Dr. Noguchi's Journey: A Life of Medical Search and Discovery
The story of Hideyo Noguchi's rise from poor farm boy to famous medical pioneer is a true rags-to-riches story. Born into a family of struggling sharecroppers in a village in the snow country of northern Japan, Noguchi, as a small child, suffered a serious burn which turned his left hand into a useless stump and inflicted permanent scars on his personality. A skillful doctor, however, later operated on this hand, allowing him to use it again to some extent, and inspiring him to pursue a career in medicine himself.
Noguchi's extraordinary drive and academic talent propelled him through the hidebound medical training establishment of his own country at record speed, and on to America, to seek his fortune. This too he eventually achieved, thanks to the breakthroughs he made in bacteriological research at the Rockefeller Institute, which included isolating the agent that causes syphilis. His work on other diseases, especially yellow fever, took him as far a field as Ecuador and West Africa, and it was in tropical Africa, doing field research, that he contracted the disease that killed him in his early fifties.
Noguchi's struggle to overcome his physical handicap, to make a name for himself as an Asian scientist in a Western-dominated field, and to increase the fund of human knowledge, has given him an exalted status in Japan, where his face is now on the thousand-yen note. But the author of this new biography is at pains to present a true portrait of the man considered by many of his countrymen as something of a saint. Like Albert Schweitzer, Noguchi in his single-mindedness could be a trial for those around him, and this, combined with an amazing carelessness with money that led him to spend almost all his borrowed travel money on food and drink on the eve of his departure for America, made for a less-than-ideal character.
As the biographer says in his Preface: "When a person shines so very brightly, surely the shadows he creates will be equally as dark." And here, perhaps for the first time, the light and darkness in Noguchi are given equal emphasis, in a rounded picture of the short, intense, and not uncontroversial life of one of modern medicine's more remarkable figures.
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