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Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
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Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  804 ratings  ·  62 reviews
In this brilliant and gripping medical detective story. Richard Rhodes follows virus hunters on three continents as they track the emergence of a deadly new brain disease that first kills cannibals in New Guinea, then cattle and young people in Britain and France—and that has already been traced to food animals in the United States. In a new afterword for the pap ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published May 22nd 1998 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1997)
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I recently finished a course on Coursera on Medical Neuroscience. It was an extremely difficult course for me because I really don't have a science background. On the other hand, it was fascinating. I took it because for a long time I've had an interest in books concerning the brain and its workings, most commonly Oliver Sacks. Now I'm finding that the course has made a difference in my appreciation of this type of book.

Prion diseases are not entirely new, but the name is. Prions are not a virus
Well, I'll still eat meat, but only because I think that everything is hopeless. This was a compelling, if somewhat terrifying, read that shows just how helpless we can be against diseases of unknown origin. Deadly Feasts does a great job of exploring the background of the Mad Cow epidemic in Britian, its similarities to other fatal brain diseases and the scientific controversies surrounding the disease and its origins. While the story remains wonderfully told, I can't help but wish for a sequel ...more
Prions are nightmarish little critters. They're not viruses, they're not bacteria- and they're sadly quite indestructible. They're like a Superhero gone wrong, with no Kryptonite that could destroy them. The fact that they do a number on the human brain is terrifying- the proven method of infection (ingestion via our food supply) is enough to make me side-eye every piece of food in my fridge.

Nicely paced with enough science to inform but not so much to bore the average reader- it's a nice primer
This was pretty good, well-researched, good info, and he writes really well, so it was fun to read, too, but if I'm remembering correctly, there was a lot of very current prion/BSE/etc. research towards the end of the book, and I'm wondering now how well the science holds up. Might at some point look into it.
Shirley Hines
I listened to this on cassett...if you can get through the first 15 minutes without throwing up, you have it made. Totally true and very interesting, medically sound. Not for the tender hearted, great if you like research. Would make a great horror film.
Rhodes tracks the entire history of TSEs (transmissable spongiform encephalopathies) through the researchers who studied and solved many of their puzzles. The outcome is accessible science, a clever mystery, international muckraking, and a warning. Everyone now knows of the political decisions which helped the spread of AIDs, particularly the failure to protect the blood supply in America and France. It shouldn't be surprising then, to learn how footdragging contributed to cases of TSEs in Ameri ...more
Eric Hines
A bit on the alarmist side, but a good read with lots of great information on the inner workings of big-time science and the discovery of an all-new type of communicable disease.
Clark Johnson
I didn't buy the whole epidemic thing. It was a little too dramatic and improbable, but none the less exciting--I still eat beef.
Jeanettedianne simkins
I loved this book. Very eye opening!
Martin Rose
I first picked this up nearly ten years ago and never finished it; but it left an impression so strong I became a vegetarian on the spot, before harder economic times forced me into a more paleolithic diet. I stuck with vegetarianism just shy of a decade. Irregardless, that was the impression it made on me then, and now that I picked it up once more and finished it, it was thoroughly enjoyable if you find the real-life horrors of disease interesting. At the time of publishing, youtube was barely ...more
Deadly Feasts opens up with an absolutely riveting account of the kuru disease devastating the cannibal Fore in New Guinea. Turns out kuru is a prion based Spongiform Encephalopathy (SE) disease spread by cannibalism.

Author then proceeds to methodically show how kuru is functionally the same thing as Mad Cow, and SE diseases found in sheep, mink, pigs etc. And the spread is functionally the same: cannibalism. The meat industry in an effort to save costs feeds vegetarian animals ground up meat/br
Autumn Storm
I had to read this book for my American Literature Class and personally, I wasn't impressed. Upon choosing the book, it sounded like it'd be a "good read", (see my pun there?) but it was not what it seemed. I expected an exciting and dark story of a new disease that didn't just state the science facts of it. However, that's exactly what it was. I thought it'd be interesting and tell stories about people who were effected by the disease but instead it just followed some scientists and their journ ...more
Of all things, this was recommended to be by the doctor doing my root canal as he looked so relaxed, listening to Jimmy Buffet and wearing his Hawaiian shirt.
It total contrast, this book made me sooooooo anxious! I followed the science, and it all made too much sense to me. In this time of mass production and unchecked, amoral capitalism, a book like this makes me Americans as Lemmings as we continue to consume such mass quantities of factory farmed meat!
I could consider this book a PSA about prion diseases - kuru, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE), Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, mad cow disease, scrapie (in sheep). Very scary, especially when you discover some herds of cows and sheep were being fed animals that had died from one of the TSEs. New regulations were eventually enacted.
Anthony M.
Informative and compelling. Learned that the Alzheimer's rise could actually be CJD. Learned how the food industry could be responsible. One in a million people per year are diagnosed with CJD and die soon after diagnosis. Like Alzheimer's, CJD is untreatable.
While somewhat dated (written in 1997), I found this book to be an accurate and detailed history of our knowledge of prion diseases. Since publication, we still do not know the exact cause, means of diagnosis or any treatment for the diseases that we did't know then, which wasn't much. Not to downplay the suffering of the poeople who have died in the UK's Mad Cow Disease disaster, it didn't turn into the horrific epidemic that the author envisioned. Since it was clearly published close the time ...more
Aug 15, 2008 Haengbok92 rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: beef eaters, people who like medical horror
SCARY! And wildly interesting. The book is trying to make a point, and it does it quite well, with vivid writing, clear scientific explanations, and a structure that explores each case and variation as the unfolding of a flower petal. Each individual section is frightening, and the ultimate bloom is terrifying. (okay, I've dragged this metaphor out a bit much)

In seriousness, I couldn't put this book down. I also really enjoyed how he boldly paints each scientist, and showing how their personalit
Bill Donhiser
Well written though a little tough to follow at times. It really makes you think about some of the practices in governments that are supposed to protect us and how politics can mess up medical decision making
A book about the epidemiology of mad cow disease and its relatives, I thought this read more like a page-turning detective story than a non-fiction science book. I thought it was interesting to see how the science evolved over the decades and continents, and how sometimes coincidences caused discoveries to be made. Also it was quite scary. I think I knew but had been trying to forget that mad cow disease has a long incubation period, and just because it isn't in the news much anymore doesn't mea ...more
Beverly Hollandbeck
Gruesome and powerful. Great non-fiction writing.
A bit alarmist, but a good history on the study of kuru, CJD, and the various animal spongiform encephalopathies. I thought it was an easy read (read it about a day), but then again, I just finished a Masters degree program studying human infectious diseases. The take home message I got: all your food could easily have been contaminated with infectious BSE (i.e. livestock-derived byproducts used to fertilize organic crops), incubation periods are long (~50 years), and there is no cure yet for pr ...more
This book chronicles the discovery of transmissible spongiform encephalopathy like kuru, CJK, and scrapie. It begins with cannibalistic practices in New Guinea and the work of Carleton Gajdusek. It then looks at how these diseases act and spread, particularly at the rendering plants where animal bodies are processed into high protein feed for beef and dairy cows. The book looks at the disease's action in Britain in the late 1990s. It shows that meat production is deadly and also warns of tissue ...more
Betsy Curlin
This book does an excellent job of introducing the reader to the world of prions and prion infections, Taking a historical approach and beginning with the emergence of kuru among the cannibalistic society of Papua/New Guinea, the author documents the struggle to find the infectious agent that causes this disease and other spongeform encephalopathies. It is a riveting journey that ultimately led to the understanding of how such diseases are transmitted, and to worldwide reform of livestock and pe ...more
This book is terrifying! And informative; it gives a nice overview/snapshot of something I hadn't thought much about in a while. It also got closer to making me vegetarian than even Fast Food Nation did (although Fast Food Nation made me want to vomit repeatedly). The author gives a concise timeline and background for CJD (aka mad cow disease, amongst other names) and leaves one with the horrifying conclusion that carnivores are one bite away from catching a lethal disease, and nobody's sure exa ...more
After The Hot Zone, the bar has been set for the deadly-real-viruses-that-could-wipe-us-all-out genre. And unfortunately, Deadly Feasts misses the mark. And I'm not sure it's the author's fault. I felt as though he wanted to get his facts completely in order and contain the fear mongering. Which is noble, but can also make for some dry reading. I appreciated his breakdown of the disease, but unless you're a chemist/biologist/virologist/etc. it made for some pretty technical reading in the middle ...more
Alex Rudder
This book was really remarkable, and if it IS actually a non-fiction book, god help us all. I would recommend this book to any one who is interested in real, life threatening biology, and to see how life does in fact always find a way. Maybe not always for the good, but it does find a way. It is able to come out from nothing, even when all is dead. This book had me hooked from beginning to end, and i had to read it over a few times just to make sure i want imagining or having a nightmare.
Maybe this is the world-ending crisis the Mayans forsaw? The ongoing investigations into and disagreements over the cause of transmissible spongiform encephalapathies was a bit of an eye-opener. I thought prions were facts..guess that shows what media bias can do. I gotta say I love beef. If vCJD is festering rampantly here, I could be the canary in the coal mine. Lovely thought. Come on you scientific types put on your thinking caps!
A page turner of a non-fiction book. This one was loaned to me by a coworker. It was of special significance to me because I was in England during that time frame and most certainly ate beef there. I wondered if somehow I could have gotten it. At least, now I know for sure I don't. The history of disease is fascinating and prions are one of the most terrifying disease agents known to man because of their indestructability.
Three and a half stars. Very readable. Fascinating topic ( " mad-cow" and the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies ). Thankfully no epidemic to date! Prompted me to pull several original articles to add to my Nightstand :). Looking forward to reading more by Richard Rhodes, an author I have missed until now.
Hindsight is always informative so difficult to be critical of what has not come to pass.
If you're interested in reading a science-y book I can't recommend this highly enough. It's interesting, it's accessible, and Richard Rhodes did really a wonderful job laying out the history of prion research and the whole "mad cow" thing in the UK. I may be a bit biased because I work on prions in the lab, but I really think just about anyone could enjoy this book, its written that well.
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Richard Lee Rhodes is an American journalist, historian, and author of both fiction and non-fiction (which he prefers to call "verity"), including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986), and most recently, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). He has been awarded grants from the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation a ...more
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