blend of memoir, science, and medicine was perfect for me. Author Matt McCarthy is a professor at Cornell who treats patients with drug-resistant bacterial infections. In this book, he talks about his experience running his first clinical trial. He also covers some of the history of antibiotics and brings us into the lives of his patients. Digressions about everything from funding for drug development to the metrics hospitals track kept me interested as well. I've found that balance is key to my enjoyment of books that are a memoir plus something else. This book got that balance just right. I was always entertained by the mix of historical info, personal stories, and patient stories. The asides gave me a broader view of both the many responsibilities the author juggles and the different parts of the health care system. His obvious affection for his mentor made me enjoy hearing about his mentor's background. The parts of the author's own life that he chose to share connected the other pieces, giving the book a generally good flow. The citations in this book were some of the best I've seen, perhaps the best from a non-University Press book, which I loved. I generally think that if someone is an expert enough to write about a topic, they should be able to cite published papers as McCarthy did here. I really can't praise this enough! Section breaks were sometimes a bit rough. They appeared to be dictated by the phase of the clinical trial he was in, but several started with historical anecdotes, obscuring the organization based in the author's own timeline. Section break titles would help and perhaps they'll be added into the final version of the book (I read from an ARC). My only other small complaint is that a few of the author's analogies didn't quite work for me and I could have done with fewer baseball metaphors. These complaints were very small though and overall, I loved this engaging look at the history, current state of, and future of antibiotics in human medicine.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  4. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    A perfect work of popular science. Like Atul Gawande, Matt McCarthy has the magical ability to transmit deeply technical knowledge in a way that makes the reader feel like part of a high-level professional conversation; like Michael Lewis, a gift for the place where big ideas overlap; like Elizabeth Kolbert, a sense of narrative urgency about the state of the present world that makes anything outside its pages seem trivial. Magnificent. Charles Finch, Winner of National Book Critic Circle Award There might not be anot/>There/>Charles A perfect work of popular science. Like Atul Gawande, Matt McCarthy has the magical ability to transmit deeply technical knowledge in a way that makes the reader feel like part of a high-level professional conversation; like Michael Lewis, a gift for the place where big ideas overlap; like Elizabeth Kolbert, a sense of narrative urgency about the state of the present world that makes anything outside its pages seem trivial. Magnificent. Charles Finch, Winner of National Book Critic Circle Award There might not be another author who so fluidly combines a world-class doctor and researcher's knowledge and experience with a memoirist’s sensibility. Matt McCarthy is Siddhartha Mukherjee and David Sedaris rolled into one. Who else but McCarthy could write a dispatch from the front lines of the secret fight for the future of the human race that is not just gripping and illuminating, but also poignant and funny? Ben Reiter, New York Times Bestselling Author of Astroball Intriguing ... This book discusses many big things, along with microscopic ones, and the two combine to provide a valuable insight to a challenge facing us all, whether doctor or patient. Robin Osborne, GPSpeak It is a fascinating read, enhanced by his detours into medical history ... McCarthy can wring suspense from fungal infection and faculty meetings. Jenny Nicholls, North and South Mostly heart-breaking, but at times laugh-out-loud funny … Superbugs is an immersive and educational read that combines feelings of futility with a sense of hope at just the right moments. Anna Kosmynina, COSMOS

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kenia Sedler

    This book is part medical memoir, part medical history, and part medical economics & science lesson. (Disclosure: I won this as part of a GoodReads Giveaway.) First, Dr. McCarthy offers an insiders' view into how clinical trials are coordinated and implemented (as he takes you through his own clinical trial experience for the antibiotic, dalba), the important role Big Pharma plays in bringing medicine to the masses (which I appreciated, but still couldn't help weighing against the This book is part medical memoir, part medical history, and part medical economics & science lesson. (Disclosure: I won this as part of a GoodReads Giveaway.) First, Dr. McCarthy offers an insiders' view into how clinical trials are coordinated and implemented (as he takes you through his own clinical trial experience for the antibiotic, dalba), the important role Big Pharma plays in bringing medicine to the masses (which I appreciated, but still couldn't help weighing against their unethical and questionable pricing practices), and the vital ethics of obtaining informed consent from patients when recruiting them into clinical trials (as he takes you through some of their personal stories). Second, Dr. McCarthy gives good history lessons: devoting a chapter to the shocking, awful, and cruel Syphilis Tuskegee Experiment, discussing Alexander Fleming's discovery of the first antibiotic, Penicillin, detailing how scientists Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown collaborated in discovering and creating the first anti-fungal medication, Nystatin, and many other interesting and important historical tidbits. Third, but certainly not least, Dr. McCarthy explains the economics behind drug discovery and creation, revealing why antibiotic development is so difficult and why we're struggling to come up with new antibiotic medicines to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He also discusses current research efforts, and the science behind them in easy-to-understand terms. Finally, he explains the dangers of antibiotic and antifungal overuse, and the resulting development of both antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antifungal-resistant fungi--which is why coming up with new medication is so vital at this point in time, despite its difficulty. Overall, this was a fascinating read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hal

    Written by Matt McCarthy M.D. this book is a narrative of how a practicing doctor who is also a professor of medicine takes on the endless battle against the bacterial superbugs that threaten our very existence. With some historical perspectives Dr. McCarthy relates his interactions with patients and the application and development of an antibiotic, alba, that he is developing. With the help and encouragement of his mentor Dr. Thomas Walsh, Dr. McCarthy narrates the challenges and obs Written by Matt McCarthy M.D. this book is a narrative of how a practicing doctor who is also a professor of medicine takes on the endless battle against the bacterial superbugs that threaten our very existence. With some historical perspectives Dr. McCarthy relates his interactions with patients and the application and development of an antibiotic, alba, that he is developing. With the help and encouragement of his mentor Dr. Thomas Walsh, Dr. McCarthy narrates the challenges and obstacles he faces from patient consent forms to the financial forces of Big Pharma. Each case shares its similarities and differences and provides an insight into the toll this work can take not only on the patients but the doctors who must also deal with the setbacks and emotional strains. The book did lack a more descriptive approach into what superbugs are about which I had thought it would be more about. Instead it focuses more on the people afflicted by the infections and reads more like a case study book. However the messages are clear as to implications of why this work is so important. The doctors involved in developing these antibodies we rarely hear of but their persistence and dedication to winning this endless battle is truly a heroic tale.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Arnav Barpujari

    Matt McCarthy provides a comprehendible take on one of the most pressuring issues in the medical field, i.e., bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Within the book, the readers go on a journey that spans 5 years with Dr. McCarthy in search of a viable drug that can potentially save millions. Throughout this book, McCarthy idolizes a fellow colleague of his Dr. Tom Walsh, for living up to a "mantra", "Defend the Defenseless" (McCarthy). This book has given me a new perspective on th Matt McCarthy provides a comprehendible take on one of the most pressuring issues in the medical field, i.e., bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics. Within the book, the readers go on a journey that spans 5 years with Dr. McCarthy in search of a viable drug that can potentially save millions. Throughout this book, McCarthy idolizes a fellow colleague of his Dr. Tom Walsh, for living up to a "mantra", "Defend the Defenseless" (McCarthy). This book has given me a new perspective on the intensity of a clinical trial, from years of protocol being rejected by an Institutional Review Board to making ethical judgements regarding patients. However, the beauty of the book lies in the cases of patients that Dr. McCarthy presents to the readers. The wide variety of cases that are presented allows me and the readers to see just how different the walks of life are for different people. For instance, you have "Ruth" from Nazi Europe who has a deep love a shoes ever since her ruby red shoes were taken from her when she was young. And then you have someone like "Donny" who was a firefighter during 9/11. The only thing common between "Ruth" and "Donny" is that both have developed an infectious disease and have enrolled in Dr. McCarthy's clinical trial. This book is a must read for anyone that has even the slightest interest in science, because it shows you the determination and perseverance of Dr. McCarthy in living up to the mantra, "Defend the Defenseless."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ben Reiter

    There might not be another author who so fluidly combines a world-class doctor and researcher's knowledge and experience with a memoirist's sensibility. Matt McCarthy is Siddhartha Mukherjee and David Sedaris rolled into one. Who else but McCarthy could write a dispatch from the front lines of the secret fight for the future of the human race that is not just gripping and illuminating, but also poignant and funny?

  9. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    “Superbugs were evolving in ways we never expected, creating thousands of enzymes to chop up and destroy antibiotics. They were also developing molecular machinery known as efflux pumps (microscopic vacuum cleaners) to excrete antibiotics, rendering the drugs useless. With a single mutation, bacteria can spoil the chemists’ recipe, and the delicately designed antibiotic is ruined.” These mutations are difficult to detect, sometimes they are not even picked up on until the autopsy. This is just o “Superbugs were evolving in ways we never expected, creating thousands of enzymes to chop up and destroy antibiotics. They were also developing molecular machinery known as efflux pumps (microscopic vacuum cleaners) to excrete antibiotics, rendering the drugs useless. With a single mutation, bacteria can spoil the chemists’ recipe, and the delicately designed antibiotic is ruined.” These mutations are difficult to detect, sometimes they are not even picked up on until the autopsy. This is just one of the fascinating facts in this book. We follow McCarthy as he battles to gain IRB approval to carry out to his experimental dalba study. And then he has to source a number of volunteers to submit to the trial. His almost boyish admiration for his exceptional mentor, Tom Walsh, is also a recurring theme throughout this book. This switches between major medical discoveries, past case studies and McCarthy’s progress in tracking down patients who qualify for his new drug. We learn about all sorts of fascinating people and events like Alexander Fleming in France 1914 and his discovery of penicillin later on, Gerhard Domagk, even J D Rockefeller. Though McCarthy mistakenly claims at one point that the Spanish Flu originated in Iberia, “the outbreak had begun in Spain in May of that year.” When in actual fact that myth was dispelled years ago and most experts currently believe that the flu either started in France, China or the US. We learn that the 1950s were the golden era for antibiotic development as much as half of the drugs in use today were discovered in this period. He explains the reasons why Big Pharma is always reluctant to invest in antibiotics, is because broadly speaking they know that they will eventually develop drug resistance. They are usually given in short courses and prescribed only when someone is sick, so they don’t like to invest in them. “The indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animals has been one of the primary drivers of superbugs.” He later expands, saying “The spread of superbugs is driven largely by improper animal husbandry, poor sanitation, weak infection-control policies, and overcrowding.” Apparently the medical profession had the largest proportion of Nazi party members of any profession in all of Germany. He touches on the cruel medical experiments conducted by Nazi doctors during WWII and the ones done by Americans before that with the Tuskegee experiments, where young, poor, black men were exploited as human guinea pigs for syphilis observation under the guidance of Dr Ray Vonderlehr. The men weren’t told they had syphilis, but just told they had “bad blood” Vonderlehr was performing up to 20 spinal taps a day. This was initially only supposed to be a six month trial to run from 1932-33, until fate intervened and it ended up lasting forty years. The men were not denied treatment, they just weren’t offered any. Around 100 men died as a direct result from untreated condition and they unknowingly infected many innocent women and children in their family as a result. The experiment was only stopped when the story broke in 1972. “Between 2001 and 2013, there were 148 shortages of antibiotics, and doctors across the country resorted to second-class treatment options. Most patients didn’t even know it was happening.” We learn of the importance of The Beecher Report published in the “New England Journal of Medicine” in 1966 which cited no less than 22 American studies where patients had served as experimental subjects without informed consent which would lead to a change in approach. He also gives us a brief history and vast importance of the FDA within the USA and possibly the most famous case when Frances Oldham Kelsey repeatedly rejected pressure and abuse from Big Pharma to approve Thalidomide, saving thousands and potentially millions of Americans from serious birth defects. “I think it is a moral requirement to make money when you can.” So insists Nirmal Mulye, the president of Nostrum Pharmaceuticals, when justifying his decision to increase the price of one of WHO’s list of essential medicines by 400%. But of course it is not that uncommon for pharmaceutical companies to make price increases by more than 5000%. Just because they can get away with it. But it is not all bad news as we find out that GSK in Europe have rewarded their employees for helping doctors prescribe antibiotics appropriately rather than for just meeting sales quotas. I really enjoyed this book. Like many good popular science books, this was both a terrifying and inspiring read. It avoided all the potential pitfalls of popular medicine books, managing not to be too dumbed down or over-run with jargon. This was a clear, informative and entertaining read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    This book is more about The Race to Stop an Epidemic than it is about Superbugs and for that reason I didn't love it. I guess I was hoping to read all about the horrific bacteria and viruses which will usher in the zombie apocalypse. These horrible microbes were characters in the book, just not the main characters. Rather, the book dealt more in human interest stories. It's primary focus was Doctor Matt McCarthy's attempt to get his antibiotic drug trial off the ground. We meet and learn about the lives of the t This book is more about The Race to Stop an Epidemic than it is about Superbugs and for that reason I didn't love it. I guess I was hoping to read all about the horrific bacteria and viruses which will usher in the zombie apocalypse. These horrible microbes were characters in the book, just not the main characters. Rather, the book dealt more in human interest stories. It's primary focus was Doctor Matt McCarthy's attempt to get his antibiotic drug trial off the ground. We meet and learn about the lives of the test subjects in his trial, all of which are suffering some type of severe microbial infection, and learn all about the life of his mentor and confidant, Doctor Thomas Walsh. The patients' stories are all sad and touching. There is a 9/11 NYC fireman suffering from the effects of a compromised immune system due to his service on that day, a holocaust survivor, a young teenage girl, and many others - your heart breaks for these people. You can feel the sadness in the Doctor's words as he discusses his cases with his fellow physicians and his mentor. Doctor McCarthy does offer some really interesting insights in to how antibiotics work, how they are developed, and how Big Pharma works (the good and the bad). He tells us the history of bacteria and antibiotics going back to penicillin (which we now have a shortage of because it is no longer that profitable to make - sad) and up to the current cutting- edge development of new drugs. Research and development are imperatively important as microbes evolve quickly and are becoming increasingly immune to our current antibiotics. He also talks about CRISPR and how it may eventually change the whole disease and cancer fight to our advantage. Personally, I don't understand why there isn't more buzz in everyday news about CRISPR. The author said that it is the most important medical discovery in a century and I'm with him on that. Maybe the most fascinating story in the whole book is about the discovery of antibiotics and the ongoing, intense search for new ones. He talks about how scientists are testing soil samples from all over the world looking for new microbes we can use to battle diseases. He says, "....we are surrounded by undiscovered medicines - microbes are engaged in biological warfare all around us, making new chemicals under our feet that could eventually end up saving millions of lives. I was accustomed to thinking about the deadly infections that were coming for my patients but now I could picture their cures, too. Just below the topsoil there were tiny molecules that could alleviate disease and stomp out epidemics. We just had to keep looking. The remedy for the next super bug or cure for cancer may be under our feet right now." Oh, and you'll learn who the good Doctor's favorite band is and what their favorite song is. I won't spoil that for you. Overall I give this book a thumbs up even though it wasn't what I thought it would be. I learned a lot about antibiotics and how the pharmaceutical industry works. We are at an important time in our history when it comes to fighting disease. My fifth book for Science September.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    McCarthy is worried about the rise of superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to known antibiotics. He writes of a test trial he conducted for a new antibiotic and describes the entire process from getting his protocols approved to selecting his subjects to examining the results. In the process he offers accessible science about the field of antibiotic research and the hurdles medicine is facing to prevent infections from killing us. I found the book interesting and scary. Like viruses that are m McCarthy is worried about the rise of superbugs, bacteria that are resistant to known antibiotics. He writes of a test trial he conducted for a new antibiotic and describes the entire process from getting his protocols approved to selecting his subjects to examining the results. In the process he offers accessible science about the field of antibiotic research and the hurdles medicine is facing to prevent infections from killing us. I found the book interesting and scary. Like viruses that are mutating faster than we can keep up, bacteria are becoming smarter than our science, largely because of ways we have abused antibiotic use.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tommy Estlund

    Really well written look at modern medicine and the challenges it faces. One of the aspects of this book that was most surprising--and that I really appreciated--was the look at how the medical system has been complicit in systemic racial oppression. It was eye-opening to see the parallels between the treatment of Jewish people in the 1930s by the Germans and the treatment of African Americans in the US during the same time period. It was very illuminating. McCarthy doesn't shy away from facing Really well written look at modern medicine and the challenges it faces. One of the aspects of this book that was most surprising--and that I really appreciated--was the look at how the medical system has been complicit in systemic racial oppression. It was eye-opening to see the parallels between the treatment of Jewish people in the 1930s by the Germans and the treatment of African Americans in the US during the same time period. It was very illuminating. McCarthy doesn't shy away from facing harsh realities of mistreatment that persists, and that makes this book very much an important addition to discussion of issues we face today. Definitely recommend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Raksha Bhat

    An excellent insight into the world of microbes and antimicrobial resistance. The anecdotes and events though trials and research shared by Matt have highlighted the importance of this issue, antimicrobial resistance is indeed a silent epidemic. Being a doctor and microbiologist I could relate to the dilemmas we face in hospitals when deciding on antibiotics. Our hands are tied. Like microbes know no borders, effort towards saving lives with antibiotics should also be united. While this book is An excellent insight into the world of microbes and antimicrobial resistance. The anecdotes and events though trials and research shared by Matt have highlighted the importance of this issue, antimicrobial resistance is indeed a silent epidemic. Being a doctor and microbiologist I could relate to the dilemmas we face in hospitals when deciding on antibiotics. Our hands are tied. Like microbes know no borders, effort towards saving lives with antibiotics should also be united. While this book is a must read for health care professionals, I would strongly recommend this one for all our health care administrators and the public at large.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janette

    I love scientific books and really enjoyed Matt McCarthy's last work. I've also read many scientific books with a lot of facts, figures, and data but this one was such a difficult slog. I'd been really excited to read it and the beginning started out interesting, but it soon digressed into an incredibly dry and dull chore that wasn't enjoyable at all. I suppose researchers or epidemiologists might find it a scintillating study, but for the lay person it was beyond boring.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cristalyne

    3.5 I really enjoyed the author’s last book (The Real Doctor will See You Soon) and I wanted to like this one, but the narrative thread (history of antibiotics; the author’s first solo antibiotic trial) felt a little disjointed even though it was an easy read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Mezz

    At times gripping when McCarthy was recounting stories about Tom Walsh or certain cases, but a lot of filler (meetings, emails) that was hard to push through.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Espen

    I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Superbugs is a fascinating book, and I’m glad I had the chance to review it. This book is a window into the management, and hopefully curing, of difficult antibiotic-resistant infections from the point-of-view of a physician who sees the worst the world has to offer. McCarthy wrote it in a chatty, personable, and slightly ADD style that probably makes it more accessible. This is a difficult thing to ge I received a free copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. Superbugs is a fascinating book, and I’m glad I had the chance to review it. This book is a window into the management, and hopefully curing, of difficult antibiotic-resistant infections from the point-of-view of a physician who sees the worst the world has to offer. McCarthy wrote it in a chatty, personable, and slightly ADD style that probably makes it more accessible. This is a difficult thing to get right with a work of popular science, which I take this book to be. There is an infamous rule of thumb that including one mathematical formula in your book will reduce your readers by half. Each additional formula continues the process of exponential decay. McCarthy has clearly decided to maximize his potential readership by avoiding mathematical formulae, or worse, skeletal formulae of organic molecules. However, while he doesn’t show them, he talks about them a lot. If you know what is going on, you can either envision the diagrams or look them up, but organic chemistry isn’t needed to tell the stories that McCarthy wants to tell. The first story is McCarthy’s work with Allergan on the antibiotic dalbavancin, and his journey to learn how to write a protocol for a clinical trial and gain consent from often frightened and bewildered patients who show up in Emergency Rooms with methicillin-resistant Staph Aureus infections. His meandering style allows him to digress into the second story, which is a capsule history of the development of antibiotics, and the sometimes checkered history of human experimentation in medicine. His history of antibiotic development includes well-known figures like Alexander Fleming, and the overlooked, like Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Brown, who developed nystatin, the first antifungal drug. The book is probably worth it just for this well-done short summary of the powerhouses of modern pharmaceuticals [and more evidence for my theory that the greatest period of technological advancement in the twentieth century was between 1920-1950] By the early 1950s, ninety percent of the prescriptions filled by patients were for drugs that had not even existed in 1938. pg 101 [citing Miracle Cure by William Rosen 2017] However, you also get a good look at how medicine is practiced in the United States today, from the practitioner’s point-of-view. Physicians need to manage conflicts of interest, like the portion of McCarthy’s salary that is paid by Allergan and other corporations, patients that are bound and determined to pursue courses of treatment that the evidence doesn’t support, and the sheer soul-crushing burden of seeing so much suffering day-in and day-out. We Americans expect our doctors to be superhuman: to work without rest, to diagnose without fail, and resist the siren call of wealth. Doctors receive enormous deference for our unrealistic expectations, but a subtext of McCarthy’s book is the toll this takes on our often genuinely selfless and dedicated physicians. Who do in fact accept honoraria and speaking fees from pharmaceutical companies and miss their children while they work long hours. Another interesting aspect of American medical practice is its insularity. Nearly every reference in McCarthy’s book is from a medical journal, which is the mental world of most physicians. However, medicine might progress faster if physicians were to be a little bit more widely read. For example, McCarthy devotes a fair bit of space to the research of Vincent Fischetti, who isolates enzymes from bacteriophages. But phage therapy was a thing before antibiotics were invented, and was largely forgotten in the initial enthusiasm for antibiotics. Phages and adjacent technologies would be a useful adjunct to antibiotics, but medicine, meaning mostly expert physician opinion, has been pointedly disinterested for seventy years or more. I appreciate that McCarthy is trying to do something about that, but reading and citing mostly medical journals is only going to perpetuate the attitude that pushed useful therapies aside because it wasn’t the hot new thing, or because it came from the wrong field. All in all, I enjoyed this book. I think McCarthy did a fine job making the history of antibiotics accessible, and was remarkably honest about himself and his field, frankly admitting the challenges physicians face today. This book could have been dry, but it wasn’t, so I am willing to embrace the rapid alternation between the present and the past. McCarthy made this style work. One can learn a lot about the world, past and present, from this book. In a final note, there is a short letter tucked in my review copy that public results for McCarthy’s dalba study are expected on or around May 21st, just under a week from the publication of this review. I hope everything went well, because I like having options when the bacteria evolve faster than us.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vijay Raghoenath

    I’ve read this book in four days, which is fast for me. The book is quite new (I think it came out in april) and has a few spelling errors and some definitions are not on point but the big picture is drawn exquisitely. I think anyone with a little bit of interest in healthcare and the intricacies behind it should give this book a try. Dr. Matt Mccarthy is an infectious disease specialist in NewYork Presbyterian hospital who wants to get a new clinical trial off the ground for patients infected w I’ve read this book in four days, which is fast for me. The book is quite new (I think it came out in april) and has a few spelling errors and some definitions are not on point but the big picture is drawn exquisitely. I think anyone with a little bit of interest in healthcare and the intricacies behind it should give this book a try. Dr. Matt Mccarthy is an infectious disease specialist in NewYork Presbyterian hospital who wants to get a new clinical trial off the ground for patients infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The book beautifully weaves past, present and a little bit of the future together. He explains the importance of world war 2, Alexander Fleming, the Tuskegee experiments, the Beecher report, superbugs, FDA history, thalidomide and a whole host of other things. The focus on drug development and its hurdles are also beautifully laid down in simple terms and give a perspective on the everyday struggles doctors and patients face. Also his mentor, Dr. Tom Walsh, what a brilliant man: I am glad to say that this book is non-fiction because people like Matt and Tom Walsh are true superheroes. They make me proud that I chose to contribute my career to healthcare and medicine.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kara Larson

    Loved it. A really good mix of the history and science behind bacteria and the antibiotics that we use to try to contain them (which appealed to the science geek in me) and stories of real patients and their real stories and struggles (which appealed to the physician and fellow human being in me). Made me think about a lot of things: Big Pharma and it’s role in the development and cost of medication; the pieces of hospital administration, antibiotic stewardship committee, institutional review bo Loved it. A really good mix of the history and science behind bacteria and the antibiotics that we use to try to contain them (which appealed to the science geek in me) and stories of real patients and their real stories and struggles (which appealed to the physician and fellow human being in me). Made me think about a lot of things: Big Pharma and it’s role in the development and cost of medication; the pieces of hospital administration, antibiotic stewardship committee, institutional review board, etc and how they all work towards protecting patients; even the dirt outside in my garden and what potential it may hold. He also shows what it is like as a medical provider, talking to families and patients that are struggling with tough decisions about care, and the ethical issues that are inherently part of that. Definitely a good pic for the beach!

  20. 4 out of 5

    RiversideReader

    Matt McCarthy is a staff physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This book is primarily focused on his work with a clinical trial of a new antibiotic. The author covers a lot of territory including a brief history of antibiotics, how they are developed and, in some cases, why Big Pharma is not interested in creating new and better antibiotics to fight the emergence of "Superbugs" that have become immune to the current drugs available. We also get to meet his wonderful colleague, Dr. Tom Wal Matt McCarthy is a staff physician at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This book is primarily focused on his work with a clinical trial of a new antibiotic. The author covers a lot of territory including a brief history of antibiotics, how they are developed and, in some cases, why Big Pharma is not interested in creating new and better antibiotics to fight the emergence of "Superbugs" that have become immune to the current drugs available. We also get to meet his wonderful colleague, Dr. Tom Walsh. I found this book to be an enthralling page turner. The information is written in an accessible style that is easy to understand and keeps the reader interested. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the current medical establishment.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Georgianne

    I started on the kindle version of this book and really enjoyed the beginning of the book but started to drift in my focus after that. I let the kindle book loan expire and took out the hard copy version from the library and read the rest of the book out of order, jumping around from one case study to another in no particular order. I find it easier to flip back and forth with a "real" book in my hands, and I wanted to finish the book. For some reason, though, I just could not get through it in I started on the kindle version of this book and really enjoyed the beginning of the book but started to drift in my focus after that. I let the kindle book loan expire and took out the hard copy version from the library and read the rest of the book out of order, jumping around from one case study to another in no particular order. I find it easier to flip back and forth with a "real" book in my hands, and I wanted to finish the book. For some reason, though, I just could not get through it in the order it was written. I'm not sure why since it's a topic I'm very interested in. Anyway, I just read bits and pieces, jumping back and forth, until I'd finished it. I guess I'm not as interested in case studies as the history of antibiotics and the reasons for superbugs.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Dugy

    A very refreshing book from a view point of a doctor battling infectious diseases trying to stay one step in front of super bugs which are becoming resistant to antibiotics and antifungals. The book also shows the struggle to include big companies to finance and research drugs capable of destroying super bugs. There is a large emphasize on the human side also - caring for patients and their well-being is of the utmost importance and for that we are ever so grateful to doctors all around the worl A very refreshing book from a view point of a doctor battling infectious diseases trying to stay one step in front of super bugs which are becoming resistant to antibiotics and antifungals. The book also shows the struggle to include big companies to finance and research drugs capable of destroying super bugs. There is a large emphasize on the human side also - caring for patients and their well-being is of the utmost importance and for that we are ever so grateful to doctors all around the world.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Vandelac

    I was nerding out the whole time! As a Laboratory Scientist this was an easy book to follow, and I would recommend it to anyone that is in the medical field. I also think it would be great for people that are curious about the world of antibiotics and treatment for bacteria, fungus etc. The author does a phenomenal job of bringing the history of antibiotics and superbugs. I thoroughly enjoyed this one!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pam

    This book talks about the discovery of antibiotics and then the development of superbugs and what is currently being done to develop new antibiotics. This book is written by a doctor but it is written more as a storyteller. He weaves the patients he sees with a discussion of the search for new antibiotics and is a really enjoyable read. I received a free copy from Goodreads but my opinions are my own.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Valente

    very interesting. being in the medical field not a lot of this information was new to me, but it was great to hear about the experts in the field and the hurdles they encounter. the book accurately portrays the problem with ubiquitous use of antibiotics in today's society and possible solutions. quick read, and easily understood by people not in the medical field.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James

    I'm surprised I'm rating a book with this topic so highly! But Dr. McCarthy does such a good job weaving narrative with scientific background to illuminate his ideas. I was spellbound! I'm so grateful people like him and Dr. Walsh have dedicated their lives to the study of infectious diseases, thereby saving all our asses! Highly recommend this read!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    So this book had an interesting premise, but I was hoping that there would be a bit more detail than their was. I really liked the personal anecdotes though, so I mostly just wish the book had more science.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eric Flynn

    A brilliant coverage of the dilemma posed to patients, doctors and drug companies by resistant bacteria and fungi. Told by narrative of patients in hospitals and clinic studies, it’s both an interesting and emotional account of modern medical care.

  29. 4 out of 5

    J.J.

    Part medical history, part medical ethics, part tribute to a mentor and part research study for a new drug. This book is important for anyone who participates in a drug trial or runs them. Very interesting read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    This is my type of book. The writing is outstanding and the subject matter intriguing. A doctor and his team strive to treat drug resistant infections. The author discusses some of the clinical trials to treat these "superbugs". There's lots of information within this small book.

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