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The Great Secret

The Classified World War II Disaster that Launched the War on Cancer

Jennet Conant (author)



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Grove Press
01 December 2020
On the night of December 2, 1943, the Luftwaffe bombed a critical Allied port in Bari, Italy, sinking seventeen ships and killing over a thousand servicemen and hundreds of civilians. Caught in the surprise air raid was the John Harvey, an American Liberty ship carrying a top-secret cargo of 2,000 mustard bombs to be used in retaliation if the Germans resorted to gas warfare.

After young sailors began suddenly dying with mysterious symptoms, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Alexander, a doctor and chemical weapons expert, was dispatched to investigate. He quickly diagnosed mustard gas exposure, which both Churchill and Eisenhower denied. But Alexander's breakthrough observations about the toxic effects of mustard on white blood cells, as well as the heroic perseverance of Colonel Cornelius P. Rhoads - a researcher and doctor as brilliant as he was arrogant and self-destructive - were instrumental in ushering in a new era of cancer research. The Great Secret is a remarkable story of how horrific tragedy gave birth to medical triumph.
By:   Jennet Conant (author)
Imprint:   Grove Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Edition:   Main
Dimensions:   Height: 242mm,  Width: 165mm,  Spine: 40mm
Weight:   785g
ISBN:   9781611856446
ISBN 10:   1611856442
Pages:   400
Publication Date:   01 December 2020
Audience:   College/higher education ,  Professional and scholarly ,  General/trade ,  Primary ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Jennet Conant is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Irregulars and Tuxedo Park. A former journalist, she has written for Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek and the New York Times.

Reviews for The Great Secret: The Classified World War II Disaster that Launched the War on Cancer

A brilliant account of the all but vanished reputation of an amateur physicist who became a friend and peer of the greatest scientists of his time. -- Kurt Vonnegut on TUXEDO PARK Remarkable...the story of a genuinely extraordinary man [told] uncommonly well. * Washington Post on TUXEDO PARK * Author and journalist Jennet Conant has uncovered a humdinger of a tale, one that is equal parts war story, conspiracy thriller and medical mystery. More than anything, The Great Secret shows how the dogged efforts of a handful of scientists were able to turn a wartime tragedy and coverup into one of society's greatest gifts. This is a rare jewel of a story that readers will love and fellow historians will covet. -- James M. Scott, Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of TARGET TOKYO and RAMPAGE A ripping good yarn, jam-packed with marvelous prose, wonderful historical characters, and superb research on a little known but critical chapter in the history of medicine and the Second World War. I could not put this book down until I reached the final page. -- Howard Markel, MD, PhD, George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine With a scintillating detective-tale plot rendered with an accomplished novelist's flair, Jennet Conant peels back the layers of deception employed by Allied authorities-including Winston Churchill-to conceal the fact that many of those who died at the Bari disaster in December 1943 perished from unprecedented exposure to mustard gas and immersion in ship fuel oil. This fast-paced narrative alone would make The Great Secret a landmark work, but Conant surpasses this with the even more astonishing chronicle of how insights into the Bari deaths ultimately galvanized the creation of the whole field of cancer chemotherapy. This is a heartbreaking and inspiring tale of tragedy leading to triumph. -- Richard B. Frank, author of TOWER OF SKULLS: A History of the Asia-Pacific War, July 1937-May 1942

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