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Deadly Feasts: The "Prion" Controversy and the Public's Health Paperback – May 22, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

The British epidemic of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow" disease, is only one in a series of mysterious and often fatal afflictions that have baffled scientists for more than 40 years. Deadly Feasts is a compelling account of decades of research into a family of diseases ranging from kuru in primitive human tribes to scrapie in sheep. Richard Rhodes traces the attempts of scientists to understand these strange diseases, which are now known to be transmitted by ingesting the brain or nervous tissue of infected creatures, even though the pathogen itself is an enigma that seems to be neither bacterial nor viral. Deadly Feasts is packed with historical, anthropological, and epidemiological detail, and is graphic and occasionally even alarming in its speculations. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The book on which this abridged audiobook is based is everything The Hot Zone (Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/94) could have been and is not: a reasoned but passionate, dramatic but not overwrought telling of the spread of a deadly new plague. The plague is a cluster of maladies known as prion diseases, which occur as a result of industrial animal cannibalism, as when cows are fed bone meal from the remains of dead cows and develop "mad cow" disease. Harrowing as the subject is, and devastating as these diseases are on their growing number of human victims, author/narrator Rhodes (Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Audio Reviews, LJ 12/96) manages to make this reading of his research into the problem both topical and tantalizing, both grounded in fact and frightening. Rhodes's gravely voice adds interest as well. Highly recommended.?Mark Pumphrey, Polk Cty. P.L., Columbus, N.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (May 22, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684844257
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684844251
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Rhodes is the author of 25 works of history, fiction and letters. He's a Kansas native, a father and grandfather. His book The Making of the Atomic Bomb won a Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction, a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. He lectures widely on subjects related to his books, which run the gamut from nuclear history to the story of mad cow disease to a study of how people become violent to a biography of the 19th-century artist John James Audubon. His latest book is Hell and Good Company, about the people and technologies of the Spanish Civil War. His website is

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on July 25, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Richard Rhodes is without a doubt one of the most talented writers of nonfiction today. Time after time he has impressed me with his interesting and readable accounts of subjects ranging from The Making of the Atomic Bomb to Why They Kill. In Deadly Feasts, Rhodes has once again written a wonderful book.
In the late 1990's there was a slew of books published on the subject of disease and the possibilities of biological warfare thanks in no small part to Richard Preston's magnificent The Hot Zone. In The Hot Zone Preston writes with an almost fictional intensity about a class of viruses that kill in a quick and horrifying fashion. It was The Hot Zone that brought Ebola to the public consciousness. Rhodes' book, too, is about killer illnesses but of a different type. The Hot Zone presents us with what are, despite their horribleness, rather exotic diseases. Deadly Feasts presents us relentlessly fatal diseases that might very well already be infiltrating our Western population through that most dangerous source--our food supply.
Rhodes' book presents the links between a disease called kuru which was passed through the women and children in aboriginal tribes in New Guinea and a rare disease that Westerners may be picking up through, you guessed it, the so-called "mad-cow disease." Kuru was transferred by human cannibalism and the disease was eliminated by stopping this practice. Mad-cow disease is passed by the "cannibalism" of cows by humans.
Preston's book is highly intense because of the visible horror of the symptoms he describes and the speed with which victims are overcome.
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Format: Paperback
You might think you're not interested in prion diseases, or maybe you're not worried because Mad Cow and its grim relatives will never cross the ocean to North America. Perhaps you even believe that as a vegetarian, these issues could never affect you. In "Deadly Feasts," Richard Rhodes shows in gruesome detail how very wrong you may be in those assumptions.
Skilfully, Rhodes tells a captivating tale of prion diseases as they've made their way through the food chain and into human beings. Rhodes' predictions are grim, and the book does not end on a happy note. But though his style is sensationalistic at times, you can't flaw Rhodes' research or the suspense-filled way he lays out the facts.
When you finish this book (IF you have the stomach to finish), you WILL reassess your meat-eating habits. You will squirm and wonder if it's not already too late. Rhodes sets himself up as a prophet of doom and he delivers most capably, with all the meticulous scientific detail modern readers expect.
Deadly Feasts will creep you out, but also send you scurrying to buy copies for your friends, neighbours and probably your local butcher, too. You'll regret having read it, but you'll never forgive yourself if you don't...
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By doublemeat on September 4, 2002
Format: Paperback
A page-turner of the highest caliber. Not only is the science described masterfully, it is complete with tales of grisly cannabalism, Machiavellian scheming, and selfless sacrifice. It also takes us into the world of industrial meat processing--places our culture would rather pretend doesn't exist.
With this book, you can immerse yourself in the adventures of Carleton Gajdusek as he integrates into (and comes to prefer) a Stone-Age cannibalistic culture in New Guinea. Gajdusek is the legitimate pioneer in the field of prion research and theory, a true scientist who sacrificed much, gave fair credit to his colleagues and collaborators, and was ever skeptical even of his own work. ...
The biggest thing I walked away from with this book, was not the question of whether we're all going to die from prion diseases, but rather, "I wonder just how pervasive this kind of unseen political scheming occurs in other walks of life?" ...
The book is also chock-full of quite amazing science--new and amazing biological concepts that you are sure to have never heard of. The "prion" problem, if the theories are correct, is stunningly simple (even elegant). This book explains it in very accessible terms (at one time using Vonnegut's "Ice 9" as a really great metaphor), but not in a way that panders or insults. You feel like you understand the theories in their entirety, with all angles explored, but are not lost in incomprehensible jargon. You also gain an appreciation for the hard work, hair-pulling, creativity, "eureka" moments, scientific rigor, and self-doubt that goes into this field and other scientific fields. Readable by science idiots and savants alike.
Other reviews of this book note the doomsday nature of it's ending, with dire predictions. Well I disagree. There are no "predictions". Only possible--but not necessarily likely--scenarios. Most importantly, the predictions are not unavoidable. ...
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Richard Rhodes writes an exceedingly good book. He organizes this hard to swallow material in an easy to follow way.
I have not eaten much beef in the last year or so as I am trying to loose weight and watch my cholesterol intake.
After reading Deadly Feasts, I am not sure whether I want to ever eat any meat again, but if the facts are correct, being vegetarian only lessens the chances of being infected.
I was appalled at the lack of care given the continued innoculation of children with growth hormones. I've always suspected that some medical practioners do not live up to their oath, but this is something that actually proves that.
The governments don't seem any too keen to come up against major industries for the sake of the people they govern.
I say this is a book you must read. You will probably not want to read it, but on the other hand you won't be able to put it down due to its pertinence to all of us.
This book is scary, but very necessary. This information was out there when Oprah was being sued. It definitely proves a point
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