Book Review: The Birth of the Pill, by Jonathan Eig

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Jonathan Eig is a former senior reporter for the Wall Street Journal and is the author of cv_the_birth_of_the_pillthree highly acclaimed books – Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig and Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season.

During the First and Second World Wars, while our men were fighting for freedom overseas, their wives, girlfriends and mothers were working in jobs once considered the domain of men. The women enjoyed the freedom – the freedom from worry of contraception and the freedom to earn their own money. Women up until then had been conditioned to believe their place was in the home – looking after their menfolk and bearing children. The types of birth control were very limited: condoms were given out to servicemen to stop the spread of venereal diseases while the men were posted overseas. Later on there were early forms of diaphragms, which had a high failure rate.

In the Winter of 1950 in Manhattan, Margaret Sanger, a woman of 71 years of age, who loved sex, wanted a better way for woman to be able to control when and how they conceived. She had spent forty years trying to find a way – a scientific way, and she had campaigned throughout those year for a woman’s right to control their own fertility. She finally met a man in an apartment high above Park Ave, who was, possibly, her last hope.

That man was Gregory Goodwin Pincus (known as Goody), a scientist with a genius IQ and a dubious reputation. He was 47 years old. He wasn’t famous and he didn’t have any world changing inventions filed under his name. He’d been considered a radical by Harvard and had been left with no choice but to conduct experiments in a converted garage. Pincus was a biologist and perhaps the world’s leading expert in mammalian reproduction. He’d attempted to breed rabbits in petri dishes using much the same technology that decades later would lead to the development of IVF for humans. Pincus does not give up; this book goes on to describe the dedication and sponsorship of many people, to achieve a much-needed result.

Reading this book in today’s world it’s hard to imagine the hardship women went through over the decades to achieve rights to control their fertility. We now take contraception for granted with millions of women worldwide swallowing The Pill daily. I found this book a fascinating read, with a lot of detail – at times too much detail. This book will be enjoyed, hoever, by anybody with an enquiring mind who is open to learning.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

The Birth of the Pill
by Jonathan Eig
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781447275558

Book Review: Play on: Now, then, and Fleetwood Mac: the autobiography by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Acv_mick_fleetwood_play_ont just over 300 pages, this is not a small book by any means; it’s nicely produced by Hodder and Stoughton with a good sized font and excellent spacing.

I am not sure what I was expecting when I started this book, but what I got was both more and less – more in that it’s clearly about the entity that is Fleetwood Mac, but very much through the eyes of Mick Fleetwood who finds it impossible to separate himself from the band. And less, in that I did not find it an appealing read. I think it’s partly the writing style, which is Anthony Bozza’s – he’s been a journalist for Rolling Stone for a long time and has published several books on famous rock musicians and bands. The journalistic style comes through and makes for a somewhat disjointed read, and I do think the whole book could have been improved by some judicious editing!

That said, I learned a lot about Fleetwood Mac, and in particular Mick Fleetwood’s passion and drive to keep this band going. Unfortunately, I learned way more than I ever need to know about the drug and alcohol intake of Fleetwood Mac band members and the impact that had on them as a band, and the effect it had on their relationships. To be fair though, it’s clear that at least some of their work was inspired while under the influence of various substances and the musical world would not be as rich without their amazing output.

It’s true that a band like this is a creature which needs to be nurtured, and which becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Many of the bands from this time probably have similar experiences, particularly if they are still together. There’s an intensity in creating and performing which can push everything else into the background, and which has – as with Fleetwood Mac – a damaging effect on interpersonal relationships.

I kept getting irritated – it must be my age – by the behaviour and the apparent lack of responsibility shown in particular by Mick Fleetwood, and felt increasingly sorry for his first wife, Jenny. But despite all of that, the band survived and are still playing. That’s some kind of record, no pun intended.

Overall, for me, an interesting but unsatisfying book.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Play on: Now, then, and Fleetwood Mac: the autobiography
by Mick Fleetwood and Anthony Bozza
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN 9781444753257