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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 dangerous 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 court records and FDA documents— 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 traveled around the United States interviewing thalidomide survivors, bringing their stories into the narrative for the first time.  She now serves on the Board of their recently-formed nonprofit (US Thalidomide Survivors). 


Based on thousands of previously unseen documents and over two hundred interviews that spanned three continents, Wonder Drug lays bare a shocking episode in American history.  This landmark exposé finally gives voice to the unrecognized victims of the 20th century's most notorious drug. 


Wonder Drug, which has already received awards from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, was published June 27, 2023.

"A first-rate medical thriller." -Patrick Radden Keefe

"A deeply researched and chilling must read." - Publishers Weekly, Starred

"Novelistic...riveting... A significant work." - Kirkus, Starred

"Fascinating and compassionate." - PEOPLE Magazine

"Narrative non-fiction at its most compelling." - Margot Lee Shetterly

"The best investigative reporters in America didn’t uncover this story, until Jennifer Vanderbes put it together." - Ralph Nader
Preview the documentary
made by American thaldomide survivors
Meeting The Survivors
With Jean in Fairport.jpeg
Vanderbes and Sampson Summer 2018
San Diego, 2019
Cincinnati, 2018
Fairport, NY 2018
San Diego, 2019
St. Paul, Minnesota, 2018
New York, 2019
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