25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
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. Rhodes' book has an intensity that builds as he describes the progression of diseases that may need decades to incubate in humans before they show symptoms that will whittle them down over the course of months to fatality. The horror that Rhodes describes is of diseases which are 100% fatal that some of us here in the West may have already contracted but will not see signs of for many years. And we have contracted it through eating tainted meat.
But Rhodes' book is about more than the horror of disease and the dangers of our food supply. Deadly Feasts is about real science. Not the science that scientists and historians like to present to us that lull people into thinking science is a perfect, logical progression. Rhodes shows us science for what it is: investigation and guesswork, supported by experiment and influenced by politics and the personalities of scientists. Mistakes are made as well as reputations. Egos play a role. Wild ideas make their way into fact and, at this point, still no one knows whether these diseases are caused by something virus-like or a new "killer protein." As a science teacher, I can't help but like this book a lot.
I've heard some people say that this book turned them into a vegetarian. Well, it didn't do that to me but, then again, I'm not the type. What it did do was make me appreciate Richard Rhodes' skill as a writer once again. This is a book that needs to be read.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2001
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...
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2002
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. ...
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 1999
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
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
When I was an undergrad--way back in the late '70's--we were told that no concrete evidence of cultures that practiced cannibalism existed. This was back when "primitive" societies were depicted as being pure and uncorrupted by modern woes, like MTV and carjackings.
But, in fact, cannibalism has been a thriving tradition among some peoples, and has only recently been wiped out. (Maybe.) And among those who ate nervous system tissue (which would NOT be my first choice, had I been born a cannibal), kuru sometimes reared its ugly head.
Kuru is yet another variation of the encephalopathy that turns the consumer's brain into sponge, which is eventually fatal. Rhodes, always a riveting storyteller, spins the tale of research into kuru, and its parallel prion-based diseases like Mad Cow and scrapie. He also examines the cut-throat academic dispute that led some early researchers (Prusiner) to the Nobel Prize and led others, equally deserving, into oblivion.
Now, Mad Cow is in the news again. It seems we in the U.S. weren't safe, after all! Some of the meat processing industry has, for years, chosen to ignore warnings that selling "downer" cattle for human consumption is just YUCK. Also, there's evidence that there may have been some tweaking the diets of many food animals--not just cattle--with brain tissue-based protein, so who knows where it will turn up. We may be reading about Mad Chicken disease in a few years.
It seems that the public is either in complete denial that this is a problem, or else convinced that this is the plague of the 21st Century. I don't think we'll know for another generation, when the effects will have started to appear.
Not only that, but Chronic Wasting Disease, which affects deer and elk, has already infected at least two (that we know of) hunters who ate venison. As much as the media tries to play up the issue, and as much as the "authorities" try to play it down, we do have a problem that won't go away for awhile.
Rhodes offers a primer on the subject that is as fascinating as it is chilling.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Rhodes has a talent for moving the narrative and imparting information in a readable fashion. The new plague is "mad cow disease" which includes various transmissible spongiform encephalopathic diseases most notably kuru from New Guinea, a disease of the brain of not clear cause spread by eating human brains, which the women and children of a New Guinea tribe did ritualistically until sometime in the late fifties or early sixties. The men did not partake.
This strange set of diseases produces holes in brain tissue and inevitably leads to death. It is caused by a protein that is just a little off from what it should be, called a prion that replicates itself by changing existing brain protein cells, making them slightly different, therefore useless. There is apparently no virus, etc., just a kind of copying error that is replicated once it starts. It is transmitted by eating animal tissue, especially brain tissue that has miss-replicated. It is scary and ugly and makes me not want to eat meat. The mad cow disease in Europe from U.K. beef was the result of cattle being fed feed that contained animal parts, in particular animal brains. Pass the asparagus, please.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
All med students learn about Jakob-Crutzfeld disease. Some learn about mad cow disease. A few interested in medical history learn about Kuru. Very few people realize that the three diseases/disorders are related, and guess what? For a change of pace, we get them from what we eat...specifically meat. I have to admit that the problems Britain was having with their cattle had me worried more as a mother, than getting it myself. Just because the young seemed to be getting the disease more then the elderly. That tracked down to the fact they were either working directly with infected cattle or frequenting McDonalds. Since my family does neither, I am not so worried as to become a vegetarian, though this book gives room for that thought!
Mr. Rhodes wrote a Pulitzer Prize winner on the Atomic bomb which I read. I didn't even realize it was the same author. This book while very well written for viral science, is not on par with his other book. I enjoyed this book very much though, and anyone who is fascinated by the small things that are 'out' to get us and the history of medical mysteries, would thoroughly enjoy this book. Rhodes makes it clear that he admires the people who research and spend time with those in New Guinea, and who out of the goodness of their hearts spent years educating an isolated people whose demise from this disease probably would have had very little impact on the world at large. Yet these men place an importance on each culture, and tried to respect cultural boundaries and avoid polluting their societies with ours while teaching them how to avoid this problem Kuru. I enjoyed that story of cultural respect more than anything. I am sure we will be hearing more about this particular killer as time goes on, because the answer to its riddle hasn't been found yet, and we still don't know what the final outcome of the disaster in Britain is going to be. I hope a few ranchers will bother to read this and avoid feeding their cattle and sheep offal and other parts of dead animals. That alone could prevent the US from undergoing what Britain has had to endure...and we eat a lot more meat then they do! And yes, because of this book, I am feeding my family less meat all the time... Karen Sadler, Science Education, University of Pittsburgh
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I read this book years ago when still horrified at the infection of thousands of hemophiliacs with HIV. Feeling somewhat distrustful of the FDA, it seemed prudent to find out what this next big threat was all about. And now, with the first case of "mad cow disease" in the US, it seemed a good time to take another look.
Richard Rhodes takes a scientific approach to the evolution of prion borne diseases. He traces them back to cannibalistic rituals and we realize they are not new. The stories of the scientists that attempt to unravel the secrets behind prion borne illness are intriguing. We are led to realize that scientific discovery is big business. The brilliance and tenacity of these research scientists is revealed and while this book is not a pageturner like my favorite thrillers, it is gripping reading nonetheless. This is not a thriller, or science fiction--this is true stuff!! Rhodes doesn't sensationalize, but rather lays the facts out there for us to digest (no pun intended). If you really want to know what CJD is all about, this is the perfect place to start. You'll wind up knowing more than you probably wanted to. Should be required reading for all adults, highly recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2004
The spins and factual errors I was hearing on news reports about "mad cow" in the U.S. sent me back to Rhodes's excellent work for another look. Deadly Feasts is basic to a layman's understanding of the problem.
If more people read this book, we could build a better support base in this country for reforming operations of our food industry, especially how we feed and test animals to be processed for our dinner tables.
If we cheat ourselves of this knowledge, however, we'll be making the same mistake we made in the 1940s and 50s. We ignored scientific evidence of the harmful effects of radiation from atomic fission, and we sent people out to test sites just to see what might happen to them.
I don't care what the information or precautions or necessary reforms do to "the economy." I don't want my children's and grandchildren's brains wasting away 20 years from now because of the slow but relentless effect of "mad cow."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 9, 2000
Six or eight months ago, I purchased a copy of the audio version of this book. It was excellent; fascinating and frightening. I've never purchased a book or audio which was exclusively on a single disease before. I've got health books and such...but this was a first of its kind.
Imagine my shock and horror to find out last Thursday that my wonderful friend had been diagnosed with CJD - Spongiform Encephalopathy. I found out very late as he did not want his wife to tell anyone until the last moment. Little did she know when she called to say he had two months to live, that he would be dead by the next day. I just got back from the Memorial service today; a real tear jerker.
There are those who say the disease is different from Mad Cow disease, but I did not come away with that impression from the tapes of "Deadly Feast". My friend ate lots of meat and frequented hamburger establishments; he was allergic to fish. Furthermore, he never traveled; he only left the US once, and that was AFTER he was diagnosed. It was a degrading way to die for a very dignified man and it broke many hearts.
I had forgotten the name of the tapes I had purchased and today, responding to a post I made, a friend mentioned "Deadly Feast", I thought I'd come here and order a copy. When I saw the cover of the audio, I realized this WAS the audio book I had listened to. Because I misplaced the tapes, I'm going to purchase a paper version for reference. Little did I know when I first bought that set, this strange disease would strike so close to home.