screenshot169 What do Sherlock Holmes and Tuberculosis have in common? Thomas Goetz’s The Remedy aims to answer that question.

From the publisher summary:
Imagine this: it’s 1875 and you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). At a time when doctors had little in their arsenal for treating the disease and were even less certain about what caused it, TB was a death sentence.

But a scientific revolution was brewing. Robert Koch, a country doctor, was fascinated by the emerging field of microbiology, and through obsessive and careful experimentation, he began isolating and identifying germs and eventually made the discovery that would change his life: he found the germ that caused tuberculosis. He quickly turned his skills to finding a cure, and when he announced his success, people arrived in droves to try his remedy.

One of the visitors was Arthur Conan Doyle, then a doctor and sometime writer and a great admirer of the scientific method that Koch helped establish. When Conan Doyle toured the wards of patients, though, he was horrified – Koch’s remedy was either sloppy science or outright fraud. This remedy would become Koch’s most tragic disgrace, but it would also give us the most enduring literary detective of our times, one who did more than any scientist to popularize science.

The Remedy is a fascinating read. It’s hard to fathom a time when germs were not known or understood, when sanitation in hospitals is nothing like it is now, but it wasn’t all that long ago.  The Remedy goes into deep detail of the works of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, scientific rivals, who helped develop the scientific method and illustrate cause of specific diseases- which led to ways to vaccinate against them or treat them.  The results of their work are still impacting us today.  Enter in Arthur Conan Doyle, a doctor and author, who uses the scientific method to create one of the most beloved literary characters of all time AND uses his own knowledge to debunk one of the era’s preeminent scientists, and you have one interesting read.

What I didn’t realize before reading The Remedy was how competitive the scientific arena was at the time- and presumably still is.  I also didn’t realize the thrall of Sherlock Holmes on the public from its initial publication.  Both of those things made the book quite interesting.  I enjoyed the science behind the story. It’s just enough to give the reader a good explanation of the challenges, experimental process, and findings without getting into too much technical detail that could be overwhelming to some people.

Goetz’s writing is easy to read, his approach matter-of-fact and his observations of the habits of the time only add to the story.  His glimpses of the “snake oil” remedies around make me grateful for the medicine we have today.

Fans of non-fiction should check this out. So should Sherlock fans. You get a bit of insight into how Doyle came to the stories and his own feelings about his venerable hero- in fact, after reading The Remedy I may finally pick up a Sherlock Holmes book to read.

**** I received an Advance Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review****