August 22, 2008
Staff Picks: BusinessWeek review of Hell's Cartel
Last week BusinessWeek reviewed Hell's Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler's War Machine by Diarmuid Jeffreys. Hell's Cartel is about IG Farben's decision to utilize death camp labor during WWII to speed up efforts to develop synthesized plastics. The German chemical group was famous for discovering ammonia and (at Bayer, a subsidiary) sulfa, the first antibiotic. Jeffreys, author of Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug, details the journey this once highly esteemed company took once it made a deal with the devil. Part corporate biography, part history, and part moral tale, Hell's Cartel is, as the reviewer puts it, "not a pretty history. But it is gripping, full of warnings about the potential of corporations to mutate into criminal enterprises." Here's a snippet from the review: "IG Farben and Hitler: A Fateful Chemistry How a company whose Nobel-winning scientists discovered vital medicines became a Nazi collaborator"
IG Farben traced its origins to the efforts of men such as Carl Bosch of BASF Group, who led the effort to mass-produce synthetic ammonia. The work was crucial to solving a worldwide shortage of fertilizer and preventing mass starvation. He and other scientist-managers made Germany the dominant producer of drugs and chemicals in the years before World War I. Bosch was a man of conscience but also deeply patriotic. During World War I he became a national hero after leading a crash effort to develop synthetic nitric acid, essential to producing explosives. Most notoriously, BASF chemist Fritz Haber, who had developed the processes used to make ammonia, came up with the idea of using chlorine gas as a weapon.Read the entire article here: businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_34/b4097098922518.htm?chan=magazine+channel_opinion If you like books in this vein, also check out The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug by Thomas Hager.