Inventing a drug that appears to have happiness-inducing qualities, a mid-twentieth-century Yale professor is launched into fame before his experiments go awry and a research subject commits murder. 50,000 first printing.
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Dirk Wittenborn is a novelist and screenwriter whose books have been published in more than a dozen countries. He is the Emmy-nominated producer of the HBO documentary Born Rich and the coauthor and coproducer of The Lucky Ones, a feature film about American soldiers returning from Iraq.Review:
“What’s best about Pharmakon, beyond the curiosity value of its unusual premise and atmosphere, is Mr. Wittenborn’s colorful, affectionate evocation of a complex family story ...a smart, eccentric coming-of-age story.”
—The New York Times
“A smart, pharmaceutical pick-me-up.”
“Wittenborn is a smart stylist, equally adept at telling phrase and rich characterization.”
—St. Petersburg Times
“Pharmakon is a Greek word meaning both poison and cure. As the title of Dirk Wittenborn’s novel, the word not only defines the early days of prescribed mood- altering drugs, but also the difficulty of truly understanding the triumphs and tragedies of a family’s story.
The novel is narrated by Zach Friedrich, youngest son of William Friedrich, who, just after World War II, develops a scale of happiness that allows clinicians to rate whether a person is becoming more or less happy (and more or less sane). He goes on to create, with a Yale colleague, something he believes will be a cure for unhappiness, a pill derived from a New Guinea plant. When the trial ends in violence, the project is buried, William gets a job at Rutgers and Zach is born and grows up without knowing the secrets the family left behind.
Despite the heavy subject matter, including murder, mental illness, family secrets and betrayal, Pharmakon is actually quite funny—not surprising, given the author’s short stint on “Saturday Night Live.” Wittenborn is a witty and intelligent storyteller, and his own life story mirrors that of Zach’s: he’s a child born to a psycho-pharmacologist father who had a few disgruntled patients of his own.
Readers will have fun trying to decide which parts of the story are autobiographical (was there really a girl named Sunshine and a gaggle of parrots in the mulberry tree?) and which parts come from the author’s imagination. Either way, this is the kind of book one imagines college professors read on their summer vacations: one that is at once smart, darkly funny, entertaining and informational, told with love and an eye toward the bigger issue of how families endure both the poisons and the curatives of everyday life.”
“It is 1951, and Will Friedrich, a young, ambitious, untenured Yale psychology professor is searching for a Big Idea, one that “could make the world a saner place.” Tragically, his big idea turns a geeky freshman genius into a murderer, and the specter of the event haunts Will’s family for 50 years. Pharmakon is a family saga that takes Will, his wife, Nora, and their four children through the watershed moments of five turbulent decades of American history. But it is also a great deal more; by turns, a knowing and slightly jaundiced send-up of academia, a guided tour through some of the worst ideas of twentieth-century medicine and psychology, and an insightful portrait of a brilliant, decent, caring (albeit ambitious) man whose best efforts earn the approval of nearly everyone except those most important to him. Pharmakon is a big book in every way except page count. It is filled with vivid, nuanced characters and with ideas, and Wittenborn’s engaging writing recalls Richard Russo.”
“In Pharmakon Dirk Wittenborn has given us a fascinating portrait of a family living on the edge in the barely post-medieval age of 1950’s psycho-pharmacology. Both victims and perpetrators, pioneers and innocents, the saga of the Freidrichs will stay with you long after the book has been read.”
-Richard Price, author of LUSH LIFE
"In Pharmakon, Dirk Wittenborn has given us a haunting illustration of the Tolstoyan maxim that every unhappy family is unique in its unhappiness, though in fact no one who has ever been part of a family can fail to feel pangs of recognition as they follow the saga of the Friedrich family across three tumultuous generations. PHARMAKON is an ambitious and memorable novel."
—Jay McInerney, author of Bright Lights, Big City and Brightness Falls
"Pharmakon is an old-fashioned novel about a modern subject--set in the past but completely relevant to where we are today. It might remind you of mid-period John Irving, but gentler. And just when you've settled into a groove the book takes surprising--sometimes shocking--turns. Beneath all the pain there's hope coursing through these pages, and in the end don't be surprised if you find yourself moved to tears."
—Bret Easton Ellis
"A brilliant portrait of a young family of the 1950s, possessed of the particular qualities of post-war America -- optimism, prosperity and security -- and the inevitable loss of innocence as both country and family encounter the challenges of maturity. Dirk Wittenborn's provocative book is sharply observed; a subtle and wise fable of our time."
--Susanna Moore, author of In The Cut
“Eerie, authentic, and always with heart, Pharmakon is a slow-burning triumph.”
--Marisha Pessl, author of Special Topics in Calamity Physics
“...epically entertaining ...”
“A vivid sketch of an unhappy family in the 1950s.”
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Book Description Viking Adult, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. New item. May have light shelf wear. Bookseller Inventory # BK0067297
Book Description Viking. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0670019429 New. Bookseller Inventory # Z0670019429ZN
Book Description Viking. Book Condition: New. Fine. Cloth, D-j. 2008. Originally published at $25.95. Bookseller Inventory # W62252b
Book Description Viking, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0670019429
Book Description Penguin Group, 2008. paperback. Book Condition: New. 2008 NY: Penguin Group Advance reading copy, mint, new/unread in flawless pictorial wrappers. Bookseller Inventory # WITPHAR16
Book Description Viking, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110670019429
Book Description Viking, New York, 2008. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # F40F19