Toward the Conquest of Beriberi

by Robert R. Williams. 338 + xxii pages, illustrated. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1961. $7.50

Henry Edmund Meleney University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Florida

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This is the story of thiamine—its relation to beriberi, its structural identification, its synthesis, its metabolic functions and its enrichment of cereals—told by the man who had most to do with its elucidation. The story is largely autobiographical. Young Williams, son of missionaries to India, and a recent graduate in chemistry from the University of Chicago, joined the staff of the Bureau of Science in Manila in 1909. The following year, Edward B. Vedder, Medical Corps, U. S. Army, brought him an alcoholic extract of rice polishings and asked him to find out what constituent of it prevented polyneuritis in chickens, which he believed was the same disease as human beriberi. This was the beginning of nearly half a century of research and campaigning, most of it as an avocation.

The author first reviews the history of clinical beriberi, in western countries mainly on long sea voyages, in the Orient mostly in countries where polished rice was the staple food.

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