Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Despite Eric Lax, Howard Florey is still "Box Office Poison" to women readers

And as every book editor well knows , most readers of narrative fiction/non-fiction  are women.

But in the Lax take on the wartime penicillin saga, the hero offered up is a man who leaves his deaf middle class wife to ride around on her bike in the rain collecting urine from penicillin patients while he 'has it off' with his aristocratic mistress in the luxurious bath and bedroom suite he had at his office in (never-Blitzed) Oxford England .

And this at a time when millions of Britons in the rest of the UK were being bombed out their homes by the Blitz and (barely) living in makeshift shelters.

Charming, really charming !

Just of the sort of hero women readers want to cuddle up to - Not.

The character - or lack of it - of Howard Florey  is what made Eric Lax's recent biography such a flop among ordinary readers.

So, despite the fact that a survey of thousands of American women found they considered penicillin the most important news story of the entire 20th century , we still have never had a successful popular book or movie about the dramatic wartime history of penicillin.

What is missing in all past efforts is a focus on the one classical hero in the whole saga : the dying Dr Dawson and his unrelenting efforts to make penicillin inclusive not exclusive.

That and a too trusting reliance by previous writers upon the official histories rather than digging deeper into the primary records.

Because the people in Washington and London who wrote the official histories determined, above all, to cover up their very expensive and very time-wasting wartime flop : the synthetic penicillin project led by Florey and George Merck and paid for mostly by the taxpayers - as always.

So they tried to pretend that the stone these builders rejected had really been their idea all along. With Dawson prematurely dead at war's end and unable to set the record straight , it was - literally - dead simple.

Women, around the world , will buy a popular history about wartime penicillin by the tens of millions of copies - with the right set of heroes and villains laid out before them.

"The smallest Manhattan Project : the unexpected triumph of inclusive penicillin" will do just that .....

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