• The Birth of the Pill

  • How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution
  • By: Jonathan Eig
  • Narrated by: Gayle Hendrix
  • Length: 12 hrs and 26 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (241 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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 20th 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.

©2014 Jonathan Eig (P)2014 Audible Inc.

What listeners say about The Birth of the Pill

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Overall Excellent Read

Although the writers often meandering method of weaving his story, combined with the narrator’s droning performance can at time make this book a bit of a slog through history rather than a pleasant journey, if you are interested in the history of reproductive medicine and the invention of the pill, this book certainly has it all - the major players, the journey from conception to the first marketed product, the political, religious (although as a religious person this perspective admittedly often seems limited and biased) and social context at every step of the way.

As someone who has no personal experience with “The Pill” this book has truly opened my eyes to so much that this drug has meant to American society and even the world - the good, the bad, and the ugly. It reminds me that it is still a recent phenomena in history, since there are still women alive today old enough to have taken the first release of the drug. It reminds me how complex the relationship among marriage, sex, and childbearing was for women prior to its invention and how desperately it was wanted, since today it is falling into disfavor for many. The author also doesn’t shy away (although from a woman’s perspective perhaps does not give due emphasis) from reporting how the pill never without side effects and complications, and was never the panacea it was hoped to be.

Altogether, took a LONG time to get through, but I’m glad I did and would recommend and read it again.

3 people found this helpful

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must read

We take for granted a lot of things these days and women's equality is one of those things. Everyone should read this book to get a better understanding how backwards we were just 50 years ago. One of the best books I've read in a while. We are all better off when all members of our society are equal. the pill was a great equalizer for women . Before you vote this fall read this book.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Important history but repetitive themes

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

The time was well spent, and I enjoyed the focus on 4 main characters in bringing the story alive. However I found the focus on several main themes (e.g., the context of the times) was repetitive and got tiresome. The book could have been better edited I thought.

What did you like best about this story?

I was always interested in the subject matter, as I was very active in the women's health movement in the 1970s.

What didn’t you like about Gayle Hendrix’s performance?

I was very annoyed by the narrator's cadence, her sing song manner of narrating the book, and her emphasis on wrong phrases (or so I thought). This was my least favorite aspect of the listening experience and the worst narrator I've listened to.

Was The Birth of the Pill worth the listening time?

Yes it was as an important piece of social history.

Any additional comments?

I was very struck by the details of how clinical medical research was conducted in the 40s and 50s- with little informed consent, on mental patients and prisoners with no protections at all. It was also amazing how the Pill was developed- with very little real funding and only through the largess of basically one wealthy champion, but always with Margaret Sanger at the forefront.

3 people found this helpful

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Great history, medicore and grating performance

Eig does an admirable job blending medical, social, and political history in telling the story of how the birth control pill came about. The impact this medication had on culture is hard to overestimate, and its intertwining with sexual freedom, population control, women's liberation and equality, and the pharmaceutical industry is fascinating. The only negative is that I found the narrator grating and could only handle her voice when I sped up to 1.25X.
Nonetheless, recommended.

2 people found this helpful

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Superb and under-reported story

Great story, really highlights why reproductive rights are such an important element of women's rights. Onward!

2 people found this helpful

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Unlistenable narration

I am a Pharmacologist and very much looked forward to this, but the monotone, uninspiring narration made me pull the rip cord on this. A good tale smothered. I made it less than 2 hours

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • AM
  • 08-17-20

Outstanding

Just following how the attitude to women's health changed over time makes this book 100% worth reading.

1 person found this helpful

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fascinating history

This is the long, harrowing, complicated story of how the birth control pill came to be. I never really considering all the barriers to it's development, funding, testing and acceptance; it's amazing that it ever happened! I am disturbed at how the testing was conducted in some cases and the association Margaret Sanger had with eugenecists, but I admire their tenacity and am grateful that we have more choices today.

1 person found this helpful

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Horrible Narrator

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

A better orator would have made this a better book. It is almost unbearable to listen to this woman. Her inflections are all wrong, a computer could have done about the same job.

What was most disappointing about Jonathan Eig’s story?

Too detailed...don't need to know every little thing about the characters.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Gayle Hendrix?

Anyone!

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Her voice makes me angry.

Any additional comments?

Interesting historical story...too bad it's so drawn out and hard to listen to.Because it is my book club book I was forced to listen to it.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Fascinating Story -- Below Par Narration

Would you listen to The Birth of the Pill again? Why?

I might read it again, but I don't think I'd listen to this again. The narration is distracting.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Birth of the Pill?

I enjoyed the characterization of Margaret Sanger. I enjoy the mix of science and history.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Gayle Hendrix?

Anyone else -- this was an extremely odd narration -- the narration was a mix of robotic monotone with slightly odd pronunciations and an inappropriately placed questioning lilt -- often found in the middle of a statement. Science doesn't have to be read in a boring monotone.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I could only take the narration a bit at a time. I only listened to the entire book because I found the topic so interesting.

3 people found this helpful