Drug-resistant bacteria — known as superbugs — are one of the biggest medical threats of our time. Here, a doctor, researcher, and ethics professor tells the exhilarating story of his race to beat them and save countless lives.
When doctor Matt McCarthy first meets Jackson, a mechanic from Queens, it is in the ER, where he has come for treatment for an infected gunshot wound. Usually, antibiotics would be prescribed, but Jackson’s infection is one of a growing number of superbugs, bacteria that have built up resistance to known drugs. He only has one option, and if that doesn’t work he may lose his leg or even his life.
On the same day, McCarthy and his mentor Tom Walsh begin work on a groundbreaking clinical trial for a new antibiotic they believe will eradicate certain kinds of superbugs and demonstrate to Big Pharma that investment in these drugs can save millions of lives and prove financially viable. But there are countless hoops to jump through before they can begin administering the drug to patients, and for people like Jackson time is in short supply.
Superbugs is a compelling tale of medical ingenuity. From the muddy trenches of the First World War, where Alexander Fleming searched for a cure for soldiers with infected wounds, to breakthroughs in antibiotics and antifungals today that could revolutionise how infections are treated, McCarthy takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the history — and future — of medicine. Along the way, we meet patients like Remy, a teenage girl with a dangerous and rare infection; Donny, a retired firefighter with a compromised immune system; and Bill, the author’s own father-in-law, who contracts a deadly staph infection. And we learn about the ethics of medical research: why potentially life-saving treatments are often delayed for years to protect patients from exploitation.
Can McCarthy get his trial approved and underway in time to save the lives of his countless patients infected with deadly bacteria, who have otherwise lost all hope?
‘Written from the front lines in the battle against resistant microbes, Superbugs will educate and inspire all those concerned about the growing threat to individuals and society. McCarthy offers a fast paced, vivid narrative that grips the reader from the opening pages and never lets go.’
Dr. Jerome Groopman, Recanati Professor at Harvard Medical School, and co-author of New York Times bestseller Your Medical Mind
View all reviews
‘Superbugs is a riveting look into the world of bacteria and antibiotics. Dr. Matt McCarthy offers a compulsively readable tour through infectious disease. With his characteristic humour and warmth, Dr. McCarthy humanises a fascinating and timely topic that has resonance for us all. In a voice that is thoughtful and honest, punctuated by sharp wit, he reveals the drugs and dilemmas that will impact humanity for years to come. This is a rare and important book.’
Daniela Lamas, author of You Can Stop Humming Now
‘An amazing informative book that changes our perspective on medicine, microbes and our future’
Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, New York Times bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies
‘A perfect work of popular science. Like Atul Gawande, Matt McCarthy has the magical ability to transmit deeply technical knowledge in a way that makes the reader feel like part of a high-level professional conversation; like Michael Lewis, a gift for the place where big ideas overlap; like Elizabeth Kolbert, a sense of narrative urgency about the state of the present world that makes anything outside its pages seem trivial. Magnificent.’
Charles Finch, winner of National Book Critics Circle Award
‘Dr. Matt McCarthy … writes about the ‘microscopic miracles’ that lie beneath the soil.’
Sarah Berry, Sydney Morning Herald
‘The rise of the superbug has transformed each working hour into a battle to outwit the treatment-resistant bacteria that threaten patients’ lives … In McCarthy’s new book, he explains through the stories of his patients what antibiotic resistance means to every one of us.’
Simon Crompton, The Times
‘Intriguing ... This book discusses many big things, along with microscopic ones, and the two combine to provide a valuable insight to a challenge facing us all, whether doctor or patient.’
Robin Osborne, GPSpeak
‘It is a fascinating read, enhanced by his detours into medical history ... McCarthy can wring suspense from fungal infection and faculty meetings.’
Jenny Nicholls, North and South
‘Mostly heart-breaking, but at times laugh-out-loud funny … Superbugs is an immersive and educational read that combines feelings of futility with a sense of hope at just the right moments.’
Anna Kosmynina, COSMOS
‘A riveting insider’s look at the race to find a cure for antibiotic-resistant infections, one of the most pressing challenges in modern medicine … The author’s storytelling is at once urgent and empathetic, a compelling combination that leaves readers feeling informed and optimistic. Insightful and honest, McCarthy effectively combines useful information about the latest advances in microbial research with accounts of the best aspects of humanity.’
‘Dr. McCarthy offers a glimmer of hope: a new way to both cure and prevent future superbug infections with a single treatment.’
Christian Broadcasting Network
‘McCarthy weaves the history of the life-saving drugs into a suspenseful account of his own role in a groundbreaking clinical trial.’
The Boston Globe Magazine
‘It may sound like another sci-fi superhero movie, but physician and author Matt McCarthy warns that the topic of lethal bacteria is not to be taken lightly … McCarthy explains how these pathogens have built up a resistance to our current arsenal of antibiotics.’
NPR’s All Things Considered
‘McCarthy gives an insider’s look at the history of antibiotics and the urgent fight against deadly, drug-resistant bacteria.’
Twin Cities Pioneer Press
‘Sheds a lot of light on an issue that should be in the public consciousness.’
‘Incredibly interesting with a good mix of the scientific and human aspects … McCarthy also goes into the history of antibiotic development and the economics of today’s drug development that limit the research for new antimicrobials … The book is easy to read, and never dull due to the patient interactions. McCarthy explains novel concepts in a simple, easy to understand way.’
Sam Still Reading