The best books on medical treatments gone wrong

The Books I Picked & Why

Dear Luise: A Story of Power and Powerlessness in Denmark's Psychiatric Care System

By Dorrit Cato Christensen, Peter Stansill

Book cover of Dear Luise: A Story of Power and Powerlessness in Denmark's Psychiatric Care System

Why this book?

In focusing on her daughter, Luise, a mother, Dorrit Cato, in this extraordinary book captures all that is going wrong and getting worse in medical care today. Very early on you know what is going to happen and feel powerless to stop it. Maybe I feel this way so much because I see it happening every day. I’ve bought lots of copies and given Dear Luise to many working in healthcare, who have found it equally raw. If you only have minimal encounters with healthcare or encounters where things have gone well, you may find this story sad but think it a rare exception. Trust me, in mental healthcare today Dear Luise is the norm, and tomorrow it will be the norm for all of health.   


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The Pill That Steals Lives: One Woman's Terrifying Journey to Discover the Truth about Antidepressants

By Katinka Blackford Newman

Book cover of The Pill That Steals Lives: One Woman's Terrifying Journey to Discover the Truth about Antidepressants

Why this book?

Every so often, a masterpiece tumbles out of someone who has never written anything before and thinks they can’t write. Katinka Newman clearly didn’t stop to think whether she should include this trivial detail or leave in what she had just written about that person – the result is a book that hangs together perfectly. You know this is exactly what happened. You witness the extraordinary downward spiral of someone getting supposedly the best mental healthcare there is. What you don’t expect is how she escapes from near-certain death. Newman doesn’t quote any antipsychiatry people telling us how bad psychiatry is but her account of what happened to her is all the more devastating for sticking just to her story.


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Adverse Reactions

By Thomas Maeder

Book cover of Adverse Reactions

Why this book?

Adverse Reactions opens with a grim story about a medical father who has given chloramphenicol, an apparently safe drug, to his son and watches him die a slow and agonizing death. The father's efforts to make sure this cannot happen again are extraordinary. Almost single-handedly he lays the basis for the drug safety systems we now have. At the same time, the drug company that made chloramphenicol invented the playbook which means these safety systems don’t work and prescription drug-induced death may now be the commonest form of death there is.    


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The Zyprexa Papers

By Jim Gottstein, Bob Parsons

Book cover of The Zyprexa Papers

Why this book?

In The Zyprexa Papers Jim Gottstein runs two parallel stories. One is a thriller covering his efforts to get company documents from Zyprexa’s maker, Eli Lilly, that reveal its hazards and how Lilly hid those hazards, into the public domain and his subsequent trial for doing so. The other centers on the mental health patients he spends most of his time helping avoid being given drugs like this. The patients, especially Bill Bigley, are the beating heart of this book. Their stories bring home the consequences for them of the documents Gottstein took such risks to make public. This is Eric Brockovich – except that Hollywood is too scared of pharma and too dismissive of mental health patients to make this movie. You’ll just have to read the book.


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The Thalidomide Catastrophe

By Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, Tobias Arndt

Book cover of The Thalidomide Catastrophe

Why this book?

For many, Thalidomide is like King Arthur – a story lost in the mists of time. Except, like the Knights Templar or the Holy Grail, it still lives. People are still trying to find out who made it, still trying to find out how it causes the birth defects and other problems it causes, and still trying to claim it cures cancers and Covid – which it might.  

In a scenario that takes the hitman’s ‘nothing personal, it’s just business’ dilemma to unimaginable reaches, through the 1960s and 1970s senior Nazis plotted with Israeli scientists to defend this drug. Like Chou-en-Lai’s 1970 comment that it’s too soon to know what the French Revolution really meant, it’s too soon to know how the thalidomide story ends, but it’s worth bingeing on this book, nonetheless.


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