The Thalidomide Catastrophe is a book written by Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, and Tobias Arndt. Released today, I was lucky enough to be able to review an advanced reader copy.

As a journalist, I have been interested in this story for a while now; I’m working on a story that’s related to it. It was also around the tie of the fiftieth anniversary BBC documentary that I was introduced to the concept of Thalidomide. (What still strikes me-and what is further illustrated by the book-is the lack of awareness or knowledge of it.)

The tagline on the cover says it all: ‘How it happened, who was responsible and why the search for justice continues after more than six decades.’

The Cover:

The cover is brilliant, in my opinion. It’s stark-the white background, with the innocuous object of a medicinal bottle. It looks harmless, however because of the history since Thalidomide was on the market makes it kind of terrifying. It’s horrific to think that this pill-marketed on the basis of apparently being a “wonder drug”-was, and still is capable of so much harm.

The white background also makes it stand out on a book shelf; if I was at a bookshop, my eye would catch this. I’d be curious as to what it was about, etc.

Content:

Initially, I found it a little bit hard to get into. I think that after seeing Attacking The Devil, I perhaps expected too much of the book. My expectations were also flawed in this respect; the book gets into the nitty gritty of Thalidomide, not the Sunday Times campaign. (It’s not about the journalistic side. It’s the full-on, comprehensive history.)

It’s also shocking to me how there hasn’t truly been justice. I haven’t got to this particular chapter yet, however it is alleged that there was corruption surrounding the German trial. There is a lack of accountability surrounding Thalidomide, and I can’t understand that. Surely, as an empathetic human, you’d do your best to help, when you’ve caused this catastrophe?

I was also struck by the images that are dotted throughout. I have met one Thalidomider; however, I wasn’t aware of the full range of disabilities that Thalidomide caused. (It sounds silly, doesn’t it?)

There had previously been a disconnect for me; it’s all very well to watch footage on the TV or whatever. There’s a distance in that respect; I don’t think that there is with books and photos. The use of photography bought it home to me, making this story truly alive for me.

What would I have changed?

At times the book can be clunky, in the way it’s written; however, I think that is partly caused by being a book of history. It’s not a book about people; it’s the factual facet.

Conclusion:

I think that this is a book that everyone should read, or at least be aware of. Thalidomide is known for its notoriety, however I don’t think the full scale of its history is known. I hope that this book goes towards correcting some of that, along with bringing it into the public consciousness. And I hope that this book, in its majestic state, goes towards contributing to the justice that has been denied for so long.

As a follow up, could I make a suggestion? I’d like to have a book of interviews, with people involved: so people like Mikey Argy, Harold Evans, people at the trust, etc.

The Thalidomide Catastrophe is published by Onwards and Upwards. For more information, visit their website. You can buy the book here. 


Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to be gifted this book at my own request. I have not been paid to review this. For more information, please see my disclaimer.

What was your favourite gift you were given at Christmas?


When starting my journalism course (you can read more about it here) one of my teachers mentioned Harold Evans. A lot. So, I googled him-and asked for his biography My Paperchase, for Christmas. In retrospect, this seemed rather apt, given the trade I’m training for.
After reading it, I came to the conclusion that this book needs to be adapted to a drama, at least a Netflix box set . Stuffed full to the brim with captivating tales of the newspaper trade, if it was on the big screen, it would have a captive audience. With reference to the recent release of The Post (wonderful film!), this seems even more prevalent.
The sections of the book that deal with his career in investigative journalism had me captivated the most. Exposure of a Soviet spy? Check. There’s also the issue of Thalidomide; how can a journalist, who sees such an injustice, help the people at the heart of the story, when their position is legally precarious? You change the law as you go along. (Although more complex than just this simple sentence,  you can find out more  in the brilliant Netflix documentary Attacking The Devil. See the trailer here.)
My favourite chapter is “Death In Cairo”. Parts of this book shocked me-after all, I am only eighteen, and haven’t experienced as much as the author. It was this chapter that shocked me the most of all. A member of The Sunday Times fails to check into his hotel room; what happens next? I think that it also shows what it means to be an investigative journalist . There’s also interesting revelations; the office of the paper has had things stolen from it, for instance.
I was also struck by how kind Harry seems to be throughout the book; he has a real love of journalism, but also people. From helping the people affected by Thalidomide, to travelling down to the Deep South (complete with opposition to the sheer level of racism throughout), it almost appears integral to his success as a journalist. He can be brusque, sometimes blunt, yet people make up the core of the book. (Prior to Christmas, he also send me a tweet, including the line: ‘Without honest, brave reporting, we are blind.”) Moments of hilarity are also sporadically sprinkled throughout the book.
That’s the best sort of journalist and personality traits/
I think that the book could have benefitted from being more chronological; there are jumps forward and back in time. It can be confusing at times, and I found it difficult to keep track of the timeline of events. I would have also have liked to have seen more about Evans’ time in America, like the book The Vanity Fair Diaries, by Tina Brown (his wife.) The book can also occasionally be abrupt; perhaps the connections between chapters could have been more polished.
This book has something for everyone; whether you’re training to be a journalist, or are a journalist, like a good story, etc, I think this is the book for you.

Click here to buy the book.

“Why bother being a journalist?” is a question I get asked a lot; it seemingly doesn’t fit with what people think of me. Because it wasn’t always an ambition of mine; firstly, I wished to be a writer. And a journalist is not always looked upon well-enough for stereotypes to be flung at me regularly.
However, I find writing factual pieces easier than fiction; the latter puts to work an imagination, something I don’t have. The facts keep everything simple, logical, and in-line. The way a journalist gathers facts has also been a part of my routine for many years now (sort of), whether it’s gather facts about Jacqueline Kennedy, or researching the newest political trend.
But then the hacking scandal came. It was something I followed for months.
Each day seemed to bring quite unsavoury allegations, as well as revelations; the industry, in a way, seemed to be shaken up. And, for once, I understood why a lot of people seemingly cannot stand a journalist.
During this time, I was beginning to blog, but also learning the basics of running a site; after all, I posted pages, not posts! It was also during the time-possibly a little bit later-that my interest in the rock group Queen began to flourish.
I found a biography of Freddie Mercury via Amazon; after all, I need a new book to read. This introduced me to Lesley Ann Jones, who I hugely admire; this lady has interviewed rock royalty, written books, travelled. Her job and position were something that I wished for. I have been lucky enough to meet, as well as interview her. (See it here.)
I guess, all in all, I have a need to help people. And I like to write.
In conjunction with my law classes, we have been learning about Harry Evans, and his tenure at The Sunday Times. This man is my new ‘journo’ hero! There is a great documentary he features in: “Attacking the Devil: Harry Evans and the last Nazi war crime”. He helped the Thalidomide children, and was involved in many other campaigns; to be like this wonderful man would be my privilege.
Journalist’s aren’t all bad; the many that I have met have been wonderful to me. And I wish, more than anything, to join their ranks.

Lydia

XO