Dirk Wittenborn

Viking,  July 2008

"I was born because a man came to kill my father."

William Friedrich, an ambitious professor of psychology at Yale in the early 1950s, has stumbled upon a drug that promises happiness -- and that can make him a famous man. His is a humanitarian effort; an attempt to relieve Americans of suffering, and the early results are so promising that Friedrich stakes his future on it. But when his experiment goes awry and a research subject, a brilliant and troubled Yale student, commits murder, the consequences will haunt him and his family forever.

Pharmakon, which in Greek means both "poison" and "cure," is an epic invocation of the quest for bliss, for love, for family and prosperity, and all of the betrayals that follow. Through the eyes of the youngest son, Zach, we follow the Friedrichs from the well-ordered suburban life of postwar America through the chaos and freedom of the counterculture into the drug-fueled, media-crazed eighties and beyond. In William Friedrich, Wittenborn has defined the archetypal American patriarch: a miracle worker and source of strength to everyone except those he loves the most. Honest, insightful, and ruefully funny, Pharmakon captures formative moments of the twentieth century and the telling traits of an American family. It is also a layered, thoughtful search behind the veil of psychopharmacology as we know it today -- a tale not only of the consequences of research, but the complex personalities, appetites, and struggles that created it.

paperback | ISBN: 9780670019427 | Publication Date: July 2008

"In Pharmakon, Dirk Wittenborn has given us a fascinating portrait of a family living on the edge in the barely post-medieval age of 1950s psychopharmacology. With both victims and perpetrators, pioneers and innocents, the saga of the Friedrichs will stay with you long after the book has been read."
--Richard Price

"Wittenborn has given us a haunting illustration of the Tolstoyan maxim that every unhappy family is unique in its unhappiness, though in fact no one who has ever been part of a family can fail to feel pangs of recognition as they follow the saga of the Friedrich family across three tumultuous generations. Pharmakon is an ambitious and memorable novel."
--Jay McInerney

"A brilliant portrait of a young family of the 1950s, possessed of the particular qualities of postwar America -- optimism, prosperity, and security -- and the inevitable loss of innocence as both country and family encounter the challenges of maturity. Dirk Wittenborn's provocative book is sharply observed: a subtle and wise fable of our time."
--Susanna Moore

"An old-fashioned novel about a modern subject -- set in the past but completely relevant to where we are today. It might remind you of mid-period John Irving, but gentler. And just when you've settled into a groove the book takes surprising -- sometimes shocking -- turns. Beneath all the pain there's hope coursing through these pages, and in the end don't be surprised if you find yourself moved to tears."
--Bret Easton Ellis

"Eerie, authentic, and always with heart, Pharmakon is a slow-burning triumph."
--Marisha Pessl