Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease

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9780007224401: Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease

In this groundbreaking and absorbing book Dr. Sharon Moalem, a leading medical researcher in the emerging fields of neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine, delves back into the evolution of man to offer a radical new way of thinking about survival, the human body, and our understanding of disease. Dr. Moalem investigates peculiar and puzzling features of human biology to reveal the answers to such provocative questions as: / Why do we need to pee when we're cold? / Can a person rust to death? / Why are Greeks hairier than Africans? / Can the tanning salon lower cholesterol? / Why are leeches back in vogue? / Can sunglasses cause sunburns? / Who gets drunk faster -- Europeans or Asians? / Why are African Americans more prone to hypertension? In considering the question of why diseases exist, Dr Moalem proposes that most coming diseases came into existence for very good reasons. Diabetes, hemochromatosis, cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia may all exist because, at some time in our past, they helped our ancestors survive some grand challenge to human existence. In turn, he also discovers that genetic and cultural differences have led to each race having different and unique ways of reacting to their environment and subsequently how they become susceptible to certain diseases. Survival of the Sickest is a book about life -- yours, ours and every little living thing under the sun. About how we all got here, where we're all going and what we can do about it. Revelatory and written in an utterly engaging fashion, Sharon Moalem's book changes the way we think about our own bodies.

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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.

About the Author:

Sharon Moalem has a Ph.D. in the emerging fields of neurogenetics and evolutionary medicine. His research has discovered a new genetic association for familial Alzheimer disease. He has also published on the adaptive advantages of the genetic mutations that cause Hemochromatosis. He continues to work as a researcher while finishing his medical training at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He lives in New York City.

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