The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse Summary

Carl Djerassi

The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse

In his autobiography, Vienna-born biochemist Carl Djerassi traces his success as part of the post-World War II period of expansion and growth in biomedical and pharmaceutical research. The only child of physician parents, Djerassi came to America with his mother as a refugee in 1939, after fleeing from Austria. A brilliant student, he completed his college degree at Kenyon by 1941, and his Ph.D at Wisconsin by 1945. In the late 1940’s, along with several colleagues, he founded Syntex, a small pharmaceutical research firm in Mexico City.

Djerassi’s autobiography tells how he led a research team at Syntex to develop synthetic cortisone from a locally grown yam. His work with steroids eventually led to the synthesis of the female sex hormone progesterone and the development of the Pill. He has developed antihistamines and studied insect hormones and pheromones to create environmentally safe insect controls, winning numerous science awards.

Djerassi’s subsequent work at Stanford has led him to consider the social, economic, and political consequences of oral contraceptives. His growing interest in public policy issues led to his involvement with Stanford’s Human Biology Program. He views the abortion battle as a sign of the failure of pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide adequate contraceptive choices for women because of excessive FDA regulation, adverse publicity from the Dalkon shield controversy, and the fear of litigation.

THE PILL, PYGMY CHIMPS, AND DEGAS’ HORSE provides a lively and entertaining account of a brilliant researcher, teacher, scientific entrepreneur, international traveler, art collector, and writer.