Alexander Fleming: The Man and the Myth by Gwyn MacFarlane (Chatto & Windus £12.50).
MOST OF us know that Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. Anyone with even the most rudimentary acquaintance with medical knowledge realises that it was penicillin which revolutionised the practice of medicine by providing the first truly effective weapon against bacterial disease.
Fleming, in the later years of his life, was feted nationally and internationally for his contribution to scientific knowledge. Honours were heaped upon him. He became a hero to the world. Deservedly so, one might think, in view of what penicillin has meant to mankind.
In this book, Gwyn Macfarlane, himself a distinguished medical scientist, examines the facts behind the almost universally accepted scenario. The facts provide a few surprises.
Undoubtedly it was Fleming who, as a result of an almost incredibly improbable sequence of events, made the great discovery.
However, it comes as something of a shock to learn that it was not he who appreciated the true significance of his find.
It was not until years after Fleming's discovery that the work of Howard Florey and his team at Oxford University was to establish what appeared to be the almost miraculous therapeutic powers of penicillin.
Again, it was almost by chance that the work of Florey and his colleagues came to be virtually ignored in the general hero worship accorded to Fleming.
This book is an attempt to set the record straight and to give credit where it has so long been overdue.
Maureen Vincent Mullally