In Pursuit of Pure, White, and Deadly

We were lucky enough to have the “Candy Professor,” Samira Kawash, visit the library earlier this year. She generously wrote the following post for us about the book she used in her research.

Poster with text "Sweet delicious but deadly" and image of man eating ice cream cone surrounded by different foods containing sugar.

Anti-sugar poster. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

A few years ago, we started hearing that our current epidemic of obesity might be due to the rapid increase in consumption of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) since the 1970s. The sharp upturn in both overweight and HFCS certainly suggest some relation, but what is the cause? Some have pointed to the excess calories, others to excess sugar, and some believe it is actually the fructose in HFCS that makes it uniquely “obesegenic.” Are sugar calories, or fructose calories, somehow different from other kinds of calories? Increasingly, advocates of the “carbohydrate hypothesis” are saying, yes, it’s the carbs, or the sugars that are making us not only fat, but sick as well: blame diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and allergies on too much sugar.

I’m writing a book about the social history of candy, so of course I’m interested in these attacks on sugar. And one thing I’ve learned is that these worries about refined sugar are not new. In particular, back in the 1970s there was a wave of “sugar-phobia” that produced a raft of popular anti-sugar literature like William Duffy’s Sugar Blues. Food historians who have studied this period emphasize one especially influential book by a British biochemist named John Yudkin that summarizes and interprets scientific evidence implicating sugar in a broad range of diseases. So I definitely wanted to get my hands on this book, published as Pure, White and Deadly in Britain in 1972 and as Sweet and Dangerous in the U.S. the next year.

For months, I have been searching high and low for this book. The libraries I normally use didn’t have it. Google tantalized me with a “snippet” but coyly withheld the digitized (and still copyrighted) text. Could I buy a copy? Amazon could only tell me that it’s out of print; nowhere did there seem to be a used volume for sale at any price. And it turns out I’m not the only one who is trying to get their hands on this book.’s “Bookfinder Report 2012: Out-of-print and in Demand” ranked Pure, White and Deadly as the 5th most sought after out-of-print book.

And then I found Pure, White and Deadly, in the catalog of the New York Academy of Medicine Library. An email and a subway ride later, the book was in my hands. I couldn’t have been more excited with this uncovered treasure, and I was so thankful for the welcome and assistance offered by the library staff.

I’ve since learned that the NYAM library has been pulling this book off the shelf quite frequently at the request of all sorts of researchers and scholars. I doubt whoever acquired this volume back in the 1970s could have predicted its resurgent interest nearly a half century later. Thanks to the NYAM library, I and many others have been able to read this fascinating and provocative book.

About the author: Samira Kawash’s book on the social history of candy in the United States, titled In Defense of Candy, will be published by Faber and Faber in Fall 2013.