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Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity

4.13  ·  Rating Details ·  5,215 Ratings  ·  511 Reviews
Read it.

You're already living it.

Was diabetes evolution's response to the last Ice Age? Did a deadly genetic disease help our ancestors survive the bubonic plagues of Europe? Will a visit to the tanning salon help lower your cholesterol? Why do we age? Why are some people immune to HIV? Can your genes be turned on -- or off?

Joining the ranks of modern myth busters, Dr. Sha
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

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Dec 03, 2013 Katherine rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is a prime example of the problems with science books written for a lay audience. The author regularly presents hypotheses/hunches than he believes as if they're well-supported by science
I picked this book up because it spent time on my field of study, infectious disease. The first chapter was okay, but then it just went downhill from there. The type 1 diabetes chapter that posits that it aids in survival in a cold climate is laughably implausible. Moalem states that "some scientists" belie
Chris Keefe
Apr 02, 2008 Chris Keefe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good.
As I wrote to Dr. Moalem,

Dear Dr. Moalem,
I found your book, Survival of the Sickest, on a table in the bookstore that employs me. The title and concept intrigued me. The material has proved fascinating, and, for the large part, very well researched. I am concerned, though, with a statement you make on page 87, regarding psoralen production in organically grown celery. It reads,

Farmers who use synthetic pesticides, while creating a whole host of other problems, are essentially protectin
Aug 09, 2016 Travis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was not a bad book and it was a quick read, but I was a little disappointed for two reasons.

The first, not the authors fault, is that I didn't learn much new -- the general principles and ideas the author was articulating about biology, genetics, and evolution, were not really new to me, although some of his examples were new.

The second was that I thought the author was playing a little too loose with facts. Even though the target audience was a popular audience, I don't think that is an excu
Muhammed Hebala
Nov 01, 2013 Muhammed Hebala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is a book which is simply incredible and super entertaining .

It amazes me that human beings can live through such huge changes

It talked about how specific common diseases and conditions (like diabetes and high cholesterol) actually may have been naturally selected because they provided an adaptive advantage in a particular environment.
Hemochromatosis may have helped Europeans to survive the black Death ,and
Diabetes may have been there evolutionary solution to avoid freezing in
the ice age, A
Jul 09, 2009 Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Hippopotamus Wannabes
A slick production this is. The musical transitions are snappy and the narrator converts what might have been prosaic pitfalls to satisfying conversational tidbits. Yes, the book has sentences like, "Compromises, compromises." Probably, some readers will find the tone condescending. Even worse, some readers will feel they have read everything before. So why did I rate this book so highly?

This is a wonderful book because it ties together disparate facts from the world of modern biology. Books li
Jun 20, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine
It's science -- made simple! I got to indulge my inner geek without having to overexert my brain cells. (Well, okay, I did have to read a couple of pages over again to get it, but hey, I was really, really tired that night.) Seriously, I was fascinated by the subject matter -- the interplay of genetics and disease -- and the writing style was wonderfully accessible to the lay reader. If I had read this book in high school (which would have been impossible, since these discoveries hadn't been mad ...more
Jul 29, 2013 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Many APBio teachers assign this as summer reading, so I had been looking forward to reading it. I HATED this book. I was reading it on vacation and had to set it aside because it made me so angry. This is my attempt to explain why without sounding like a ranting lunatic.

1. The author was a terrible writer. Even with a co-author this book was fragmented, disorganized, and packed with clunky metaphors.

2. Unable to engage the reader using his literary skills, he resorted to sensationalism. The chap
Kevin Denham
May 06, 2008 Kevin Denham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Marketing looked like a complete ripoff of Freakonomics. Style reads like Freakonomics with a personal health/medicine spin.

Too boldly mixes well accepted medical observations: Sickle Cell Anemia is related to genes that provide resistance to Malaria. Get one you're good, get two you're screwed.

With absolutely left field speculation: African-Americans have high incidents of hypertension and heart disease due to a artificial selectional pressure exerted on them by their ancestors' passage across
I wish Moalem would have taught my Genetics 101 class, he did a much better job than my professor. This is definitely more of a book to make you ooh and ahh, which is to say that its not very scientific.

Moalem would be shot dead by anyone who believed in logic. The man seems to love a good conspiracy, and he's great at telling them. I'm not saying that he's wrong all the time, but the way that this book could be written, in a less persuasive way, would be:

There's a 20% chance that A is true; A i
Jul 02, 2015 Randy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I suppose I judged this book by it's cover, making it a little disappointing when I read it. The author also goes off on some random tangents that I found distracting. That being said, there were some interesting parts -- particularly the discussion of how many genetic diseases are with us because they offered a survival benefit to our ancestors.
Jan 04, 2009 Chris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of the best books I've ever read. I learned so much and have recommended it to so many people (and have given it as gifts). I learned things I would have never many pieces came together in this book. I would suggest it to anyone who needs a break from their "novel" reading. Switch it up and read this book. You'll be glad you did!
Jul 28, 2008 Erin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: health, biology, owned
One of the best books I've ever read. Not only do the authors have a thoroughly entertaining writing style, they seriously expanded my understanding of evolution on both a macro and micro level. If I were back in college, this book might have inspired me to switch majors!
S Prakash
Apr 13, 2015 S Prakash rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book essentially discusses about the bad genes which are responsible for the life threatening /debilitating diseases like hemochromatosis, diabetes, malaria etc. In the first instance what circumstances have led to these genes to originate, was there an exigent purpose for this? Numerous examples of the origin of many of such bad genes have been explained in detail. One of them is that the advent of ice age has initiated a mutation which rose the sugar levels to enable the blood not to free ...more
"Oh, and for those Joe Six-packs out there playing a drinking game at home -- Maverick." --Tina Fey/Sarah Palin

This book was both intensely interesting and thoroughly frustrating. The author does make a lot of surprising arguments, which inspired some Deep Thoughts, but the justifications didn't often feel complete.

For one thing, he makes some points with very little supporting evidence: "In the mid-1990s an Argentinian pediatrician reported that three healthy women all gave birth to children w
Oct 26, 2014 Nina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of fun little biology tidbits. I especially liked his possible explanation for why some people (like me) have autosomal dominant compelling helioopthalmic outburst syndrome (aka ACHOO), which compels them to sneeze when they go outside on a sunny day or are exposed to bright light. This likely evolved to help clear molds and microbes from the airways of our ancestors as they exited their caves. Similar reasons are provided for lots of other disorders, diseases, and biological traits, indica ...more
The interconnectedness between disease and certain populations of individuals is extremely interesting and the writing in this book is very entertaining. However, I was bothered by the author's arrogance. It was almost distracting while reading -- the subtitle says it all..."A Medical Maverick Discovers...". "Medical Maverick" is a bold statement when really, the author did a bunch of research and none of his own experiments (or if he did, that wasn't clear from reading the book). And "discovere ...more
Apr 23, 2008 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This is a fascinating read. Reminds me of _Freakonomics_ in that both authors don't take "accepted wisdom" for granted. Instead, they investigate the situation with fresh eyes.

Moalem and his colleagues have found that many of the genes that make us prone to long-term illnesses ALSO protect us from deadly acute ones. For example, the gene that makes us prone to Alzheimer's also protects us from bubonic plague.

Moalem also address an issue that has long annoyed me about evolutionary biology. From w
Blake Hanley
Mar 04, 2016 Blake Hanley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. Hopefully this will help me with ap bio. As it talked about how evolution and natural selection worked. Like the people who survived in extreme cold conditions and that resulted in some people with a natural tendency to have diabetes descend from people from the younger dryas.
My favorite topic that he went over was chap 5 Of microbes and men. This explains how they came up with the rod of Asclepius. This also explained how the folklore of werewolves came about and how you c
Sep 20, 2009 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The thesis sounds interesting, but the author doesn't provide very many examples, and for those he does, the evidence is speculative at best.
Do people have diabetes today because it "may" have helped during the ice age?
Prove it.

While he tries to explain the past, he offers no ideas as to how things may change now that the ice age is over and plague is rare.

He cites his sources, but if you check them out, many turn out to be ordinary newspapers like US Today.
These are not valid sources of s
Oct 16, 2012 Trena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's common knowledge that the sickle cell anemia gene provides some protection against malaria (with only one copy of the gene you are less susceptible to malaria but don't suffer from the disease), but what about other diseases? Could they have stayed in the gene pool because they offer a benefit that outweighs the damage they do? Sharon Moalem answers this question in an intriguing way for a number of diseases, such as hemochromatosis (the plague), diabetes (the little Ice Age), and high chol ...more
Apr 05, 2009 Anita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical, non-fiction
Light, yet informative read covering the interrelationship between cells, germs, viruses, bacteria, genetics, and disease, and how we've evolved as humans with varied environmental sensitivities. Good coverage regarding how evolution works along with some clarification about general assumptions. Some cutting edge research is introduced as well as a gentle introduction to some of the ongoing debates in the scientific community. Fun, educational, and practical. I read this one quickly. For an over ...more
Jul 10, 2016 Elise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a great introduction to evolutionary thought, and offers a broad spectrum of interesting examples and applications of evolutionary disease and medicine. I would definitely recommend this book to a high school student, or to someone who has not studied biology before, but I didn't feel like I got a lot out of this book (other than some fun anecdotes and a couple things to research further) because of all the time I have spent studying evolutionary biology.
A fast, enjoyable science read exploring how conditions that manifest as disease may actually be adaptations to environmental conditions faced by our ancestors. It is hard to determine when the author is stating supported medical science or a wild speculative leap, because they're both presented in the same way. I did get annoyed when the author mis-identified certain bacteria (like cholera) as viruses (and vice versa) but I guess the editors don't necessarily catch everything.
Sanchita Mukherjee
Being a research fellow myself i was astonished by the simplicity by which the author has stated complex biological processes. The book is a must read for all the enthusiasts of not only biology but life. Huge information given as small interesting stories and i cant stop telling the facts to my friends and family. The knowledge I acquired from this book truly stays with me forever.
Oct 19, 2012 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was really fascinating and taught me a lot about the evolution of disease. Some really surprising mechanisms for the prevalence of what appear to be debilitating conditions. Except for a random divergence into the out-dated humans living in the water hypothesis, it was enrapturing!
Oct 05, 2011 Brooke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fantastic look into the evolution of humans in response to our environment. The writing was witty and informative, and not too full of scientific jargon, which made it fun and easy to read.
Ekaterina Gayetskaya
Extremely interesting introduction to the fascinating and strange world of epigenetics, basic enough for a science layman to understand.
May 27, 2008 Car rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting read, about why we need disease, and what role it played in our evoluation as human beings.
Nov 09, 2015 J.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting look at why hereditary diseases may have evolved. Very good read, presented in layman's terms. I enjoyed it a lot.
Aug 16, 2013 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Facsinating information. This is what we should have been learning in biology class!
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SWORD : Chapter 2: A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Temperature Go Down 76 25 Nov 05, 2012 12:14PM  
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Sharon Moalem MD, PhD, is an award winning neurogeneticist and evolutionary biologist. His work brings evolution, genetics, biology and medicine together to explain how the body works in new and fascinating ways. As a college student he was given as a gift to the King of Thailand to work in an orphanage for HIV positive children. Since then Dr. Moalem went on to cofound a biotech company and devel ...more
More about Sharon Moalem...

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“Why would you take a drug that is guaranteed to kill you in forty years? One reason, right? It's the only thing that will stop you dying tomorrow.” 10 likes
“By the way, the next time you get your cholesterol checked, make a note of the season. Because sunlight converts cholesterol to vitamin D, cholesterol levels can be higher in winter months, when we continue to make and eat cholesterol but there’s less sunlight available to convert it.” 4 likes
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