The Birth of the Pill

“A Gripping Tale…Essential Reading”–The Washington Post

The story of four “brave, rebellious misfits,” “The Birth of the Pill” brims with fascinating detail, such as the forgotten fact that Prescott Bush — father and grandfather to presidents — served as treasurer for Planned Parenthood’s first fundraising campaign, in 1947. In our times, when progress on women’s reproductive health is undone and held hostage to the religious right, when legislatures and courts threaten to negate the miracles of science and human progress so dazzlingly portrayed here, Eig’s book is essential reading.–Kate Manning, Washington Post [Full review here]

“Highly engrossing…. Suspenseful, sometimes rollicking”–Los Angeles Times

“The Birth of the Pill” is Eig’s suspenseful, sometimes rollicking tale of a highly ambitious, iconoclastic yet single-minded ragtag quartet who, from 1950 to 1957, dreamed, plotted, manipulated, agitated, researched, begged, bluffed, boasted and spent its way toward its goal of creating and popularizing an easily administered and highly efficacious contraceptive for women.–Anna Holmes, Los Angeles Times [Full review here]

“Nimbly Paced Cultural History”–New York Times

Eig’s nimbly paced cultural history shows that the pill’s genesis was anything but simple.–Irin Carmon, New York Times [Full review here]

“Zippy…infectious”–Boston Globe

[Eig’s] stylish storytelling makes this a fresh, infectiously readable take.–Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe [Full review here

“Fascinating”–San Francisco Chronicle

Aside from being a fascinating look into the evolution of medical practices, funding and ethics, “The Birth of the Pill” is an intricate portrait of how completely women’s reproductive lives are woven into our culture in disturbing and contradictory ways. [Full review here]

“How a Jewish Biologist, an MIT-educated heiress and a Catholic Doctor Triggered the Sexual Revolution”–The Wall Street Journal

In a calm, grind-no-axes style, Mr. Eig reveals a messy history even more forgotten than those who made it. [Full review here]

“How The Pill Overcame Impossible Odds”–The New Republic

While Eig makes clear that the activists and researchers behind the pill made some dubious short-term ethical choices in service of their larger goal, he leaves it to the rest of us to weigh those choices against the eventual result.–Ann Friedman [Full review here]

“A Page-Turner”–National Catholic Reporter

All readers — Catholics, Buddhists, “nones” — welcome a page-turner, which is certainly what The Birth of the Pill is.–Marian Ronan [Full review here]

“A Fascinating and Fraught History”–

One of the first things that becomes clear while reading Jonathan Eig’s “The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution,” is how we are still having many of the same debates about birth control that were happening in 1950. In addition to a series of existential moments of déjà vu, however, Eig provides a fascinating and fraught history of the revolutionary contraceptive. [Full article here]

“Riveting”–TimeOut New York

In a riveting social and scientific history, Eig charts the evolution of birth control through four major players who joined their scientific smarts, wealth and belief in reproductive freedom—and in doing so revolutionized human sexuality.

“As Gripping As Any Suspense Novel”–Elle

Near the end of Jonathan Eig’s The Birth of the Pill, a well-researched account of what went into making oral contraception available to the masses, a socialite turned activist named Katharine McCormick walks into a California pharmacy in 1959 with a prescription for Enovid, a new drug that will soon become so popular it will be known simply as “The Pill.” It was a straightforward transaction, but it reflected a society on the cusp of drastic upheaval, not to mention the pinnacle of her life’s work. Eig’s narrative is full of such telling moments (in 1923 McCormick returned from Europe with eight trunks filled with the latest fashions, 1,000 diaphragms sewn into the clothes). Taken together, they make for a tale of scientific social change as engaging as any suspense novel. [Full review here]

“Eig writes clearly, engagingly…”–Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Eig writes clearly, engaging and endearingly, even of the complex science and tangled research involved. But mostly he vividly reminds us that real people suffered for cheap, easy contraception, and that real people made it happen–not so long ago.–Susan Ager [Full review here]

“Impressive” [Five Stars]–Book Browse

The Birth of the Pill is a revealing and thoroughly researched account of the players who put everything on the line — money, prestige, careers — to create a product they truly believed in. Eig’s account is impressive, not just as an insight into a slice of American history, but as a reminder of the path of women’s rights across well over half a century. It’s a searing testament to how much has been gained since — and just how much things have remained the same.–Poornima Apte, Book Browse


Thanks to Jonathan Eig, we don’t have any excuses for not knowing about the four people who truly changed the modern world. [Full review here]

“Comprehensive Biography…that Stuns”–Bust magazine

Who knew that the history of oral contraceptives could rival a good procedural drama, with a scrappy group of believers racing against time, expenses, and societal disapproval to complete their research? The Birth of the Pill honors these determined pioneers whose work allowed us to separate sex and baby-making…. Though readers know the pill does eventually hit the market, the process is dramatic. Author Jonathan Eig balances dynamic characters with an in-depth understanding of the changing social climate of the 1950s to create a comprehensive-yet-casual biography that stuns with its descriptions of much and how fast our ability to control conception has changed.–Meredith Counts.

“Engrossing and Paramount”–Booklist [STARRED REVIEW]

Margaret Sanger, the tireless crusader for reproductive freedom when contraception was inadequate and illegal, dreamed of a safe, effective, easy-to-use, and affordable pill to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the resulting hardships and suffering. The scientists she approached were scornful until 1950, when she met George Pincus, a renegade scientist with “the IQ of an Einstein and the nerves of a card shark.” After getting tossed out of Harvard as too controversial, Pincus set up an independent research lab, where he took on Sanger’s project, which consumed a decade of hurried innovation and rogue strategies. Eig’s previous books are about baseball and gangsters, and he brings his keen understanding of competition and outlawry, his affinity for rebels, and vigorous and vivid writing style to this dramatic tale of strong personalities, radical convictions, and world-altering scientific and social breakthroughs. As he tracks maverick Pincus’ audacious course of action, including his dubious field trials in Puerto Rico, Eig recounts the history of contraception and the tragedies caused by its unavailability, and illuminates the crucial roles played in the development of the pill by the wealthy activist, Katherine Dexter McCormick, and the compassionate Catholic physician, John Rock. So great was the need, more than a million women were taking the pill two years after its 1960 FDA approval. An engrossing and paramount chronicle.–Donna Seaman, Booklist

“Fascinating Narrative”–Publisher’s Weekly [STARRED REVIEW]

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Eig (Luckiest Man) blends the story of the “only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name” with the lives of the four-larger-than-life characters who dreamed, funded, researched, and tested it. Eig recapitulates much of what’s known about the discovery of oral contraceptives and adds a wealth of unfamiliar material. He frames his story around the brilliant Gregory Pincus, who was let go by Harvard after his controversial work on in-vitro fertilization; charismatic Catholic fertility doctor John Rock, who developed a treatment that blocked ovulation and, with Pincus, began human testing (including on non-consenting asylum patients); and the two fearless women who paid for and supported their work, rebellious women’s rights crusader and Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger and her intellectual heiress, Katharine Dexter McCormick. The twists and turns of producing a birth control pill in the mid-20th century mirrored astonishing changes in the cultural landscapes: Eig notes how, in July 1959, the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and G.D. Searle’s request for FDA approval of Enovid presaged a “tidal wave that would sweep away the nation’s culture of restraint.” Eig’s fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history. (Oct.)—Publishers Weekly

“Page-turning Popular History”–Kirkus

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Eig (Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster, 2010, etc.) recounts the origin story of the oral contraceptive—“the pill”—as a scientific answer to a cultural conundrum: how to have sex without pregnancy.

Margaret Sanger (1879-1996), a wily, independent feminist and sex educator who kept her own apartment after marrying oil tycoon James Noah Slee in 1922, was a lifelong advocate for giving women the ability to enjoy sex without the worry of pregnancy. Eig opens in 1950 with Sanger, “an old woman who loved sex,” looking to science for a contraceptive that women could control (unlike the condom) and that was extremely effective (unlike the diaphragm). She sought out Gregory Pincus (1903-1967), a former Harvard University biologist denied tenure and pilloried in the press as a “Victor Frankenstein” for his efforts to mate rabbits in a petri dish, experiments that were the forerunners to in vitro fertilization. With starter funding from Sanger, Pincus developed a hormone treatment for rabbits and rats that prevented ovulation, and Sanger enlisted philanthropist and suffragist Katharine McCormick (1875-1967) to fund Pincus’ development of a similar hormone treatment to do the same for women. Gynecologist John Rock (1890-1984), the fourth “crusader,” teamed with Pincus on his research; by the mid-1950s, they developed a working trial of what is now universally known as “the pill.” Throughout the book, Eig displays a readable, contemporary style as he chronicles a similar clash of scientific and social progress as Thomas Maier’s Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Master and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love (2009).

A well-paced, page-turning popular history featuring a lively, character-driven blend of scientific discovery and gender politics.–Kirkus

“Lively and compelling.”–The Oregonian. [Read full review here]

“A wildly fun, sexual, crazy, historically important, moving, and special story.”–Kimberly Peirce, director and writer, “Boys Don’t Cry.”

Jonathan Eig, a master storyteller, has once again written a page-turning, suspense-filled, beautifully written narrative about a central and yet often shunted aside impulse of our humanness — sex.  The central characters are all fully and vividly developed and the history of the pill becomes, in Eig’s hands, an irresistible tale.—Ken Burns

The Pill is that rare invention that transforms the world. It has revolutionized individual lives and upended societies, transforming the relationship between men and women. But we know that already. What we didn’t know was the remarkable story of how it came to be. In this gripping book, Jonathan Eig tells how an unlikely group—Margaret Sanger, Katharine McCormick, Dr. Gregory Pincus, and Dr. John Rock—came together to achieve a scientific breakthrough and win acceptance for it in the face of intense opposition. The Birth of the Pill is vivid, compelling, and important.—T.J. Stiles, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

Bring this book to bed with you and won’t need any other form of birth control. Jonathan Eig turns the history of the pill into a smart and spicy account of the unlikely bonds that linked a millionaire activist, a free-loving crusader, a Roman Catholic gynecologist, and a maverick scientist. This book is at once intelligent, well researched, witty, and captivating. Eig pulls the curtain back to offer an in depth look at the politics and science that, at times, propels and,  at other times, stalls medical progress. Reading about the birth of the pill is a unique prism into the changing morals about sex, women, and marriage in 20th century America.–Randi Hutter Epstein, MD, author, Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank


Opening Day

“Eig recounts the flash points that have grown into myths and largely reduces them from grand opera to folk song, a story of endurance and forbearance rather than sturm und drang. Dixie Walker, a popular Alabamian who supposedly led an internal team revolt, is portrayed as mostly concerned about how playing with Robinson might affect his hardware business back home. A famous gesture of support from Pee Wee Reese, the Kentucky-born shortstop who reputedly threw his arm around Robinson on the field to quiet a hostile crowd, is presented as largely apocryphal, and an alleged strike by the Cardinals as very likely a media exaggeration. Eig’s deflation of the extremes of both opposition and support seems more complexly true and does justice to the man rather than the legend.”
–The New York Times Book Review

“Eig’s superb book…characterizes the obstacles confronting Robinson as more daunting and oppressive than anyone outside of Robinson and his family had realized… Eig is two-for-two.”
–Chicago Tribune

“Jonathan Eig’s mind-opening book…is an account of a 28-year-old man ‘filled with fear and fury,’ and terribly alone. It includes unfamiliar details about familiar episodes…. Eig is especially informative about the dynamics among the Dodgers, who, like many teams, had a Southern tinge.”
–George Will, The Washington Post

“Opening Day manages the neat trick of being a beautifully written period piece while also bringing modern-day reporting to the mix…. Not just a great book, it’s an important book.
–The Boston Herald

Luckiest Man

“Rarely do biographies capture the pure essence of an individual without burdening the reader with useless trivia and fact. Eig, a senior reporter at The Wall Street Journal, manages to avoid these pitfalls by churning out a critically-applauded biography of baseball phenom and “momma’s boy” Lou Gehrig. Eig does his homework, presenting the story of a slugger who, in the 1920s and 1930s, broke baseball records and, upon his death, America’s heart. Using archival newspaper clippings, interviews, baseball footage, and Mayo Clinic correspondence, among other sources, Eig brings to life the story of an American hero known as much for his unbelievable athleticism as for his unexpected illness.”
–Bookmarks Magazine

“As my consecutive games streak grew, my curiosity about Lou Gehrig also grew and I wanted to learn more about him and what kind of person he was. Jonathan Eig’s book, Luckiest Man, really helped me put all of the pieces together and gain a solid understanding of Lou, both on and off the field. I thought it was a wonderful book that provided insights about Lou, his amazing life and outstanding career.”
–Cal Ripken, Jr.

“Luckiest Man is a first-class biography, thoroughly researched and nimbly written….If Gehrig’s ‘luckiest man’ speech offered fans a glimpse into his character, Eig’s Luckiest Man pushes the door wide open.”
–Bill Syken, Sports Illustrated

“With splendid results, Jonathan Eig separates fact from fantasy in his stirring portrait of an athlete dying young. The Lou Gehrig he presents is more subtle, nuanced, and indeed more neurotic than the stiff, cardboard figure we previously knew. All of which makes Gehrig’s tragic final struggle more moving and profound. A wonderful book.”
–Roger Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer

Get Capone

“I thought I knew the Capone story, but Eig’s riveting telling of this iconic American story is both fresh and utterly dazzling. An extraordinarily rich panorama of America in the 1920s, Get Capone brings our most notorious anti-hero vividly to life, masterfully interweaving the epic tale of his rise and fall with the equally fascinating stories of the politicians, lawmen, gangsters, and reporters, who inhabited his world.”
–Ken Burns

“An historically gilded account which freshly recreates the gritty Chicago streets and raucous twenties that spawned Capone. By the time you are finished reading this book, you will feel intimately familiar — not only with Chicago’s ultimate gangster — but the city, people and circumstances that gave rise to his infamy.”
–Chicago Alderman Ed Burke

“With his latest effort, “Get Capone: The Secret Plot that Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster,” Eig has done it again. The book is a fascinating, fast-paced hybrid: a biography and an intensely reported look at the cat-and-mouse chase between Capone and the federal investigators trying to bust him.”
–Noah Isackson, Chicago Tribune