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The Birth of the Pill

How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

Jonathan Eig


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (10/19/2015)
MP3 CD (1/5/2016)


A Chicago Tribune 'Best Books of 2014'

A Washington Post '50 Notable Works of Nonfiction & Best Science Books 2014'

A Chicago Tribune 'Nonfiction Books to Gift 2014'

A Slate 'Best Books 2014: Staff Picks'

A Booklist '2014 Editor’s Choice' & 'Top 10 Science and Health Books of 2014'

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch 'Best Books of 2014: Nonfiction'

The fascinating story of one of the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century.

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.

Praise For The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

Eig’s nimbly paced cultural history shows that the pill’s genesis was anything but simple.
— New York Times (Editor’s Choice)

Eig's fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history.
— Publishers Weekly, Starred review

A well-paced, page-turning popular history featuring a lively, character-driven blend of scientific discovery and gender politics.
— Kirkus

[Eig] brings a lively, jocular approach to the story, casting an unlikely four-part ensemble comedy starring Sanger; the iconoclastic lead scientist, Gregory Goodwin Pincus; the Roman Catholic physician John Rock; and the supplier of cash behind it all, Katharine McCormick.
— Irin Carmon - New York Times Book Review

An engrossing and paramount chronicle… [Eig] 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.
— Donna Seaman - Booklist (starred review)

Suspense-filled and beautifully written…an irresistible tale.
— Ken Burns

A tale of scientific progress and social change as engaging and gripping as any suspense novel.
— Molly Langmuir - Elle

— Chicago Sun-Times

Fascinating… Weaving medical, corporate, and political history with rich biographical detail, Eig turns the history of the pill into a scientific suspense story full of profoundly human characters. The result is cultural history at its finest.
— Alan W. Petrucelli -

Jonathan Eig turns the history of the pill into a smart and spicy account of the unlikely bonds that linked a millionaire activist, a free-loving crusader, a Roman Catholic gynecologist, and a maverick scientist. The Birth of the Pill is at once intelligent, well researched, witty, and captivating… [A] unique prism into the changing morals about sex, women, and marriage in 20th century America.

— Randi Hutter Epstein, author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank

'The pill' is that rare invention that transforms the world. In this gripping book, Jonathan Eig tells how an unlikely group—Margaret Sanger, Katherine McCormick, Dr. Gregory Pincus, and Dr. John Rock—came together to achieve a scientific breakthrough and win acceptance for it in the face of intense opposition. The Birth of the Pill is vivid, compelling, and important.

— T. J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

A fascinating look into the evolution of medical practices, funding and ethics [and] an intricate portrait of how completely women’s reproductive lives are woven into our culture in disturbing and contradictory ways.
— Ashley Nelson - San Francisco Chronicle

Masterful… when legislatures and courts threaten to negate the miracles of science and human progress so dazzlingly portrayed here, Eig’s book is essential reading.
— Kate Manning - Washington Post

Dynamic, highly engrossing… As hard as it is to put down The Birth of the Pill’s story of four privileged individuals’ thrilling quest for better living through science, it’s imperative to remember the scores of women lost to history whose flesh and blood helped make it a reality.

— Anna Holmes - Los Angeles Times

The pill is utterly ordinary today. The story of how we got here is anything but.
— Hannah Levintova - Mother Jones

Eig’s research is thorough and his account exhaustive.
— Emily Witt - Bookforum

Narrative nonfiction at its best… A fascinating and thorough look at one of the most important innovations of the 20th century.
— Bookriot

Eig’s stylish storytelling makes this a fresh, infectiously readable take.
— Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe

Who knew that the history of oral contraceptives could rival a good procedural drama, with a scrappy group of believers racing against time?
— Meredith Counts - Bust

Absorbing… One of the book’s great strengths—accomplished through his smart choice of lead characters—is the depiction of how arduous it is to make real social change.
— Margaret Talbot - New Yorker

Aside from being a fascinating look into the evolution of medical practices, funding and ethics, Eig’s book is an intricate portrait of how completely women’s lives are weaved into our culture in disturbing and contradictory ways.
— San Francisco Chronicle

[S]urprisingly gripping.
— Kevin Nance - Chicago Tribune

An impassioned cultural history.
— Laura Pearson - Chicago Tribune

Detailed, compelling history… Eig does a remarkable job of keeping the science and the storytelling in harmony.
— Josh Modell - The Onion A.V. Club

Brilliant… [it] often reads like a thriller as funds runs out, clinical trials stall and politicians, including John F. Kennedy, shy away from the hot potato of birth control… its advocates deserve this vivid and life-affirming history.
— Joan Smith - The Guardian

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393073720, 400pp.

Publication Date: October 13, 2014

About the Author

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.

Coverage from NPR