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Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease Hardcover – February 6, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0060889654 ISBN-10: 0060889659 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; 1 edition (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060889659
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060889654
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Dan Ariely on Survival of the Sickest
MIT professor Dan Ariely has become one of the leaders in the growing field of behavioral economics, and his bestselling book debut, Predictably Irrational, has brought his ideas--and his ingenious experiments and charming sense of humor--to a much wider audience. With the simplest of tests (often an auction or a quiz given under a few conditions) he shows again and again not only that we are wired to make irrational decisions in many situations, but that we do so in remarkably predictable ways.

I have always been puzzled by the way in which genetic diseases have managed to survive throughout the ages. How could it be that these diseases were able to withstand the evolutionary process, where only the most fit survive, and continue to be transferred from one generation to the next? Survival of the Sickest provides a thought provoking yet entertaining explanation to this puzzle.

In this insightful book Dr. Sharon Moalem demonstrates how conditions that are considered unhealthy (such as hemochromatosis, diabetes, and high cholesterol), or even deadly in extreme cases, might actually put their carriers at an advantage in combating other life-threatening illnesses. For example, he explains that hemochromatosis, a disease that, if left untreated, will kill you, may have actually been a defense against the deadliest pandemic in history--the bubonic plague during the 14th century. It turns out that this genetic mutation, which continues to be passed down through generations, actually helped spare many lives at one point.

Throughout the book, Dr. Moalem draws many connections between seemingly disparate subjects, such as the accidental invention of ice wine and cold diuresis, in order to illustrate the basic mechanisms of genetics and medicine in charming and intuitive ways. He skillfully interweaves his knowledge of history, genetics, and medicine not only as they relate to specific medical conditions but also in a way that addresses important challenges of modern society and our future evolution.

In the most general terms, Dr. Moalem's description of the human body and its complexity left me in awe of how far we have come in our understanding of biology and medicine, while also being reminded that the road to understanding ourselves is still wide open with much more to learn in the decades, and even centuries, to come. It is a fantastic journey on which he leads us and Dr. Moalem is a kind, knowledgeable, humorous, and helpful guide.

From Publishers Weekly

Moalem, a medical student with a Ph.D. in neurogenetics, asks a number of provocative questions, such as why debilitating hereditary diseases persist in humans and why we suffer from the consequences of aging. His approach to these questions is solidly rooted in evolutionary theory, and he capably demonstrates that each disease confers a selective advantage to individuals who carry either one or two alleles for inherited diseases. But very little is new; the principles, if not every particular, that Moalem addresses have been covered in Randolph Nesse and George Williams's Why We Get Sick, among others. Whether he is discussing hemochromatosis (a disorder that causes massive amounts of iron to accumulate in individuals), diabetes or sickle cell anemia, his conclusion is always the same: each condition offers enough positive evolutionary advantages to offset the negative consequences, and this message is repeated over and over. Additionally, Moalem's endless puns and simple jokes wear thin, but his light style makes for easy reading for readers new to this subject. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Customer Reviews

It's very interesting, well written, well researched, and fun to read.
Shea
Survival of the Sickest by Dr. Sharon Moalem is a book that explores topics ranging from hemochromatosis to host manipulation.
Samantha Costa
Its so simple its difficult so you ought to just read the book and see what I mean.
M. D. Cummings

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 50 people found the following review helpful By haley on February 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You don't need a degree in evolutionary biology to understand Survival of the Sickest. This book gives you a peak into how evolution can actually select for disease, and makes a compelling case for why and how understanding this can shape the way disease is treated in the future. It also explains some fascinating facts - like how some Americans are immune to HIV because they have a mutation and how a person can rust to death but be saved by giving blood. It'll leave you thinking completely differently about your body, and - in some cases - like when it advises that you should take your sunglasses off for a few minutes when you get into the sun so that your eyes can "tell" your skin to be on guard against it, it'll actually affect the way you act.
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74 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on February 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you're a fan of books like The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, I highly recommend Survival of the Sickest. It's full of the same kinds of fascinating insights that make for great cocktail party conversation. As a parent, I was particularly fascinated by the chapter on how what you eat during pregnancy can influence the way your children (and even their children) metabolize their food. And as a health conscious person, you'll get practical, actionable ideas on how to think about personalizing your diet based on your background.
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By B. McEwan VINE VOICE on April 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book about genetics, evolution and disease is a genuine page turner, that's how deeply interesting it is, and how well it is written. The basic premise runs like this: The environment puts pressure on all living things, including humans, to evolve characteristics that help us survive long enough to reproduce and pass on our genes. Over the millenia, various conditions such as drought, ice ages and other climate changes have sparked genetic mutations that enhance our abilities to survive. These include some biological conditions that are advantageous in the short term, but sometimes detrimental in the long term.

For example, today we consider diabetes mellitus a serious disease because it raises human blood sugars to dangerous levels that can result in loss of limbs and sight, among other problems. However, in an ice age, when temperatures were significantly lower than they are now, having extra sugar in the blood may have enabled our ancestors to survive the cold because sugar lowers the temperature at which we freeze to death. Similarly, Sickle Cell Anemia may have evolved to help people resist malaria.

What's especially interesting is that this theory would explain why ethnic groups that are prone to diabetes -- Scandinavians and people from the British Isles, for instance -- originally came from northern areas that were at one time covered by glaciers. And the ancestors of those groups that tend to carry the genes for Sickle Cell generally originated from climates in which malaria was prevalent.

Another intriguing idea is that some "sicknesses" only become serious problems when an individual is older and past his or her prime reproductive years.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By William Holmes VINE VOICE on May 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover
We're used to thinking of disease as the enemy, as a malicious force that makes our lives shorter and more miserable. That may be exactly what "disease" is on an individual basis--but its value to the species as a whole is a different matter.

Dr. Moalem elegantly explains why medical conditions that are deemed to be diseases today often helped our ancestors survive and reproduce in difficult environments. Take hemochromatosis, a hereditary condition that causes iron to accumulate in a person's internal organs, eventually leading to death. Although the gene that causes hemochromatosis was once thought to be rare, research completed in 1996 found that it's actually surprisingly common. Why wouldn't such a terrible disease have been "bred out" of our species long ago? The answer is that hemochromatosis reduces the amount of iron available to iron-loving bacteria, such as the bubonic plague that depopulated Europe in the mid-1300s. A person living in the Middle Ages with the hemochromatosis gene would have eventually died from iron build up, but in the meantime would have have had a smaller chance of dying from the plague and other iron-loving infections--in an age when few people lived past the age of 50, the disease resistance conferred by hemochromatosis far outweighed the disadvantage that would have materialized if the person carrying the gene had lived to old age. People with hemochromatosis reproduced and passed the gene one to their heirs; those without it died of the plague, without children.

"Survival of the Sickest" is filled with similarly surprising observations.
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Shani W. on February 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
From the second I picked up this book, I realized I was in for a fun ride! A unique look at evolution and genetics is mixed with humor and fun facts. You may never look at The Plague, baby fat,alcohol,vikings,or your very own medical problems in the same way. This book is an entertaining trip into our history and future -- a must read!!!
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