Medicine in literature

August 15, 2018

I was surprised when Amazon classified my new novel Magic Bullets as Medical Fiction.  But then I read an article I saw on the Wellcome Book Prize webpage (see where judges and former winners picked their all-time favourite fiction books that touch on this topic and it seemed that their links to medicine appeared rather vague.  So I decided to list three books that I felt could be similarly classified.

The first one on my list is Trouble with Lichen by John Wyndham.  This is about two biochemists who extracted and anti-aging drug from an unusual strain of lichen only to find that it could induce harmful side effects.  My memories of the book are rather vague as I read it a long time ago.  I do remember it as being rather heavy reading but I kept going as I found the plot most intriguing.

The second on the list is The Invisible Man by H G Wells.  In this book Wells goes into great detail about how to change a body’s refractive index and become invisible.  What I liked about the story was that Wells skill in explaining the science behind the plot makes it seem entirely plausible.  I have read this book several times and still enjoy it as an absorbing read

But my favourite has to be The Double Helix by James D Watson.  It is an autobiographical account of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.  It is controversial due to Watson’s willingness to appropriate data surreptitiously from others and his sexist attitude towards scientist Rosalind Franklin who, because of the harmful nature of the X-rays she worked with, died early and therefore could not share the Nobel Prize.  Despite these flaws, I found the story fascinating.  It is probably the greatest medical discovery of all time which has lead and is still leading to momentous breakthroughs in modern medicine.  It is the best detective story I have read and is the main reason why I followed a career in biological science.


Keith Jahans

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