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Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease

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Was diabetes evolution's response to the last Ice Age? Did a deadly genetic disease help our ancestors survive the bubonic plagues of Europe? Will a visit to the tanning salon help lower your cholesterol? Why do we age? Why are some people immune to HIV? Can your genes be turned on -- or off? Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and chall Was diabetes evolution's response to the last Ice Age? Did a deadly genetic disease help our ancestors survive the bubonic plagues of Europe? Will a visit to the tanning salon help lower your cholesterol? Why do we age? Why are some people immune to HIV? Can your genes be turned on -- or off? Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and challenges us to fundamentally change the way we think about our bodies, our health, and our relationship to just about every other living thing on earth, from plants and animals to insects and bacteria. Through a fresh and engaging examination of our evolutionary history, Dr. Moalem reveals how many of the conditions that are diseases today actually gave our ancestors a leg up in the survival sweepstakes. When the option is a long life with a disease or a short one without it, evolution opts for disease almost every time. Everything from the climate our ancestors lived in to the crops they planted and ate to their beverage of choice can be seen in our genetic inheritance. But Survival of the Sickest doesn't stop there. It goes on to demonstrate just how little modern medicine really understands about human health, and offers a new way of thinking that can help all of us live longer, healthier lives..

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Was diabetes evolution's response to the last Ice Age? Did a deadly genetic disease help our ancestors survive the bubonic plagues of Europe? Will a visit to the tanning salon help lower your cholesterol? Why do we age? Why are some people immune to HIV? Can your genes be turned on -- or off? Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and chall Was diabetes evolution's response to the last Ice Age? Did a deadly genetic disease help our ancestors survive the bubonic plagues of Europe? Will a visit to the tanning salon help lower your cholesterol? Why do we age? Why are some people immune to HIV? Can your genes be turned on -- or off? Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and challenges us to fundamentally change the way we think about our bodies, our health, and our relationship to just about every other living thing on earth, from plants and animals to insects and bacteria. Through a fresh and engaging examination of our evolutionary history, Dr. Moalem reveals how many of the conditions that are diseases today actually gave our ancestors a leg up in the survival sweepstakes. When the option is a long life with a disease or a short one without it, evolution opts for disease almost every time. Everything from the climate our ancestors lived in to the crops they planted and ate to their beverage of choice can be seen in our genetic inheritance. But Survival of the Sickest doesn't stop there. It goes on to demonstrate just how little modern medicine really understands about human health, and offers a new way of thinking that can help all of us live longer, healthier lives..

30 review for Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease

  1. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

    This is a prime example of the problems with science books written for a lay audience. The author regularly presents hypotheses/hunches than he believes as if they're well-supported by science I picked this book up because it spent time on my field of study, infectious disease. The first chapter was okay, but then it just went downhill from there. The type 1 diabetes chapter that posits that it aids in survival in a cold climate is laughably implausible. Moalem states that "some scientists" belie This is a prime example of the problems with science books written for a lay audience. The author regularly presents hypotheses/hunches than he believes as if they're well-supported by science I picked this book up because it spent time on my field of study, infectious disease. The first chapter was okay, but then it just went downhill from there. The type 1 diabetes chapter that posits that it aids in survival in a cold climate is laughably implausible. Moalem states that "some scientists" believe that type 1 diabetes is autoimmune. One would be hard pressed to find a biologist who does not think that T1D is autoimmune, the evidence is just that strong. T1D occurs in people with certain alleles of the HLA gene. These genes are involved in the immune response; immune-related genes tend to become more diverse quickly, so it's unlikely that these HLA haplotypes are present in modern humans because they improved survival in the cold 12,000 years ago. Also, there is the point that untreated, type 1 diabetes is fatal very quickly. Before Insulin was developed, the only way to keep these patients alive was through an extreme starvation diet. There are also a lot of sloppy mistakes such as the mix up of virus and bacterium (possibly an editing error?) and the use of the term gene when "allele" is correct -- it's not that hard to explain the difference. My other main complaint is the reliance on speculative sources rather than sources where someone has done the actual experiments and gotten actual results one way or the other.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chris Keefe

    Very good. As I wrote to Dr. Moalem, Dear Dr. Moalem, I found your book, Survival of the Sickest, on a table in the bookstore that employs me. The title and concept intrigued me. The material has proved fascinating, and, for the large part, very well researched. I am concerned, though, with a statement you make on page 87, regarding psoralen production in organically grown celery. It reads, Farmers who use synthetic pesticides, while creating a whole host of other problems, are essentially protectin Very good. As I wrote to Dr. Moalem, Dear Dr. Moalem, I found your book, Survival of the Sickest, on a table in the bookstore that employs me. The title and concept intrigued me. The material has proved fascinating, and, for the large part, very well researched. I am concerned, though, with a statement you make on page 87, regarding psoralen production in organically grown celery. It reads, Farmers who use synthetic pesticides, while creating a whole host of other problems, are essentially protecting plants from attack. Organic farmers don’t use synthetic pesticides. So that means organic celery farmers are leaving their growing stalks vulnerable to attack by insects and fungi – and when those stalks are inevitably munched on, they respond by producing massive amounts of psoralen. By keeping poison off the plant, the organic celery farmer is all but guaranteeing a biological process that will end with lots of poison in the plant. Within these few sentences, whether by intent or by oversight, you perpetuate a very dangerous fallacy. Your subtext implies that organic farmers, because they choose not to use synthetic pesticides, fungicides, etc, are in some way failing to protect their plants, and in turn the consumers of their foods. The crucial word here is “synthetic.” Even glancing research into the nature of organic farming will yield a wealth of information on natural pest control. For example, using companion planting (e.g. garlic and marigolds protect crops planted near them), natural pest-prevention methods (e.g. ladybugs to manage aphids), and perhaps most importantly, effective crop rotations and management strategies, effective organic farmers are often capable of creating an environment or ecosystem that is simply less accessible to animal, fungal, and even microbial predators. With proper management, the system protects itself without the need for synthetic help. You might be interested to know that genetics play a strong hand here as well. Plant species, like the marigold, that have developed natural defenses have greatly multiplied their species’ success by harnessing the help of human agriculturalists. The flower helps the garden, the gardener breeds the flower. In the same way, the growth of corn provides structure for the growth of beans, and shade for the growth of squash. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil for use by the other plants, and the squash provides ground cover which minimizes weed growth. By carefully selecting the plants and animals he cultivates, and thereby manipulating the ecosystem he manages, an organic farmer uses naturally occurring genetic predispositions, in diet, toxicology, and even plant structure to the benefit of all of the partners in the system. On the other side of things, conventional industrial monocropping, and, admittedly, most organic industrial agriculture, bring their own inherent dangers to bear on the celery plant. Machine weeding, machine spraying, machine fertilization, and machine harvest, not to mention preparation, packaging, storage, and shipping, all tend to batter the plants. It is rare that I see conventionally grown, bagged, and shipped lettuce at my local supermarket without a chunk or two taken out of it somewhere during it’s trip from seed to shelf. I would hazard a guess (admittedly, an uneducated one) that at least the pre-mortem processes listed here drive psoralen production as strongly as the odd bug bite does. In looking through your notes and cited sources, your citations of two papers discussing adverse reactions to celery (with exposure to UV radiation) did catch my eye. Admittedly, I was not able to track down the second of the two articles. Unless its title fails to disclose its focus, though, it does not appear to concern itself with the “organic versus conventional” debate you spark with the throwaway comment quoted above. My apologies if my own failure to read your cited sources has provoked unmerited criticism, but your careless choice of words, and/or your failure to provide discussion of psoralen levels in organic and conventional produce lead me to find your “celery comment” reactionary, at best. Please, Dr. Moalem, take a deeper look into the subtext of your statement above before you decide to publish the next edition of your book. Even if there were data that implied higher psoralen levels in some organic celeries, your writing goes beyond this in discrediting the work of organic growers. You equate the use of highly toxic, environmentally and politically unsustainable synthetic pesticides with pest control. You then equate the use of any other system with a failure in pest control. To quote, “Organic farmers don’t use synthetic pesticides. So that means organic celery farmers are leaving their growing stalks vulnerable to attack by insects and fungi”.(Moalem 87,my italics) The logical fallacy here is one produced by not taking into account all of the variables present. You left this out: Organic farmers use effective alternative systems for managing environmental stresses on their plants. Please, as a published expert, and as a future medical doctor, do not let a lack of research, or an unqualified judgement like that quoted above, turn good reporting into dangerous, normative spin. And otherwise, thank you for your book. It was a wonderful read. Sincerely, Christopher Keefe

  3. 5 out of 5

    Travis

    It was not a bad book and it was a quick read, but I was a little disappointed for two reasons. The first, not the authors fault, is that I didn't learn much new -- the general principles and ideas the author was articulating about biology, genetics, and evolution, were not really new to me, although some of his examples were new. The second was that I thought the author was playing a little too loose with facts. Even though the target audience was a popular audience, I don't think that is an excu It was not a bad book and it was a quick read, but I was a little disappointed for two reasons. The first, not the authors fault, is that I didn't learn much new -- the general principles and ideas the author was articulating about biology, genetics, and evolution, were not really new to me, although some of his examples were new. The second was that I thought the author was playing a little too loose with facts. Even though the target audience was a popular audience, I don't think that is an excuse to make points that sound like certainties that are not. An example is his claim about sunglasses affecting the body's ability to protect against sunburn. It sounded plausible, but my own further reading on his claim shows that there is very little evidence to support it (in fact, it was really just speculation). In other cases, the author would go on about a particular hypothesis, and only just throw in at the end that, oh yea, scientists don't really know if this is true. In short, if you're not familiar with a lot of the latest research in evolution and genetics, the book may be an interesting read for you, just be careful not to give too much credence to any particular hypothesis expressed in the book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Muhammed Hebala

    This is a book which is simply incredible and super entertaining . It amazes me that human beings can live through such huge changes It talked about how specific common diseases and conditions (like diabetes and high cholesterol) actually may have been naturally selected because they provided an adaptive advantage in a particular environment. Hemochromatosis may have helped Europeans to survive the black Death ,and Diabetes may have been there evolutionary solution to avoid freezing in the ice age, A This is a book which is simply incredible and super entertaining . It amazes me that human beings can live through such huge changes It talked about how specific common diseases and conditions (like diabetes and high cholesterol) actually may have been naturally selected because they provided an adaptive advantage in a particular environment. Hemochromatosis may have helped Europeans to survive the black Death ,and Diabetes may have been there evolutionary solution to avoid freezing in the ice age, And Favism was our weapon against Malaria. I enjoyed reading about diseases, genetics, immunity, Epigenetics and history. This is a fascinating read and a wonderfully-written book . Very enlightening! ========================== Attention undoubtedly will be centered on the genome, with greater appreciation of its significance as a highly sensitive organ of the cell that monitors genomic activities and corrects common errors, senses unusual and unexpected events, and responds to them, often by restructuring the genome. _________________________ Where there is folklore smoke, there is medical fire.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    A slick production this is. The musical transitions are snappy and the narrator converts what might have been prosaic pitfalls to satisfying conversational tidbits. Yes, the book has sentences like, "Compromises, compromises." Probably, some readers will find the tone condescending. Even worse, some readers will feel they have read everything before. So why did I rate this book so highly? This is a wonderful book because it ties together disparate facts from the world of modern biology. Books li A slick production this is. The musical transitions are snappy and the narrator converts what might have been prosaic pitfalls to satisfying conversational tidbits. Yes, the book has sentences like, "Compromises, compromises." Probably, some readers will find the tone condescending. Even worse, some readers will feel they have read everything before. So why did I rate this book so highly? This is a wonderful book because it ties together disparate facts from the world of modern biology. Books like Why do Men Fall Asleep After Sex ask and answer similar questions, but they lack the cohesive theory behind Survival of the Sickest. Furthermore, almost all readers will find something new, although it may be sketchy. For instance, do you know why humans are hairless? Why Lamarckism is a misleading term? What frogs and Norwegians have in common? One last comment, since I have no better location for it. The book suggests that high stress and low life expectancy increases the chance that a woman will give birth to a daughter, while great expectations increase the chance of a son. If only King Henry the Eighth had known, he might have adopted another strategy.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    It's science -- made simple! I got to indulge my inner geek without having to overexert my brain cells. (Well, okay, I did have to read a couple of pages over again to get it, but hey, I was really, really tired that night.) Seriously, I was fascinated by the subject matter -- the interplay of genetics and disease -- and the writing style was wonderfully accessible to the lay reader. If I had read this book in high school (which would have been impossible, since these discoveries hadn't been mad It's science -- made simple! I got to indulge my inner geek without having to overexert my brain cells. (Well, okay, I did have to read a couple of pages over again to get it, but hey, I was really, really tired that night.) Seriously, I was fascinated by the subject matter -- the interplay of genetics and disease -- and the writing style was wonderfully accessible to the lay reader. If I had read this book in high school (which would have been impossible, since these discoveries hadn't been made yet), I would have a different career today. Yes, I found it THAT interesting. In a nutshell, the disease that runs up your medical bills today may be the very disease that saved your ancestors long enough to reproduce, and consequently, contribute to your existence. For example, because I know my genetics (I told you I have an inner geek), I know that I am a carrier for a disease that, over time, causes too much iron to accumulate in major body organs. (Don't worry about me, I'm only a carrier -- I'm fine.) What I didn't know is this: the fact that I have this gene means my ancestors -- at least some of them -- must have survived the Black Death that swept across Europe in the Middle Ages, because having this gene makes one more resistant to the bubonic bad guys. (So if the plague makes a reappearance, I'm good!) If you found that last tidbit interesting, then you will like this book. And if you want to feel hopeful for your grandchildren's future, reflect on this: the day is coming when the drugs you are given for the things that ail you will be individually created just for you and your genotype, increasing the odds that they will be swift and effective. And that's just downright amazing!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Many APBio teachers assign this as summer reading, so I had been looking forward to reading it. I HATED this book. I was reading it on vacation and had to set it aside because it made me so angry. This is my attempt to explain why without sounding like a ranting lunatic. 1. The author was a terrible writer. Even with a co-author this book was fragmented, disorganized, and packed with clunky metaphors. 2. Unable to engage the reader using his literary skills, he resorted to sensationalism. The chap Many APBio teachers assign this as summer reading, so I had been looking forward to reading it. I HATED this book. I was reading it on vacation and had to set it aside because it made me so angry. This is my attempt to explain why without sounding like a ranting lunatic. 1. The author was a terrible writer. Even with a co-author this book was fragmented, disorganized, and packed with clunky metaphors. 2. Unable to engage the reader using his literary skills, he resorted to sensationalism. The chapters were packed with exciting fringe theories and the contradicting evidence was presented in passing, if at all. Most readers would probably leave the book with some crippling misconceptions about evolution and natural selection. 3. It was self-promoting. The author (sorry, the "medical maverick") had one or two interesting findings that had been published in mid-tier scientific journals. He then added on additional theories and research, without being clear in the text (he did have endnotes) that the findings were not his. It seemed like the point of the book was to establish himself as a talking head rather than to inform the reader. At the time of writing he was represented by William Morris. He then went on to shill biotech companies. I think that many readers still place excessive trust in authors with "Dr." in front of their name, and I really HATE it when authors abuse this trust.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Denham

    Marketing looked like a complete ripoff of Freakonomics. Style reads like Freakonomics with a personal health/medicine spin. Too boldly mixes well accepted medical observations: Sickle Cell Anemia is related to genes that provide resistance to Malaria. Get one you're good, get two you're screwed. With absolutely left field speculation: African-Americans have high incidents of hypertension and heart disease due to a artificial selectional pressure exerted on them by their ancestors' passage across Marketing looked like a complete ripoff of Freakonomics. Style reads like Freakonomics with a personal health/medicine spin. Too boldly mixes well accepted medical observations: Sickle Cell Anemia is related to genes that provide resistance to Malaria. Get one you're good, get two you're screwed. With absolutely left field speculation: African-Americans have high incidents of hypertension and heart disease due to a artificial selectional pressure exerted on them by their ancestors' passage across the Atlantic during the slave trade. Being given very small rations of water created a selectional pressure for those that could retain salt, thereby retaining water and surviving. Seems to make logical sense but there is nothing to back this up.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    I wish Moalem would have taught my Genetics 101 class, he did a much better job than my professor. This is definitely more of a book to make you ooh and ahh, which is to say that its not very scientific. Moalem would be shot dead by anyone who believed in logic. The man seems to love a good conspiracy, and he's great at telling them. I'm not saying that he's wrong all the time, but the way that this book could be written, in a less persuasive way, would be: There's a 20% chance that A is true; A i I wish Moalem would have taught my Genetics 101 class, he did a much better job than my professor. This is definitely more of a book to make you ooh and ahh, which is to say that its not very scientific. Moalem would be shot dead by anyone who believed in logic. The man seems to love a good conspiracy, and he's great at telling them. I'm not saying that he's wrong all the time, but the way that this book could be written, in a less persuasive way, would be: There's a 20% chance that A is true; A is true. That A leads to B is possible with a 12% confidence. B is true. A+B = C, with 4% confidence, but, well, we're already this far!, C must be true as well! And so on, down the alphabet. I gave up being annoyed just because the stories were actually really Scientific American! Turn your brains off for this one, and enjoy. It's for the masses, not for science.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Phair

    This was the most interesting book I've read in a long time. I liked the breezy style- kind of 'popular science' approach. Covered a wide variety of diseases & conditions and the genetic & environmental reasons they have remained in the human gene pool. Background on how much of the human make-up is really not human at all but largely viruses in a symbiotic relationship was creepy but interesting. Very cool book. Read again in '08 for f2f discussion group.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Randy

    I suppose I judged this book by it's cover, making it a little disappointing when I read it. The author also goes off on some random tangents that I found distracting. That being said, there were some interesting parts -- particularly the discussion of how many genetic diseases are with us because they offered a survival benefit to our ancestors.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    This book is one of the best books I've ever read. I learned so much and have recommended it to so many people (and have given it as gifts). I learned things I would have never known...so many pieces came together in this book. I would suggest it to anyone who needs a break from their "novel" reading. Switch it up and read this book. You'll be glad you did!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    One of the best books I've ever read. Not only do the authors have a thoroughly entertaining writing style, they seriously expanded my understanding of evolution on both a macro and micro level. If I were back in college, this book might have inspired me to switch majors!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laurent

    The primary purpose of Moalem's work is to explore our physiology and its relationship to the world around us; its overarching message? Never to stop questioning. This is a noble message, and one that we must all take to heart in everything that we do. Sadly, it is also something that the reader must keep in mind, almost at every turn, while reading the book itself. Moalem's lack of transparency regarding the factual emptiness of his ambitious conjectures is staggering. Only in the last chapter d The primary purpose of Moalem's work is to explore our physiology and its relationship to the world around us; its overarching message? Never to stop questioning. This is a noble message, and one that we must all take to heart in everything that we do. Sadly, it is also something that the reader must keep in mind, almost at every turn, while reading the book itself. Moalem's lack of transparency regarding the factual emptiness of his ambitious conjectures is staggering. Only in the last chapter does it become clear that the book relies on a series of mere guesses and 'what ifs,' none of which can, as of yet, be backed with factual information. Furthermore, the book itself seems to follow no identifiable path: it flits from one topic to another, disappointingly failing to explain why we 'need' disease, as it advertises on its cover. As a post-script I would add that, in fact, several of the theories advanced in this book have been refuted by the scientific community, most significantly his speculation that Type 1 Diabetes has developed in humans as a result of the rapid onset of the last known ice age. In short, a trivially interesting read for a layman, but by no means satisfying, enlightening or thoroughly composed.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Dominic Carlin

    Look, you don't need to read much of this to say it's crap. The writing is crap and the end of every section/chapter seems to sign off with a pithy comment. The author has 'Dr' in front of their name on the front cover, which should have raised alarm bells long ago. And the science/medicine is speculative at best. This could have been a half-decent New Scientist article, it didn't need much more than that. -Dr Baby Hamster PhD

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sanah Shabbir

    This was an very interesting read that basically delved into why disease is good for the human race and the changes in science that affect our daily lives. As a science nerd, I was all over this and learned so many new things related to my specific health interests, especially with diseases that I had never heard of. A little wordy or slow at times, but an informative, engaging read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charlene

    This book was EXCELLENT! Despite being written in 2007, this book is as up to date as any book about evolution. In fact, it's even better than his 2014 book Inheritance. If you are tired of reading books that work very hard to preserve the image of the selfish gene and are looking for a book that celebrates the newer information researchers have gained since the 1970s, I highly recommend reading this. Geneticist Sharon Moalem examines the role that jumping genes, parasites and viruses, and epige This book was EXCELLENT! Despite being written in 2007, this book is as up to date as any book about evolution. In fact, it's even better than his 2014 book Inheritance. If you are tired of reading books that work very hard to preserve the image of the selfish gene and are looking for a book that celebrates the newer information researchers have gained since the 1970s, I highly recommend reading this. Geneticist Sharon Moalem examines the role that jumping genes, parasites and viruses, and epigenetic modification play in evolution. Currently there is a battle raging in academia about whether or not to update the "Modern Synthesis of Evolution," put forward in 1942 by Julian Huxley and supported by Dawkins' work in the 1970s and beyond. Dawkins and his crowd have worked hard to attack anyone who works to update this synthesis with the myriad data that have poured in since his time in the spotlight, which is a shame because the work on this front is mindblowingly good! The field of evolution research needed this book. Helping to get this information to the masses is extremely important if there is any hope for a paradigm shift to a more accurate, updated, and complete understanding of how evolution works. This book will go a long way to helping that shift occur. Unfortunately, this book makes no mention of one of the researchers who fought the hardest to bring awareness of epigenetic modification to the public. Her name is Eva Jablonka, and Moalem should have mentioned her, but even with that oversight, this book was truly great! Moalem covered McClintock's jumping genes in wonderful detail (better than almost anything I have read to date). These little genes provide a lot of diversity and are the descendants of amazingly clever viruses. He also covered work by Luis P. Villarreal that is extremely current. Villarreal's ideas took some time to catch on. He proposes that viruses work to add diversity to DNA. If DNA were slowly mutated over time, we would not see the change we do. Villarreal's work shows how viruses act like software that add novel instructions to the DNA's more rigid and fixed code. Since this book was written in 2007, you might want to watch Villarreal's more recent talk. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amWRu... Moalem also looked at hypermutations in e. Coli. In many experiments (still controversial today), researchers have found that jumping genes as well as regular genes seem to respond to environmental factors and can order up a faster mutation rate or increased need for genes to jump and fix a problem. Very exciting to think about! He also covered various epigenetic modifications of genes. Each subject is written about in an easy to understand and extremely entertaining manner. I can't think of a better book to introduce people to what will undoubtedly be the new modern synthesis of evolution.

  18. 5 out of 5

    S Prakash

    This book essentially discusses about the bad genes which are responsible for the life threatening /debilitating diseases like hemochromatosis, diabetes, malaria etc. In the first instance what circumstances have led to these genes to originate, was there an exigent purpose for this? Numerous examples of the origin of many of such bad genes have been explained in detail. One of them is that the advent of ice age has initiated a mutation which rose the sugar levels to enable the blood not to free This book essentially discusses about the bad genes which are responsible for the life threatening /debilitating diseases like hemochromatosis, diabetes, malaria etc. In the first instance what circumstances have led to these genes to originate, was there an exigent purpose for this? Numerous examples of the origin of many of such bad genes have been explained in detail. One of them is that the advent of ice age has initiated a mutation which rose the sugar levels to enable the blood not to freeze during the extended periods of extreme colds. This has helped the human race weather the extremity and survive. Thus the bottom line is that every bad gene which got evolved had a noble purpose of helping the human race survive. For, the ultimate purpose of any species is to SURVIVE and REPRODUCE. The book poses many “Why’s” with respect to evolution of the human race and answers them with a sound logic. Some of the Why’s are….. Why do so many Europeans inherit a genetic disorder that fills their organs with Iron? Why do the majority of the people with type 1 diabetes come from Northern Europe? Why does malaria want us in bed but the common cold want us at work? Why do we have so much DNA that doesn’t seem to do anything? The second question of course, is, “what can we do with that?” What can we do with the idea that hemochromatosis protected from the plague? What can we do with the possibility that diabetes was an adaptation to the last ice age? What does it mean for me to understand that malaria wants me laid up and the cold wants me on the move to help them each spread? And what does it mean that we have all this genetic code that probably came from viruses and sometime jumps around our genome? Quite an interesting read for the inquisitive and for those who are inclined to take up medical professions.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    "Oh, and for those Joe Six-packs out there playing a drinking game at home -- Maverick." --Tina Fey/Sarah Palin This book was both intensely interesting and thoroughly frustrating. The author does make a lot of surprising arguments, which inspired some Deep Thoughts, but the justifications didn't often feel complete. For one thing, he makes some points with very little supporting evidence: "In the mid-1990s an Argentinian pediatrician reported that three healthy women all gave birth to children w "Oh, and for those Joe Six-packs out there playing a drinking game at home -- Maverick." --Tina Fey/Sarah Palin This book was both intensely interesting and thoroughly frustrating. The author does make a lot of surprising arguments, which inspired some Deep Thoughts, but the justifications didn't often feel complete. For one thing, he makes some points with very little supporting evidence: "In the mid-1990s an Argentinian pediatrician reported that three healthy women all gave birth to children who had neural tube defects after using indoor tanning beds during their pregnancies. Coincidence? Probably not." This wouldn't fly in an undergraduate lab assignment, so why should it fly in a published book? I was also concerned by the author's over-simplification of physiological concepts that I know to be extremely complex and interconnected. Considering my own experiences as a science student: explanations that seem to follow logically are nearly always more involved and interwoven than they at first appear. ...Regardless, I did use this book as a reference on a lab report...

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    Lots of fun little biology tidbits. I especially liked his possible explanation for why some people (like me) have autosomal dominant compelling helioopthalmic outburst syndrome (aka ACHOO), which compels them to sneeze when they go outside on a sunny day or are exposed to bright light. This likely evolved to help clear molds and microbes from the airways of our ancestors as they exited their caves. Similar reasons are provided for lots of other disorders, diseases, and biological traits, indica Lots of fun little biology tidbits. I especially liked his possible explanation for why some people (like me) have autosomal dominant compelling helioopthalmic outburst syndrome (aka ACHOO), which compels them to sneeze when they go outside on a sunny day or are exposed to bright light. This likely evolved to help clear molds and microbes from the airways of our ancestors as they exited their caves. Similar reasons are provided for lots of other disorders, diseases, and biological traits, indicating why something as harmful to us as diabetes in modern industrial society helped our ancestors survive in the harsher climate of the Younger Dryas. Though I enjoyed reading the book and highly recommend it, much of what was included seemed more speculative than factual and should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Also, it is definitely aimed more at the lay audience than at scientists working in the various disciplines described and therefore lacks depth. Still, it's a fun little book and a quick and easy read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    The interconnectedness between disease and certain populations of individuals is extremely interesting and the writing in this book is very entertaining. However, I was bothered by the author's arrogance. It was almost distracting while reading -- the subtitle says it all..."A Medical Maverick Discovers...". "Medical Maverick" is a bold statement when really, the author did a bunch of research and none of his own experiments (or if he did, that wasn't clear from reading the book). And "discovere The interconnectedness between disease and certain populations of individuals is extremely interesting and the writing in this book is very entertaining. However, I was bothered by the author's arrogance. It was almost distracting while reading -- the subtitle says it all..."A Medical Maverick Discovers...". "Medical Maverick" is a bold statement when really, the author did a bunch of research and none of his own experiments (or if he did, that wasn't clear from reading the book). And "discovered" implies he came across something no one else knew, when in reality, he took a bunch of concepts that other people figured out and combined those ideas into an entertaining and well-written book. If you have even a basic understanding of biology, you'll get along with this book fine. If you can ignore other people's boasting, you'll get along with it even better. While I do happen to be sensitive to the author's attitude, I do recommend reading this book if you have even a passing interest in why we get sick.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    This is a fascinating read. Reminds me of _Freakonomics_ in that both authors don't take "accepted wisdom" for granted. Instead, they investigate the situation with fresh eyes. Moalem and his colleagues have found that many of the genes that make us prone to long-term illnesses ALSO protect us from deadly acute ones. For example, the gene that makes us prone to Alzheimer's also protects us from bubonic plague. Moalem also address an issue that has long annoyed me about evolutionary biology. From w This is a fascinating read. Reminds me of _Freakonomics_ in that both authors don't take "accepted wisdom" for granted. Instead, they investigate the situation with fresh eyes. Moalem and his colleagues have found that many of the genes that make us prone to long-term illnesses ALSO protect us from deadly acute ones. For example, the gene that makes us prone to Alzheimer's also protects us from bubonic plague. Moalem also address an issue that has long annoyed me about evolutionary biology. From what I've read and heard to date, evolutionary biologists assume that we humans are virtually identical to our "caveman" ancestors. This makes no sense to me, given how many generations have elapsed in that time, and how rapidly bacteria and viruses can become drug-resistant. Moalem notes that the genes of populations under pressure will keep trying to find a successful adaptation -- during one lifetime -- and then will pass that new adaptation to the offspring. In other words, evolution is both rapid and slow, depending on the environmental pressures involved.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Blake Hanley

    I enjoyed this book. Hopefully this will help me with ap bio. As it talked about how evolution and natural selection worked. Like the people who survived in extreme cold conditions and that resulted in some people with a natural tendency to have diabetes descend from people from the younger dryas. My favorite topic that he went over was chap 5 Of microbes and men. This explains how they came up with the rod of Asclepius. This also explained how the folklore of werewolves came about and how you c I enjoyed this book. Hopefully this will help me with ap bio. As it talked about how evolution and natural selection worked. Like the people who survived in extreme cold conditions and that resulted in some people with a natural tendency to have diabetes descend from people from the younger dryas. My favorite topic that he went over was chap 5 Of microbes and men. This explains how they came up with the rod of Asclepius. This also explained how the folklore of werewolves came about and how you could combat some diseases. Although I enjoyed the book and information it contains, it's not the best written. Talking about unrelated topics in his stories. Also the book isn't necessarily complete fact and just what Mr. Moalem has conceptualized. So you shouldn't fully agree with everything that he has to say.

  24. 4 out of 5

    James

    The thesis sounds interesting, but the author doesn't provide very many examples, and for those he does, the evidence is speculative at best. Do people have diabetes today because it "may" have helped during the ice age? Prove it. While he tries to explain the past, he offers no ideas as to how things may change now that the ice age is over and plague is rare. He cites his sources, but if you check them out, many turn out to be ordinary newspapers like US Today. These are not valid sources of s The thesis sounds interesting, but the author doesn't provide very many examples, and for those he does, the evidence is speculative at best. Do people have diabetes today because it "may" have helped during the ice age? Prove it. While he tries to explain the past, he offers no ideas as to how things may change now that the ice age is over and plague is rare. He cites his sources, but if you check them out, many turn out to be ordinary newspapers like US Today. These are not valid sources of scientific discovery/information. He reminds me of Susan Faludy in that style of "research". The author has a smart-alecky style of writing at times that makes me think he's writing for a 12 year old audience. There are better books on evolution and medicine.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trena

    It's common knowledge that the sickle cell anemia gene provides some protection against malaria (with only one copy of the gene you are less susceptible to malaria but don't suffer from the disease), but what about other diseases? Could they have stayed in the gene pool because they offer a benefit that outweighs the damage they do? Sharon Moalem answers this question in an intriguing way for a number of diseases, such as hemochromatosis (the plague), diabetes (the little Ice Age), and high chol It's common knowledge that the sickle cell anemia gene provides some protection against malaria (with only one copy of the gene you are less susceptible to malaria but don't suffer from the disease), but what about other diseases? Could they have stayed in the gene pool because they offer a benefit that outweighs the damage they do? Sharon Moalem answers this question in an intriguing way for a number of diseases, such as hemochromatosis (the plague), diabetes (the little Ice Age), and high cholesterol (the Vitamin D/Folate dance). The theories are provocative and the science is well-explained. I found it a little too informal and dumbed-down at times--way too many exclamation points--but a very engaging book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    Light, yet informative read covering the interrelationship between cells, germs, viruses, bacteria, genetics, and disease, and how we've evolved as humans with varied environmental sensitivities. Good coverage regarding how evolution works along with some clarification about general assumptions. Some cutting edge research is introduced as well as a gentle introduction to some of the ongoing debates in the scientific community. Fun, educational, and practical. I read this one quickly. For an over Light, yet informative read covering the interrelationship between cells, germs, viruses, bacteria, genetics, and disease, and how we've evolved as humans with varied environmental sensitivities. Good coverage regarding how evolution works along with some clarification about general assumptions. Some cutting edge research is introduced as well as a gentle introduction to some of the ongoing debates in the scientific community. Fun, educational, and practical. I read this one quickly. For an overall sense of human adaptability and luck, this one made me appreciate the body and immune system in a new way.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elise

    This book is a great introduction to evolutionary thought, and offers a broad spectrum of interesting examples and applications of evolutionary disease and medicine. I would definitely recommend this book to a high school student, or to someone who has not studied biology before, but I didn't feel like I got a lot out of this book (other than some fun anecdotes and a couple things to research further) because of all the time I have spent studying evolutionary biology.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Fishface

    BEST. BOOK. EVER. One fascinating page after another crammed with explanations for all kinds of stuff that goes on in a person's body. He started right out by answering a question I've wondered about for years, and got bonus points for telling me my own wild guess was correct. He got to the childbirth part and I thought, oh, great, here's where the whole book goes splat -- BUT HE HAS NOT ONLY READ ELAINE MORGAN, HE GETS THAT SHE IS RIGHT! If only this book had been twice as long!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Batsheva

    A fast, enjoyable science read exploring how conditions that manifest as disease may actually be adaptations to environmental conditions faced by our ancestors. It is hard to determine when the author is stating supported medical science or a wild speculative leap, because they're both presented in the same way. I did get annoyed when the author mis-identified certain bacteria (like cholera) as viruses (and vice versa) but I guess the editors don't necessarily catch everything.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sanchita Mukherjee

    Being a research fellow myself i was astonished by the simplicity by which the author has stated complex biological processes. The book is a must read for all the enthusiasts of not only biology but life. Huge information given as small interesting stories and i cant stop telling the facts to my friends and family. The knowledge I acquired from this book truly stays with me forever.

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