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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Medical Adventures

Breakthrough is an historical medical adventure, made all the more appealing to teens because it was a young girl who participated in the experiment that lead to the discovery of insulin.

Related books that might interest teens?

Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: A Brain Surgeon Exposes Life on the Inside by Katrina Firlik (Random, 2006).
Great for readers interested in the day-to-day life of a surgeon.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (St. Martin’s Press, 1987).
A classic about so much more than medicine.

Last Breath: Cautionary Tales from the Limits of Human Endurance by Peter Stark (Ballantine, 2001).
This book really does take my breath away. It describes in detail how the body and mind react to life-threatening situations, from hypothermia to the bends to being stung by a venomous jellyfish.

I cannot possibly leave out Richard Preston. Both The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story (Random, 1994) and The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story (Random, 2002) require subtitles because they read like thrillers.

And finally, always leave ‘em laughing: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (Norton, 2003).

COOPER, Thea & Arthur Ainsberg. Breakthrough: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle. 306p. St. Martin’s. 2010. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-0-312-64870-1. LC 2010021662.


Adult/High School–Insulin really is a miracle drug, and anyone who doubts it need only read this book and look at the photographs included. One hundred years ago, most people with diabetes simply died within a fairly short time. Those who survived for any length of time literally starved themselves, existing on a few hundred calories a day, with fat, protein, and carbohydrates carefully monitored.  Such was the case with 12-year-old Elizabeth Hughes. The authors alternate between the story of Hughes, daughter of President Harding’s Secretary of State, Charles Evans Hughes, and the somewhat wild and wooly account of the temperamental team of scientists and doctors who discovered and manufactured insulin. It’s a gripping tale, made perhaps more dramatic than necessary by the authors’ decision to invent some conversations, incidents, and motives to “illustrate” the facts. These inventions are detailed in the “Notes and Sources” section at the end of the book, but appear in the text as facts. Teens with a personal interest in diabetes and those who like medical adventures will find this book fascinating.–Sarah Flowers, formerly of Santa Clara County Public Library, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. I’m anxious to read this one to see how it compares to the 2009 title The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes and the Discovery of Insulin by Caroline Cox. I was fascinated by that little book because my daughter has Type I, so I’d like to see how this book tells Elizabeth Hughes’ tale.