• Becca McCulloch

Review: Frankie

Frankie: The Woman Who Saved Millions from Thalidomide

Thalidomide: patented in Germany as a non-toxic cure-all for sleeplessness and morning sickness. A wonder drug with no side-effects.

We know differently now.

Today, thalidomide is a byword for tragedy and drug reform – a sign of what happens when things aren’t done ‘the right way’. But when it was released in the 1950s, it was the best thing since penicillin – something that doctors were encouraged to prescribe to all of their patients. Nobody could anticipate what it actually did: induce sleeping, prevent morning sickness, and drastically harm unborn children.

But, whilst thalidomide rampaged and ravaged throughout most of the West, it never reached the United States. It landed on the desk of Dr Frances Kelsey, and there it stayed as she battled hierarchy, patriarchy, and the Establishment in an effort to prove that it was dangerous. Frankie is her story.


This may be one of the most fascinating hidden stories of women ever told. I loved every word. What’s woman! What a legacy!

Frances Kelsey was in relative obscurity until she made the brave decision to stand against the industry powers and delay approval of thalidomide. She faced private and public scrutiny for her caution, but her wisdom saved millions of babies from damage due to a flawed drug. Her courage reminded me of the endless good that can be accomplished by one person - and how much evil can be done when profits are prioritized above people. The twists and turns in this novel will keep you reading, aghast one moment and elated the next. Frankie is a person who should not be forgotten. 

In the words of Sir Harold Evans of the Sunday Times, “We were inspired through many long years of prosecution and suppression by Frankie’s shining example. It was a special, joyful moment for us to send her greetings on her hundredth birthday. 'Your heroism was twofold: one, in your insistence on the primacy of scientific evidence; two, in your courage in the face of incessant pressure from powerful interests.'”

This book is for anyone interested in science or women’s history. It heralds the need for sound thinking and wisdom in an age too often lacking in both. Frankie is a true heroine of the ages. 

Purchase Links




Author Bio –

JAMES ESSINGER is the author of non-fiction books that focus on STEM subjects and personalities, including Charles and Ada (The History Press) and Ada’s Algorithm (Gibson Square), the latter of which has been optioned for a film. He lives in Canterbury.

SANDRA KOUTZENKO is a bilingual writer whose work spans a variety of categories and topics, ranging from French poetry to English non-fiction, focusing on human nature and the conflict between its potential for greatness and its propensity for destruction.

Social Media Links –

Twitter @TheHistoryPress

Instagram @TheHistoryPressUK



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