The best books on human experimentation

Allen M. Hornblum Author Of Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America
By Allen M. Hornblum

The Books I Picked & Why

Bad Blood

By James H. Jones

Bad Blood

Why this book?

This in-depth account of the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study is considered a classic in the field of medical ethics. Though Greg Dober and I have recently discovered the true origins of the Public Health Service’s “non-treatment study” and former Surgeon General Thomas Parran’s critical role in the ugly saga, Jones’s book is still the best chronicle available, and lays out a devastating narrative of how a sophisticated but uncaring and racist scientific establishment could annually examine and not treat hundreds of unschooled Alabama sharecroppers suffering from a deadly disease. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

By Harriet A. Washington

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Why this book?

From the pre-Civil War era to the current day, Washington describes the grim saga of African Americans used as “research material” by the medical community. Dr. J. Marion Sims’s gynecological and plantation experiments, black bodies - alive and dead - used as classroom instructional material, and cellblock prisoners incorporated in myriad Phase I drug studies, as well as many more examples, are all part of Washington’s award-winning account of medical exploitation. After reading Medical Apartheid, one will better understand why so many black Americans are skeptical of medical science, fearful of doctors and hospitals, and resistant to vaccine campaigns, miracle cures, and government-endorsed health nostrums. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

By Eileen Welsome

The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

Why this book?

Welsome investigates a particularly repugnant episode in medical history; doctors secretly injecting hospital patients with plutonium as part of the Manhattan Project. Designed to weigh the increased threat of cancer during the outset of the atomic era, the book navigates the governmental and scientific concerns of a new nuclear world, the prestigious players who argued for human experimentation, and the unwitting victims - all hospital patients - who’d be used as test material. In addition, Welsome also explores other Cold War examples of atomic abuse such as “radioactive cocktails” given to pregnant women and radioactive breakfast cereal given to five and six-year-old “morons” at state institutions. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making

By David J. Rothman

Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making

Why this book?

Rothman was one of the first to examine the culture of research medicine and its relationship to science and American culture at large. Doctors on the cutting edge of new procedures, much desired medical elixirs, and scientific advancement used a utilitarian calculus to determine what was ethical and what the public was willing to accept. Scientific breakthroughs were celebrated with few - certainly no one of renown - taking notice that the breakthroughs were coming at the expense of vulnerable, powerless populations.


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Experimentation with Human Beings: The Authority of the Investigator, Subject, Professions, and State in the Human Experimentation Process

By Jay Katz, Alexander Morgan, Eleanor Swift Glass

Experimentation with Human Beings: The Authority of the Investigator, Subject, Professions, and State in the Human Experimentation Process

Why this book?

Known only to true devotees of medical ethics and the history of human research, Jay Katz’s hefty volume (1,150 pages) is a comprehensive encyclopedia of humans used as research material. Information-packed chapters cover everything from Chester Southam’s use of senile hospital patients in cancer cell injection studies during the 1960s, and the legal fallout from such indiscretions, to the ethical obligations of researchers, and the evolution of informed consent as a pillar of ethical human research. Impressive in both detail and scope, this imposing piece of scholarship is a valuable resource for anyone looking to learn the many moral and legal issues inherent in experimenting on humans. 


When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.

Random Book Lists