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The Fertility Doctor

, 384 pages

20 halftones

October 2008



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The Fertility Doctor

John Rock and the Reproductive Revolution

As Louise Brown—the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization—celebrates her 30th birthday, Margaret Marsh and Wanda Ronner tell the fascinating story of the man who first showed that human in vitro fertilization was possible.

John Rock spent his career studying human reproduction. The first researcher to fertilize a human egg in vitro in the 1940s, he became the nation’s leading figure in the treatment of infertility, his clinic serving rich and poor alike. In the 1950s he joined forces with Gregory Pincus to develop oral contraceptives and in the 1960s enjoyed international celebrity for his promotion of the pill and his campaign to persuade the Catholic Church to accept it.

Rock became a more controversial figure by the 1970s, as conservative Christians argued that his embryo studies were immoral and feminist activists contended that he had taken advantage of the clinic patients who had participated in these studies as research subjects.

Marsh and Ronner’s nuanced account sheds light on the man behind the brilliant career. They tell the story of a directionless young man, a saloon keeper’s son, who began his working life as a timekeeper on a Guatemalan banana plantation and later became one of the most recognized figures of the twentieth century. They portray his medical practice from the perspective of his patients, who ranged from the wives of laborers to Hollywood film stars.

The first scholars to have access to Rock’s personal papers, Marsh and Ronner offer a compelling look at a man whose work defined the reproductive revolution, with its dual developments in contraception and technologically assisted conception.

Margaret Marsh is a professor of history and interim chancellor, Rutgers University-Camden. Wanda Ronner is a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. They are coauthors of The Empty Cradle: Infertility in America from Colonial Times to the Present, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"The authors bring a man and a century to life as they recount two primary discoveries underlying women's still controversial reproductive rights."

"A fascinating biographical study of a key figure in twentieth-century America... a complete portrait of John Rock as a son, brother, husband, father, student, doctor, researcher, and public figure."

"A spell-binding analysis of the development of modern reproductive medicine. The authors, a gynecologist and a historian, interpret the conflicts and frustrations in this new field through the life and career of John Rock, whose medical and communication skills, coupled with his sincere commitment to the Catholic Church, made him uniquely qualified as one of the field’s principal protagonists. The authors pay close attention to the social and scientific forces of the time when a new and controversial approach to pregnancy prevention was launched--with distinct moral and social interactions."

" The Fertility Doctor provides a balanced portrait of a twentieth-century medical giant... They [Marsh and Ronner] deal deftly too with with the ironies that marked Rock's long career."

"This book will hold an important place in the archives of reproductive medicine."

"Eminently readable... It gives an excellent account of his Boston Irish Catholic family background, his childhood, and his psychological maturation."

"Marsh and Ronner have written what is undoubtedly the most thorough and wide-ranging account we have yet on Rock's career and life."

"Using an impressive body of primary source material, Marsh (history, Rutgers Univ.-Camden) and Ronner (Univ. of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) depict Rock's life through his medical practice and research, both of which seem to define Rock as a person."

"The book is most successful in its exploration of Rock's research... offer(s) scholars of American Catholicism a useful portrait of a committed Catholic who deliberately stretched and molded his faith to fit both a more modern world and his own conscience, long before the Second Vatican council made such flexibility more acceptable."

"This is a well-researched and welcomed contribution to reproductive history."

"Enormously valuable."

"Marsh and Ronner provide us with a much enriched understanding of one of history's most remarkable gynecologists."

"Marsh and Ronner's collaborative efforts make for a fascinating and important study of Rock and his contributions to the science and culture of reproductive medicine."

"The biography of Rock provides detailed insight into the difficult challenges a doctor faced in pushing at the boundaries of reproductive health."

"A successful scientific biography."

"What this book does and does exquisitely is to bring John Rock's life and life's work to the forefront... of the decades of hormonal history."

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