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Book Review
March 2009

The Legacy of Tracy J. Putnam and H. Houston Merritt: Modern Neurology in the United States

Author Affiliations

OlafStüveMD, PhD


by Lewis P. Rowland, MD, 176 pp, $24.95, ISBN 13: 978-0-19-537952-5, New York, New York, Oxford University Press, 2008.


Copyright 2009 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2009

Arch Neurol. 2009;66(3):415. doi:10.1001/archneurol.2009.34

Notable partnerships in medicine and science have included Hubel and Wiesel, Watson and Crick, Jacob and Monod, Jasper and Penfield, and Kety and Schmidt, among others. Their joint efforts were synergistic and mutually beneficial. Their combined careers allowed both to prosper and brought esteem by colleagues that was equally shared. Rowland describes vividly the partnership of Putnam and Merritt in their research in 1938 to develop the anticonvulsant diphenylhydantoin (now phenytoin) with the trade name Dilantin (Pfizer, New York, New York). The scientific achievement of Putnam and Merritt is monumental, as diphenylhydantoin has proved to be a major contribution to combat epilepsy. Their personal outcomes, however, were in stark contrast compared with other scientific partnerships and the reasons and facts for this disparity, as provided by Rowland in graphic style, is a story of Shakespearean proportion. The real story conveyed by Rowland is the personal and professional lives and relationships between the two men. Rowland knows the full story because he was there at Columbia and the Neurological Institute for most of it. He never knew Putnam personally but has meticulously reviewed the archives of the medical school and Presbyterian Hospital to obtain the essential facts and the flavor of the times. He did know Merritt well from 1950 until Merritt died in 1979.

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