Daniel J. Kevles is Professor of History Emeritus at Yale, a visiting scholar at NYU Law School, and a sometime lecturer at the Columbia School of Journalism. His works include The Physicists, In the Name of Eugenics, and, most recently, Heirloom Fruits of America: Selections from the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection.
 (July 2020)


The Scandal of Our Drug Supply

Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom

by Katherine Eban
Katherine Eban’s disquieting, often unnerving, and at times infuriating new book Bottle of Lies ranges across the pharmaceutical industry in several countries, but its chief concern is the generic drug industry in India and the inconsistent vetting by the FDA of the industry’s products for the American market. The FDA’s lack of rigorous, uniform scrutiny of imported pharmaceuticals has put the prescription drug supply in the United States at risk from contaminated, ineffective, and even fraudulent medications—products that not only might fail to control disease but might themselves be life-threatening.

Why Is Medicine So Expensive?

Martin Shkreli, the former head of Turing Pharmaceuticals, outside the federal courthouse in Brooklyn after he was found guilty of fraud, August 2017

Medical Monopoly: Intellectual Property Rights and the Origins of the Modern Pharmaceutical Industry

by Joseph M. Gabriel

Generic: The Unbranding of Modern Medicine

by Jeremy A. Greene
The prominence of high drug prices among current American grievances derives from three recent episodes. In 2014 Gilead Sciences brought out Sovaldi, a drug that cures hepatitis C within twelve weeks but costs $1,000 a pill, making the price of a full course of treatment $84,000. In 2015 Turing Pharmaceuticals, a new company headed by Martin Shkreli, a hedge-fund manager, acquired Daraprim, the sole treatment available in the United States for a life-threatening parasitic infection, and raised the price per tablet from $13.50 to $750. And in 2016 Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which had a stranglehold on the market for EpiPens (used to counter allergic shock), began selling them wholesale for $284 apiece, a 600 percent increase over the wholesale price in 2007, and offering them only in packages of two.

The Genes You Can’t Patent

Newspapers showing front-page coverage of Angelina Jolie’s decision to have a preemptive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer after genetic testing showed that she carried the abnormal BRCA1 gene, May 15, 2013
In a major decision issued on June 13, the US Supreme Court unanimously struck down the patents held by a biotechnology firm on the DNA comprising BRCA1 and BRCA2.1 These are the two genes that, in their abnormal forms, are known to dispose women to a dramatically heightened risk …

An American Passion Revealed

Beurre d’Aremberg pear; mid-nineteenth-century lithograph by the Amana Society, Iowa County, Iowa

Fruits and Plains: The Horticultural Transformation of America

by Philip J. Pauly
Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden on the South Lawn of the White House merits a double brava!—apart from calling attention to the nutritional value of eating fresh, organically grown vegetables, it honors their global origins. We are not only a nation of immigrant peoples and cuisines. We are also a country …

Martyred by Monsters

The Murder of Nikolai Vavilov: The Story of Stalin’s Persecutionof One of the Great Scientistsof the Twentieth Century

by Peter Pringle
Nikolai Vavilov’s life would make a chilling film about how visionary science and intrepid intellectual adventure in Soviet Russia blackened into a vicious persecution and a martyr’s death. Educated in the years following the rediscovery, in 1900, of Gregor Mendel’s laws of heredity in peas, Vavilov was by the 1920s …