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A page-turning account of the most notorious drug of the 20th century and the never-before-told story of its American survivors.




In 2016, Jennifer Vanderbes began work on a nonfiction book about the thalidomide scandal of the 1960s. Inspired by the actions of Dr. Frances Kelsey - the FDA Medical Reviewer who fought to keep the drug off the American market - Vanderbes began to research the American side of the story, which had never fully been written about.


Following an immersive investigation—uncovering Kelsey’s extensive public and personal archives, reviewing thousands of FDA documents and court records - Vanderbes discovered that there were many more American victims and survivors of thalidomide than previously reported by the FDA or the press, and that after decades of isolation from one another, these individuals were just beginning to connect. 


This dramatically changed the course of the book. For several years, Vanderbes travelled around the United States interviewing US thalidomide survivors, bringing their stories into the narrative for the first time. She now works closely with the Board of their newly-formed nonprofit (US Thalidomide Survivors) to advocate for a correction to the historical record and to support a campaign for public recognition. 


WONDER DRUG lays bare the details of the largest pharmaceutical scandal of all time, exploring the fascinating heroes - doctors, journalists, and parents - who helped stop the global distribution of thalidomide, while shedding light, for the first time ever, on the hidden victims left in the drug's wake.


WONDER DRUG, which has already received awards from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, will be published in June 2023.


Meeting the Survivors
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