The Drug Hunters: The Improbable Quest to Discover New Medicines

Donald R. Kirsch
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Apr 6, 2020

From Ötzi the Ice Age hunter-gatherer to billion-dollar pharmaceutical research and development labs people have been looking for substances to ease pain, cure disease and prolong a healthy life.

In The Drug Hunters we follow along the circuitous paths drugs can take on their way to the pharmacy shelf. One antifungal drug that was researched as a cure for athlete’s foot is now used in anti-rejection therapies. The birth control pill started with Swiss dairy farmers' efforts to keep their cows producing milk. We also learn how the earliest synthetic dye companies transformed into modern-day drug giants.

While I did enjoy learning about the drug discovery process and history of some common drugs the writing style didn’t quite live up to some of my favorite narrative nonfiction science writers like Mary Roach or Bill Bryson. It really highlights to me how hard it is to balance explaining technical aspects while still making the writing approachable and engaging.

If you do enjoy a good science nonfiction book and were interested in the history of epidemiology check out The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson and follow a doctor as he unravels a medical mystery.


Reviewed by Brian O.
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