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

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  6,267 ratings  ·  589 reviews
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?

Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and chall
Hardcover, 267 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by William Morrow (first published 2007)
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4.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,267 ratings  ·  589 reviews

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Aug 29, 2010 rated it did not like it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Oct 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, my-library
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
Sep 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 08, 2009 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 rated it really liked it
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
Kevin Denham
May 06, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 17, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sep 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This was the most interesting book I've read in a long time. I liked the breezy style- kind of 'popular science' approach. Covered a wide variety of diseases & conditions and the genetic & environmental reasons they have remained in the human gene pool. Background on how much of the human make-up is really not human at all but largely viruses in a symbiotic relationship was creepy but interesting. Very cool book.
Read again in '08 for f2f discussion group.
Jul 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
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 rated it it was amazing
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!
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biology, health, 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!
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The primary purpose of Moalem's work is to explore our physiology and its relationship to the world around us; its overarching message? Never to stop questioning.

This is a noble message, and one that we must all take to heart in everything that we do. Sadly, it is also something that the reader must keep in mind, almost at every turn, while reading the book itself. Moalem's lack of transparency regarding the factual emptiness of his ambitious conjectures is staggering. Only in the last chapter d
Dominic Carlin
Mar 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
Look, you don't need to read much of this to say it's crap. The writing is crap and the end of every section/chapter seems to sign off with a pithy comment. The author has 'Dr' in front of their name on the front cover, which should have raised alarm bells long ago. And the science/medicine is speculative at best. This could have been a half-decent New Scientist article, it didn't need much more than that.

-Dr Baby Hamster PhD
Sanah Shabbir
This was an very interesting read that basically delved into why disease is good for the human race and the changes in science that affect our daily lives. As a science nerd, I was all over this and learned so many new things related to my specific health interests, especially with diseases that I had never heard of. A little wordy or slow at times, but an informative, engaging read.
This book was EXCELLENT!

Despite being written in 2007, this book is as up to date as any book about evolution. In fact, it's even better than his 2014 book Inheritance. If you are tired of reading books that work very hard to preserve the image of the selfish gene and are looking for a book that celebrates the newer information researchers have gained since the 1970s, I highly recommend reading this. Geneticist Sharon Moalem examines the role that jumping genes, parasites and viruses, and epige
S Prakash
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 rated it liked it
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
May 08, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Nov 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 08, 2016 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.
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
BEST. BOOK. EVER. One fascinating page after another crammed with explanations for all kinds of stuff that goes on in a person's body. He started right out by answering a question I've wondered about for years, and got bonus points for telling me my own wild guess was correct. He got to the childbirth part and I thought, oh, great, here's where the whole book goes splat -- BUT HE HAS NOT ONLY READ ELAINE MORGAN, HE GETS THAT SHE IS RIGHT! If only this book had been twice as long!
Jan 05, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jul 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
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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
“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
“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.” 5 likes
More quotes…