The strange twists and turns in the history of thalidomide, the so-called “monster drug,” have almost been forgotten. Now, a haunting account of the tragic events that took place half a century ago has been written by Trent Stephens (an anatomist and embryologist, who has been studying the mechanism of action of thalidomide since 1972) and his collaborator, Rock Brynner (a historian who, as a patient, received the drug for pyoderma gangrenosum—an extremely rare autoimmune disorder). Their tale ends in the here-and-now with an amazing phoenix-like dénouement.

The story begins in the West German village of Stolberg in 1954, when Chemie Grünenthal, a small and relatively inexperienced pharmaceutical company, launched a search for a low-cost method to manufacture antibiotics from peptides. The company’s chief of chemical research heated a commercially available chemical named phthaloyisoglutamine and produced α -phthalimidoglutarimide, which the company labeled “thalidomide.” The new molecule was patented, and...

You do not currently have access to this content.