Book Review: The Demon Under the Microscope

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Book Review: The Demon Under the Microscope.

A Fascinating Story That’s True.

A book about science that reads almost like a novel? That’s what I found in this excellent book by Thomas Hager. Demon under the Microscope is the story of the men behind the discovery of antibiotics. What a fascinating read it was.

The story centers around Gerhard Domagk, a German scientist whose career was inspired by the deaths of nearly all the soldiers in his battalion during WW1, as many from infection as from war wounds. It became a race between nations, for both discovery and credit.

I’m a fiction reader, probably eighty percent of the time, so I put off reading this for quite awhile. I didn’t think I was particularly interested in science. After reading many reviews where people were raving about it (nearly 1600 so far between Audible and Amazon), I decided to give it a try.

It was so well done, easy to read, and interesting that I’ve been through it twice now. I don’t know about you, but I tend to take for granted many of the medical treatments we have today. If we get an infection, we get antibiotics and expect it to go away quickly. No problem. A minor thing. But a hundred years ago it was vastly different.

I decided to get this non fiction book in audio form, to listen while I was driving up the coast. It was amazing. There are not that many scientific books that could hold your attention as well as this one does. The startling facts, the race for the discoveries and the cures, were actually suspenseful. So much information, so many facts are included. Whether you read or listen, you will find it very interesting.

The Statistics are Shocking

For instance, did you know…

  • During World War 1, as many soldiers died from wound infections as than from enemy fire? If a soldier was shot or wounded in battle, it was likely to become infected. Once it did there wasn’t much that could be done about it. We’re talking several hundred thousands of soldiers dying from infection during World War 1.
  • That gangrene, the infection that often resulted from amputation (and led to further amputation), was contagious? That once it infected one patient many others would contract it? Not to mention that usually the amputee would die from the infection? Once sulfa was used, it was rare to lose an amputee.
  • If woman went to a hospital to have a baby, over fifty percent contracted infections that resulted in the death the mother? Once sulfa and later other antibiotics became available the number of deaths dropped to nearly zero.
  • Doctors were unaware of the importance of washing their hands, let alone using gloves? Nor was sterilizing instruments and the operating room itself considered necessary.

The Resulting Cures were as Startling

The staggering numbers that went to nearly zero with the discovery of sulfa and penicillin still amazes me as I think of it. The author takes you into the effort it took, first with the discovery of bacteria, then how to separate and destroy it without harming the human body itself.

From coal tar, to creosote, to dyes , their remarkable discoveries included cures for sleeping sickness, syphilis, tyfloid fever, malaria, gangrene, and other infection. With all the scientific facts, Mr. Hager has still managed to make this book very readable and enjoyable. It was really a fascinating look at history.

It’s a remarkable story, one I will remember. The author has made me want to explore more about our scientific history. Now when I look at something–almost anything–I find myself wondering how it came to be, from thought to invention. Everything has a history. What a pleasure it is to read a book that has changed the way I think!

More Books to Satisfy the Curiosity

After finishing Demon, I was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the history of medicines. These three sound like a good start. Mr. Hager has a way of making even these non fiction books exciting and intriguing. And Henrietta Lack’s story has been a book club favorite for years. I’m looking forward to seeing what they have to say

Another Engaging Book by Thomas Hager

This is my next read by Mr Hager. Two Germans start out to increase plant growth with fixed nitrogen to help their nation. It will be used for gunpowder and explosives that kill thousands. Mr Hager tells their histories as well, during the time of Nazi Germany.


The Path to Discoveries

This sounds fascinating too. It’s the story of molecules and how they affect our lives. It covers a lot of ground, including how the knowledge led to Vitamin C to prevent scurvy to birth control pills.


The best selling book on science discoveries thanks to Henrietta Lacks

Have you read this yet? When Mrs. Lack dies of cancer, the cells taken from her body result in huge discoveries. Her cells have been shared in thousands of labs and led to breakthroughs in diseases like polio. Over 3,700 ratings for 4.5 stars. There aren’t many non-fiction books to garner such reviews.

Want to hear from the author himself?   An Interesting Talk featuring Mr. Hager


Merry Citarella, often writing as Merrci, writes on a wide range of topics. Recently relocated to the Oregon Coast in the northwest United States, she frequently writes travel features on the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She specializes in health and aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, food, lifestyle, and book reviews. For more information you can see her on The Writers’Door. You can read more articles here or at her websites Alzheimers HQ and Simple Living Ideas

Author: Merry

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1 Comment

  1. Sounds fascinating! I’m like you I read fiction more than non, but I do like to explore biographies and interesting topics and this sounds like one of those. Thanks so much for sharing. :0)

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