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The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic Paperback – January 14, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

First attracted to his subject by its horrific ability to destroy the human mind and body, journalist David Shenk ultimately finds reasons to accept Alzheimer's disease--and almost forgive it--in The Forgetting. Shenk describes his work as a biography, the life story of a biological outlaw that sends victims "on a slow but certain trajectory toward forgetting and death." But his illuminating portrait of this growing epidemic offers more than a basic chronology. Shenk begins with the disease's christening in 1906, when German physician Alois Alzheimer discovered mysterious tangles and plaques in the brain of a dead woman who in life had suffered severe memory loss and dementia. The tale unfolds to reveal a host of intriguing players: struggling scientists (the clever, the bullheaded, and the pharmaceutically endowed), politicians divided by opposing priorities, exhausted caregivers, and patients whose biological clocks virtually tick backward over an average eight-year period. It includes impossible twists: longer life expectancies and successful treatments for other diseases mean more cases of Alzheimer's will inevitably occur. Shenk's graceful synthesis of personal accounts (from Plato to Reagan) with a century-long search for answers and cures leads him to an impressive conclusion. Perhaps Alzheimer's disease is much like winter: "Once it is gone, we'll face less hardship, but we'll also have lost an important lens on life." --Liane Thomas --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

With grace and precision, Shenk (Data Smog), a journalist and occasional NPR commentator, presents a lyric biography of Alzheimer's, "a condition specific to humans and as old as humanity." At one time, doctors thought senility, or dementia, was an inevitable fact of growing older. Now they know that Alzheimer's is a specific, formidable disease that threatens to reach epidemic proportions within the next 50 years. The disease is named for the neurologist who, in 1906, first noticed, in the brain of an autopsied patient, the telltale plaques and tangles that strangle the brain's neurons. Shenk presents a thoughtful and complex rumination on many aspects of Alzheimer's, including anecdotes about the memory loss experienced by Ronald Reagan, Ralph Waldo Emerson and E.B. White. He recounts the tales of caregivers, many of whom become clinically depressed and who, along with physicians, draw an analogy between the developing skills of a child and the decrease in cognitive ability that besets Alzheimer's patients. The author delves deeply into scientific research and explains that though there is as yet no cure, a recently developed vaccine holds great promise for the future. However, he warns, scientific inquiry could be impeded by fierce competition for research dollars. Doctors can now recognize an early stage of "probable Alzheimer's," which means that patients who are slowly sinking into its depths can understand their condition and its destructive path. Shenk movingly recounts a conversation he had with one such patient, who shares interesting ideas for rehabilitative conditioning to slow down his mental deterioration. Agent, Sloan Harris. (On-sale: Sept. 4)

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (January 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385498381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385498388
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #464,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including THE FORGETTING ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), DATA SMOG ("indispensable" - New York Times), and THE IMMORTAL GAME ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS. His new book, THE GENIUS IN ALL OF US, has been called "engrossing" by Booklist (starred review) and "empowering...myth-busting" by Kirkus.

Shenk's work inspired the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary "The Forgetting," and was featured in the Oscar-nominated feature "Away From Her." He has advised the President's Council on Bioethics, and is a popular speaker. His original term "data smog" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

107 of 107 people found the following review helpful By M KIRK-DUGGAN on January 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Since 1975, the number of Americans afflicted [with Alzheimer's Disease {ALZ}] has risen from five hundred thousand to five million [2001]; over the next fifty years an estimated [fifteen million in the United States alone] will succumb to it."
In May, 2001, I went to my primary physician with some troubling symptoms of recent memory loss. He ordered a CAT scan, and referred me to my psychiatrist, who was supervising my intensive outpatient treatment of Major [unipolar] Suicidal Depression. The CAT scan depicted some small white areas, which could have been the result of undetected minor strokes or tertiary syphilis. Since neither was applicable to my medical history nor my life style, only the remote possibility of ALZ remained. The psychiatrist gave me the Mini Mental State Examination [MMSE], and I scored less than twenty-five. Based on the MMSE results, he then scheduled me for a battery of tests. My suspicions were confirmed: I now have a diagnosis of "probable ALZ" in the early or middle stages. I am now one of the "five million...When "The Forgetting" arrived, I sat down and devoured it from cover to cover in two days! This was most unusual, since two of the early memory symptoms of ALZ are my recent inability to finish a book cover to cover, or to pick up a book or article where I had left off, and continue on the textual journey.
This "magnificent synthesis of history, science, politics, psychology, and profound human drama" was written especially for me, someone newly diagnosed as "probable ALZ." "Delving into such diverse areas as art history, literature, genetics, and neurobiology" Shenk's "The Forgetting Alzheimer's" clear and concise exegesis continues to give me the data I require to comfort an unbelieving and devastated significant other, my spouse.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Forgetting will (and should) become a classic on the subject of Alzheimer's Disease. It is at once a wonderfully educating and HUMAN book. This book has taught me more about AD than all of the books on AD combined (and I have read them all).
My mother has had Alzheimer's for 6+ years; it is most certainly "a death of a thousand subtractions". This book should be required reading first for ALL Physicians dealing with this disease and be required reading (at the physicians insistence) by every family that has a loved one(s) with AD;this book goes far beyond education of this disease. For the first time in all these years I understand AD better. While reading this book many "aha's" and "of course's" were spoken aloud by me.
My feelings and emotions were validated by The Forgetting during this long last goodbye to my Mom. I shuddered to read all of the steps to the unraveling of Mom's mind and how the end would be for her should she (God forbid) reach the very end of her unraveling. But, I appreciate this knowledge I have gained from this book so I can deal with Mom's death in a better way, an informed way. I am passing this book along to my brothers and to many friends of mine who have loved ones with AD. My thanks and appreciation (as well as my blessings) go out to David Shenk for writing The Forgetting. This book will bring revelations and comfort to all who read it.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Sandra D. Peters on September 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In our great-grandparents day, it was called dementia, in our parents time senility, now the terminology is Alzheimer's. Whatever you choose to call it, "The Forgetting" is a remarkably moving book due to the nature of the subject. Alzheimer's takes the form of regression, a pathology that mirrors child development in reverse. The disease attacks not only memory but the core of humanity. The disturbing fact of the book is that over the next fifty years between eighty and one hundred MILLION new cases around the world will be diagnosed. This book is highly recommended to anyone who has a family member or person close to them suffering from this traumatic disease. The author takes an inside look at the history of Alzheimer's, the lastest in research and hope for the future, and this is one of the most complete and up-to-date books written on the subject.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Nan on October 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is the best book I've found on Alzheimers for the general public. It offers tentative hope (which is all that is warranted now). Other books have been very depressing. This is a good overview of where we are now in knowledge of this disease.
This is not meant to be a technical book for researchers. It is aimed towards those with friends and family who are dealing with Alzheimers.
For those dealing with this disease, the stages of Alzheimers are clearly listed. The book differentiates the symptoms of ALzheimers from normal forgetting. This is very helpful information that is not presented as well elsewhere.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Seaman on January 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is an extraordinary work, a most elegant piece of medical writing that almost soars to poetry of it's own at moments, and that aptly quotes the poetry of others, particularly Ralph Waldo'Emerson's amazing stanzas on his personal experience of disabling memory. loss.
It's hard to believe that a book on such a gloomy subject could be so gripping and, yes, inspiring but it is. Shenk seamlessly includes the history, the politics, the vicious economics of a biotech company vs. not-for-profit Alzheimer research,as well as mini-biographies of scientists, patients and caretakers, about whom (the caretakers) he affectionately writes: "The unique curse of Alzheimer's is that it ravages several victims for every brain it infects....close friends and loved ones are forced to step in and compensate for lost abilities."
Have you ever wondered why, if Alzheimer's was first described at the start of the 20th century, it wasn't until the 1970s that it became a household word.? This is in itself a fascinating story, -( and what a play or screenplay could be based on it.)
I now understand this illness in a far deeper way than I ever did before. Shenk describes how Alzheimer's takes an average of eight years to "erase the brain," followiing a course that he depicts as a regression to infancy. There may or may not be breakthrough products on the horizon, yet lawsuits and charges of patent infringement are needlessly delaying progress.
If I have one criticism of THE FORGETTING, it is simply that it makes most of the other writings on this topic seem pale, or dull ,or lacking clarity..THE FORGETTING will surely reign as the great literary and humanistic classic of this field..
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