New Books Network

Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be a researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology,...

Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be a researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. In his new book, Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine (Harry N. Abrams, 2019), Thomas Hager traces the “mini-biographies” of ten drugs and drug treatments that have shaped the course of human history, showing how serendipity and sheer luck have transformed drug development. In our conversation, Hager discusses the astounding number of prescriptions Americans take, why the profit motive is dangerous for drug development, and the unexpected historical twists that have changed medicine, often for the better.


Emily Dufton is the author of Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Marijuana in America (Basic Books, 2017). A drug historian and writer, she edits Points, the blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.