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

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4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  4,030 ratings  ·  435 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
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Hardcover, 267 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by William Morrow & Company (first published 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Katherine
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
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Chris Keefe
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
...more
Muhammed Hebala
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
...more
Thomas
Jul 09, 2009 Thomas rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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Travis
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
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Kevin Denham
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
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Chris
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
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Mark
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
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Nina
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
Chris
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 known...so 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!
Erin
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
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
Natasha
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
Laura
"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
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Laura
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
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James
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
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Trena
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
Anita
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
Deniz
Honestly... this book has helped me understand evolution more in-depth than how I would have originally understood it as.
Moalem was genius in being able to paint the right image/example in the reader's mind and form analogies that actually made sense.
He also was able to get the message that not all bad things are necessarily bad (and that they once helped our ancestors survive) across. For example, never would I have thought on my own that something like diabetes was once beneficial to survival
...more
Cat Schaeffer

The core subject of this book is showing and explaining the connections between diseases, how they can extend a person’s lifetime, and other factors they helped our ancestors with by examining our genetics and evolutionary history. This book turns everything you know about illnesses, genetic diseases, and current medical knowledge up onto it’s side, and challenges everything we thought we knew.

The first disease Dr. Moalem begins with is hemochromatosis and how people affiliated with the diseas
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Batsheva
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.
Ria
An absolutely fascinating book dealing with many aspects of life and mankind.
Topics covered include why do diseases exist? Do they have any benefit at all to us? The explanation of why humans have to die, how environment can play a part in disease, health and our bodies reactions to certain environmental changes, how plants, fruit, veg can have good and also bad reactions to the human body, birth, how DNA and genes work.
All this is peppered with information of actual historical events and also s
...more
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.
Sara
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!
Brooke
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.
Car
This is an interesting read, about why we need disease, and what role it played in our evoluation as human beings.
Joshua
The premise of this book is that diseases have evolved over time to lend humans some resistance to other debilitating situations, like malaria and starvation. The arguments are interesting even if they are mostly unproven (and likely unprovable).
The book is good overall, but I take huge exception with one particular thing: the author's use of such an unfounded and easily disproven argument as the Aquatic Ape hypothesis to end her story. Anyone reading this story should be highly skeptical of th
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A
A showcase of wonderful, amazing, and terrifying things in the fields of disease and biology. Although the overall theme that certain diseases were beneficial at points in history may be a stretch to believe at times given the somewhat but not really related evidence, it is still very interesting and plausible (albeit not scientifically rigorous). This read will leave you with facts about nature that will leave you still amazed years after you've read it. It may even give you compelling reason t ...more
Katie
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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  • Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service
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  • Bitten: True Medical Stories of Bites and Stings
  • Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues
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  • Killer Germs: Microbes and Diseases That Threaten Humanity
  • Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking
  • The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria
  • Viruses, Plagues and History
  • Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health
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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
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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.” 8 likes
“far as to say that white-skinned people are actually black-skinned mutants who lost the ability to produce significant amounts of eumelanin. Redheads, with their characteristic milky white skin and freckles, may be a further mutation along the same lines. In order to survive in places with infrequent and weak sunlight, such as in parts of the U.K., they may have evolved in a way that almost completely knocked out their body’s ability to produce eumelanin, the brown or black pigment.” 1 likes
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