Cover image for The birth of the pill : how four crusaders reinvented sex and launched a revolution
The birth of the pill : how four crusaders reinvented sex and launched a revolution
Eig, Jonathan, author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : W. W. Norton & Company, [2014]
Physical Description:
x, 388 pages ; 25 cm
Immersed in radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes, this is the fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.
A winter night -- A short history of sex -- Spontaneous ovulations -- A go-to-hell look -- Lover and fighter -- Rabbit tests -- "I'm a sexologist" -- The socialite and the sex maniac -- A shotgun question -- Rock's rebound -- What makes a rooster crow? -- A test in disguise -- Cabeza de negro -- The road to Shrewsbury -- "Weary & depressed" -- The trouble with women -- A San Juan weekend -- The women of the asylum -- John Rock's hard place -- As easy as aspirin -- A deadline to meet -- "The miracle tablet maybe" -- Hope to the hopeless -- Trials -- "Papa Pincus's pink pills for planned parenthood" -- Jack Searle's big bet -- The birth of the pill -- "Believed to have magical powers" -- The double effect -- La señora de las pastillas -- An unlikely pitch man -- "A whole new bag of beans" -- The climax -- Epilogue.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Audubon Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Clarence Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Crane Branch Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Kenmore Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Orchard Park Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
Hamburg Library RG137.5 .E34 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



We know it simply as "the pill," yet its genesis was anything but simple. Jonathan Eig's masterful narrative revolves around four principal characters: the fiery feminist Margaret Sanger, who was a champion of birth control in her campaign for the rights of women but neglected her own children in pursuit of free love; the beautiful Katharine McCormick, who owed her fortune to her wealthy husband, the son of the founder of International Harvester and a schizophrenic; the visionary scientist Gregory Pincus, who was dismissed by Harvard in the 1930s as a result of his experimentation with in vitro fertilization but who, after he was approached by Sanger and McCormick, grew obsessed with the idea of inventing a drug that could stop ovulation; and the telegenic John Rock, a Catholic doctor from Boston who battled his own church to become an enormously effective advocate in the effort to win public approval for the drug that would be marketed by Searle as Enovid.

Spanning the years from Sanger's heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

Author Notes

Jonathan Eig, a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal, is the best-selling author of The Birth of the Pill, Luckiest Man, Opening Day, and Get Capone. He lives in Chicago with his wife and children.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Margaret Sanger, the tireless crusader for reproductive freedom when contraception was inadequate and illegal, dreamed of a safe, effective, easy-to-use, and affordable pill to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the resulting hardships and suffering. The scientists she approached were scornful until 1950, when she met George Pincus, a renegade scientist with the IQ of an Einstein and the nerves of a card shark. After getting tossed out of Harvard as too controversial, Pincus set up an independent research lab, where he took on Sanger's project, which consumed a decade of hurried innovation and rogue strategies. Eig's previous books are about baseball and gangsters, and he brings his keen understanding of competition and outlawry, his affinity for rebels, and vigorous and vivid writing style to this dramatic tale of strong personalities, radical convictions, and world-altering scientific and social breakthroughs. As he tracks maverick Pincus' audacious course of action, including his dubious field trials in Puerto Rico, Eig recounts the history of contraception and the tragedies caused by its unavailability, and illuminates the crucial roles played in the development of the pill by the wealthy activist, Katherine Dexter McCormick, and the compassionate Catholic physician, John Rock. So great was the need, more than a million women were taking the pill two years after its 1960 FDA approval. An engrossing and paramount chronicle.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Eig (Luckiest Man) blends the story of the "only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name" with the lives of the four-larger-than-life characters who dreamed, funded, researched, and tested it. Eig recapitulates much of what's known about the discovery of oral contraceptives and adds a wealth of unfamiliar material. He frames his story around the brilliant Gregory Pincus, who was let go by Harvard after his controversial work on in-vitro fertilization; charismatic Catholic fertility doctor John Rock, who developed a treatment that blocked ovulation and, with Pincus, began human testing (including on nonconsenting asylum patients); and the two fearless women who paid for and supported their work, rebellious women's rights crusader and Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger and her intellectual heiress, Katharine Dexter McCormick. The twists and turns of producing a birth control pill in the mid-20th century mirrored astonishing changes in the cultural landscapes: Eig notes how, in July 1959, the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover and G.D. Searle's request for FDA approval of Enovid presaged a "tidal wave that would sweep away the nation's culture of restraint." Eig's fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Journalist Eig (Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig) chronicles the individuals most responsible for the development of Enovid, the first FDA-approved oral contraceptive, in the 1950s. These are doctor Gregory Pincus, the scientist who founded the research-focused Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology after being dismissed from Harvard University; Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood; Katharine McCormick, the millionaire who bankrolled the research; and doctor John Rock, a gynecologist who helped with research and promotion. Eig situates the four among the changing cultural and legal attitudes toward sex, contraception, and the role of women in the home and society, arguing that while the pill did not start the sexual revolution-despite the book's subtitle-it was a major aspect of it. Additionally, the author examines ties among eugenics and population concerns and the development of the pill, noting the complex and questionable attitudes toward the poor and minorities held by activists such as Sanger. VERDICT More biography than science, this work will appeal to readers interested in popular history and cultural shifts during the 1950s. However, those seeking information on the bio-logical and pharmaceutical aspects of birth control pills will be disappointed.-Evan M. -Anderson, Kirkendall P.L., Ankeny, IA (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This book tells the moving personal and professional stories of four great leaders of the birth control movement: public health reformer Margaret Sanger; reproductive biologist Gregory Pincus; wealthy philanthropist and MIT graduate Katharine Dexter McCormick; and beloved devout Catholic obstetrician/gynecologist John Rock. These staunch crusaders were largely responsible for the idea, development, testing (in Worcester, MA and Puerto Rico), funding, legalization, and widespread acceptance of oral contraceptives. Eig (formerly, Wall Street Journal), author of Opening Day (CH, Jul'08, 45-6233) and Luckiest Man (CH, Oct'05, 43-1012), weaves together fascinating details about their families, friends, and colleagues along with important events, restrictive laws, organizations like Planned Parenthood and the World Health Organization, and the pharmaceuticals industry. The book also covers the strong influence of the Catholic Church, eugenics, and global overpopulation concerns as well as popular magazine articles and interesting characters like Hugh Hefner and Alfred Kinsey. Although occasionally disjointed and repetitious, this account is very readable. It is valuable for all audience levels due to its international and balanced perspective. Well referenced and thoroughly footnoted and indexed; illustrated with black-and-white photographs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. --Ellen R. Paterson, SUNY College at Cortland

Google Preview