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1 Burnside Health and Medicine- History of Medicine

The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (Medical Mysteries)

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The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (Medical Mysteries) Cover

ISBN13: 9781400062454
ISBN10: 1400062454
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

For two hundred years a noble Venetian family has suffered from an inherited disease that strikes their members in middle age, stealing their sleep, eating holes in their brains, and ending their lives in a matter of months. In Papua New Guinea, a primitive tribe is nearly obliterated by a sickness whose chief symptom is uncontrollable laughter. Across Europe, millions of sheep rub their fleeces raw before collapsing. In England, cows attack their owners in the milking parlors, while in the American West, thousands of deer starve to death in fields full of grass.

What these strange conditions–including fatal familial insomnia, kuru, scrapie, and mad cow disease–share is their cause: prions. Prions are ordinary proteins that sometimes go wrong, resulting in neurological illnesses that are always fatal. Even more mysterious and frightening, prions are almost impossible to destroy because they are not alive and have no DNA–and the diseases they bring are now spreading around the world.

In The Family That Couldn’t Sleep, essayist and journalist D. T. Max tells the spellbinding story of the prion’s hidden past and deadly future. Through exclusive interviews and original archival research, Max explains this story’s connection to human greed and ambition–from the Prussian chemist Justus von Liebig, who made cattle meatier by feeding them the flesh of other cows, to New Guinean natives whose custom of eating the brains of the dead nearly wiped them out. The biologists who have investigated these afflictions are just as extraordinary–for example, Daniel Carleton Gajdusek, a self-described

“pedagogic pedophiliac pediatrician” who cracked kuru and won the Nobel Prize, and another Nobel winner, Stanley Prusiner, a driven, feared self-promoter who identified the key protein that revolutionized prion study.

With remarkable precision, grace, and sympathy, Max–who himself suffers from an inherited neurological illness–explores maladies that have tormented humanity for centuries and gives reason to hope that someday cures will be found. And he eloquently demonstrates that in our relationship to nature and these ailments, we have been our own worst enemy.

Advance praise

The Family that Couldn’t Sleep is a riveting detective story that plumbs one of the deepest mysteries of biology. The story takes the reader from the torments of an Italian family cursed with sleeplessness to the mad cows of England (and, now, America), following an unlikely trail of misfolded proteins. D. T. Max unfolds his absorbing narrative with rare grace and makes the science sing.” –Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire

“Much has been written about prions and Mad Cow Disease–nearly all of it is worthless. Thankfully, from the world of journalism comes D.T. Max to set things right. Throw all those other “Mad Cow” books in the trash: This is the book to read about prions–or whatever you want to call them. It’s a riveting tale, told by someone with a very special understanding, derived in part from his own strange ailment. Find a cozy spot, clear your schedule and dive in.”

– Laurie Garrett, author of Betrayal of Trust and The Coming Plague

“D. T. Max deftly unfolds the mysterious prion in all its villainous guises. Although scientists do not fully understand these proteins–how they replicate and wreak such havoc in their victims’ brains–The Family That Couldn’t Sleep reveals their historical, cultural, and scientific place in our world. Prepare to be enlightened, entertained, and frightened.”

–Katrina Firlik, MD, author of Another Day in the Frontal Lobe

“A great book. D.T. Max has drawn the curtain on a cabinet of folly  and malady that will stagger your imagination.”

– Philip Weiss, author of American Taboo

“D.T. Max has combined the enthralling medical anthropology of Oliver Sacks with the gothic horror of Stephen King to produce a medical detective story that is as intelligent as it is spooky. The villain of The Family That Couldn’t Sleep is the prion, a tiny little protein that causes some of the most terrifying, brain-mangling, creepy diseases known to man. Always fascinating–how could it not be, given that its characters include cannibals, mad cows, madder sheep, a Nobel prize-winning pedophile, and, most poignantly, an Italian family cursed by fatal insomnia?–Max’s book is also a gripping account of scientific discovery, and a heartfelt meditation on what it means to be cursed with an incurable, and brutal, illness.” – David Plotz, author of The Genius Factory

Review:

"In 1765, Venetian doctors were stumped by the death of a man who had suffered from insomnia for more than a year and spent his final months paralyzed by exhaustion. Over the next two centuries, many of his descendants would develop similarly fatal symptoms, with a range of misdiagnoses, from encephalitis to alcohol withdrawal. Finally, in the early 1990s, their disease was recognized as a rare genetic form of prion disease. The family reluctantly shared their history with Max, who has written about science and literature for the New York Times Magazine and other publications. Max (inspired in part by his own neuromuscular disorder) has crafted a powerfully empathetic account of their efforts to make sense of their suffering and find a cure. But this is only half the story. Looking at prion disease in general, Max doubles back to the English mad-cow epidemic of the 1990s, retracing established backstories among New Guinea aboriginals and European sheep herds. There's enough fascinating material — in particular, a theory suggesting that early humans were nearly wiped out by a plague spread by cannibalism — to keep readers engaged, but they're likely to want still more about the genuinely captivating family drama. (Oct. 3)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"One day in 1973, a middle-aged Venetian woman named Assunta stepped off a bus and felt a jolt through her body like an electric shock. In the days and weeks that followed, she began to tremble, sweat profusely and lose weight. Lying in bed, twitching, she could close her eyes and fall into an agitated stupor, but would never emerge rested or refreshed. Valium made matters worse. Eventually, after... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Synopsis:

Max tells the spellbinding story of the hidden past and deadly future of prions--ordinary proteins that sometimes go wrong resulting in neurological illnesses that are always fatal. Through exclusive interviews and original archival research, Max explains this story's connection to human greed and ambition.

Synopsis:

The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest.

Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, Wallace has become more than the quintessential writer for his time—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age.  In the end, as Max shows us, what is most interesting about Wallace is not just what he wrote but how he taught us all to live. Written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends and with access to hundreds of his unpublished letters, manuscripts, and audio tapes, this portrait of an extraordinarily gifted writer is as fresh as news, as intimate as a love note, as painful as a goodbye.

Synopsis:

The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest.

Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, Wallace has become more than the quintessential writer for his time—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age.  In the end, as Max shows us, what is most interesting about Wallace is not just what he wrote but how he taught us all to live. Written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends and with access to hundreds of his unpublished letters, manuscripts, and audio tapes, this portrait of an extraordinarily gifted writer is as fresh as news, as intimate as a love note, as painful as a goodbye.

About the Author

D. T. Max was born and raised in New York City and graduated from Harvard in 1984. He has been an editor at Washington Square Press, Houghton Mifflin, and The New York Observer. For the past eight years, he has reported mostly for The New York Times Magazine. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and Chicago Tribune. He lives outside Washington, D.C., with his wife, their two young children, and a rescued beagle named Max.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

Dr. KASAM, November 16, 2006 (view all comments by Dr. KASAM)
Not since the publishing of Deadly Feasts has a book shed so much light on prion diseases. DTMax uses the device of storytelling to make the reading enjoyable for any audience, but he has included enough science and fact that even the college professors will not argue with his thesis. Prion-diseases will be "the major disease" of the 21st century and aids and bird flu will pale by comparison. One-third of nursing home patients are afflicted with Alhzeimers and fish and wild game are being ravaged by chronic wasting disease. Our supply of cattle, hogs are chickens are all vulnerable as long as they are raised in containment and fed protein from questionable sources. DT Max makes this threat come alive and I recommend the book highly.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400062454
Subtitle:
A Life of David Foster Wallace
Author:
Max, D T
Author:
D. T. Max
Author:
Max, Daniel
Publisher:
Viking Adult
Subject:
History
Subject:
Diseases
Subject:
Sleep disorders
Subject:
Prion diseases
Subject:
Neurology - General
Subject:
Literary
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B-Hardcover
Series:
Medical Mysteries
Publication Date:
20120830
Binding:
Hardback
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

Health and Self-Help » Health and Medicine » History of Medicine

The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery (Medical Mysteries) Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$14.95 In Stock
Product details 368 pages Random House - English 9781400062454 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In 1765, Venetian doctors were stumped by the death of a man who had suffered from insomnia for more than a year and spent his final months paralyzed by exhaustion. Over the next two centuries, many of his descendants would develop similarly fatal symptoms, with a range of misdiagnoses, from encephalitis to alcohol withdrawal. Finally, in the early 1990s, their disease was recognized as a rare genetic form of prion disease. The family reluctantly shared their history with Max, who has written about science and literature for the New York Times Magazine and other publications. Max (inspired in part by his own neuromuscular disorder) has crafted a powerfully empathetic account of their efforts to make sense of their suffering and find a cure. But this is only half the story. Looking at prion disease in general, Max doubles back to the English mad-cow epidemic of the 1990s, retracing established backstories among New Guinea aboriginals and European sheep herds. There's enough fascinating material — in particular, a theory suggesting that early humans were nearly wiped out by a plague spread by cannibalism — to keep readers engaged, but they're likely to want still more about the genuinely captivating family drama. (Oct. 3)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , Max tells the spellbinding story of the hidden past and deadly future of prions--ordinary proteins that sometimes go wrong resulting in neurological illnesses that are always fatal. Through exclusive interviews and original archival research, Max explains this story's connection to human greed and ambition.
"Synopsis" by ,
The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest.

Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, Wallace has become more than the quintessential writer for his time—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age.  In the end, as Max shows us, what is most interesting about Wallace is not just what he wrote but how he taught us all to live. Written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends and with access to hundreds of his unpublished letters, manuscripts, and audio tapes, this portrait of an extraordinarily gifted writer is as fresh as news, as intimate as a love note, as painful as a goodbye.

"Synopsis" by ,
The first biography of the most influential writer of his generation, David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was the leading literary light of his era, a man who not only captivated readers with his prose but also mesmerized them with his brilliant mind. In this, the first biography of the writer, D. T. Max sets out to chart Wallace’s tormented, anguished and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest.

Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, Wallace has become more than the quintessential writer for his time—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age.  In the end, as Max shows us, what is most interesting about Wallace is not just what he wrote but how he taught us all to live. Written with the cooperation of Wallace’s family and friends and with access to hundreds of his unpublished letters, manuscripts, and audio tapes, this portrait of an extraordinarily gifted writer is as fresh as news, as intimate as a love note, as painful as a goodbye.

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