Aspirin: The Story of a Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys Bloomsbury $220 Diarmuid Jeffreys follows a little white pill from ancient Egypt to a British parson, to a German dye factory, before explaining its coming of age in the greatest disaster of the 20th century and its renaissance as a cardiac drug. He starts with the discovery of an Egyptian papyrus by an American adventurer. The papyrus recommended a concoction containing willow bark for treatment of fever. Having been part of the ancient world's medicine chest, willow bark as a fever treatment almost disappeared from view (it's mentioned in sixth-century medical texts in China) only to resurface in the English countryside when an 18th-century parson put a piece of willow bark in his mouth and noticed it tasted like quinine, the only known (and very expensive) treatment for malaria or 'the ague'. This set in motion a long line of inquiry and testing. The following century's industrial revolution increased the need - burgeoning industrial towns and cities were breeding grounds for epidemics - and potential for large-scale production of a fever drug. In the late 19th century, willow bark's active ingredient, salicylic acid, was much in demand. The rapidly developing field of chemistry was centred on the German dye industry. After a tangle with much harder drugs (some senior staff at the developer, Bayer, wanted the firm to concentrate on another potential family drug, called heroin), Aspirin eventually came to market and took the world by storm. Jeffreys neatly describes how the new wonder drug was pivotal in the development of the world's pharmaceutical industry. Aspirin and Bayer were caught up in the first world war, but it was the Spanish flu epidemic, which is estimated to have killed 100 million people, that marked the drug's watershed moment. Jeffreys also details the patent and trade disputes that attended Aspirin and Bayer throughout the first half of the 20th century, but holds the reader's interest. After the second world war, Aspirin's star began to fade as it was edged out by painkillers such as Tylenol. It returned to centre stage in the pharmaceutical world when its ability to prevent heart attacks became clear. It has received a further boost from research into its effects on cancer. Jeffreys highlights the problem that manufacturers have little incentive to fund research into a drug selling for as little as 10 cents a tablet. This leaves most of the modern research breakthroughs, as well as development of new forms of the drug, to universities. He rounds off by posing the obvious question and a possible answer. How could one simple medicine cure so many diseases? He quotes the tenuous theory that salicylates, which are now missing from refined modern foods, should form a part of our natural diet . This is an absorbing, well-researched book that chronicles the world's favourite drug throughout history, offering fascinating insights into the attendant wars, industrial intrigue and scientific inquiry and development.