Since the dawn of the industrial age, we have unleashed a bewildering number of potentially harmful chemicals. But out of this vast array, how do we identify the actual threats? What does it take to prove that a certain chemical causes cancer? How do we translate academic knowledge of the toxic effects of particular substances into understanding real-world health consequences? The science that answers these questions is toxicology.
In The Alchemy of Disease, John Whysner offers an accessible and compelling history of toxicology and its key findings. He details the experiments and discoveries that revealed the causal connections between chemical exposures and diseases. Balancing clear accounts of groundbreaking science with human drama and public-policy relevance, Whysner describes key moments in the development of toxicology and their thorny social and political implications. The book features discussions of toxicological problems past and present, including DDT, cigarettes and other carcinogens, lead poisoning, fossil fuels, chemical warfare, pharmaceuticals – including opioids – and the efficacy of animal testing. Offering valuable insight into the science and politics of crucial public-health concerns, The Alchemy of Disease shows that toxicology’s task – pinpointing the chemical cause of an illness – is as compelling as any detective story.
Part I: Why Do We Need Toxicology?
1. Cancer Clusters: Truth Can Be Obscure
2. Death from Arsenic and Venoms: Truth Can Be Obvious
3. Paracelsus: The Alchemist at Work
4. Mining and the Beginnings of Occupational Medicine
5. The Chemical Age
6. The Bioassay Boom
Part II: How Do We Study Toxicology, and What Have We Learned?
7. Lead: A Heavy Metal Weighing Down the Brain
8. Rachel Carson: Silent Spring Is Now Noisy Summer
9. The Study of Cancer
10. How Are Carcinogens Made?
11. Some Carcinogens Directly Affect Genes
12. Cancer Caused by Irritation
13. Cigarette Smoking: Black, Tarry Lungs
14. What Causes Cancer?
Part III: How Do We Use Toxicology?
15. Protecting Workers from Chemical Diseases
16. The Importance of Having a Good Name
17. Can We Accurately Regulate Chemicals?
18. The Dose Makes the Poison
19. Are We Ready to Clean Up the Mess?
20. Legal Battles
21. The Toxicology of War
Part IV: The Unfinished Business of Toxicology
22. Opiates and Politics
23. The Toxicology of Climate Change
24. Animal Models for Human Disease
25. Are Animal Cancer Bioassays Reliable?
26. Hormone Mimics and Disrupters
27. Building Better Tools for Testing
28. An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
John Whysner was formerly an associate clinical professor of environmental health sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University. A board-certified toxicologist, he has consulted for the International Agency for Research on Cancer and federal agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and was director of biomedical research for the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, Executive Office of the President.
"field of toxicology has become increasingly sophisticated as our knowledge of biology continues to evolve. As a scientist, it is enjoyable to read how John Whysner presents the information, and I have no doubt that the general public and students will find it equally enjoyable and informative."
– Samuel M. Cohen, Havlik-Wall Professor of Oncology, University of Nebraska Medical Center
"I often tell students in the biological sciences that the best way to learn about a topic is not just to learn what knowledge has been discovered, but rather how the discoveries were made. Whysner’s scholarly yet reader-friendly book reads like a series of fascinating stories derived from his lifetime of experience in the world of toxicology and public health, and what a storyteller he is! The book shows him to be a remarkable science historian as each link between chemical exposures and human diseases is placed in a captivating historical context. The extent to which Whysner has been intimately involved in major discoveries is absolutely mind-boggling."
– Joseph H. Graziano, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
"Whysner provides an honest evaluation of the science of toxicology, engaging readers with fascinating, well-paced narratives of subjects such as chronic arsenic poisoning."
– Katherine Watson, Oxford Brookes University
''Whysner's book is a valuable addition to the history of toxicology and allied fields, as it benefits from the institutional knowledge of a professional working in the field of toxicology for five decades. The author brings to light technical aspects of the science that some may not be aware of, especially concepts of risk assessment, dose response, and links between cancer rates and the reality of the state of the science."
– Dale A. Stirling, Consultant in Environmental & Public Health History and author of The Nanotechnology Revolution: A Global Bibliographic Perspective and A Bibliographic Guide to North American Industry: History, Health & Hazardous Waste
"Whysner [...] delivers an illuminating overview of the history of toxicology. Serious students of medical history will appreciate this detailed, historical account of toxicology’s contributions to better health."
– Publisher's Weekly
"We all have only so much time on this Earth and so much to learn. This fine book presents an efficient and highly enjoyable way to learn the principles and history of the monumental subject of toxicology."
– Judge Lawrence P. Riff, Los Angeles Daily Journal