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Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine's Greatest Mysteries

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,408 ratings  ·  182 reviews
Another fascinating foray into medical history from the author of The American Plague

In 1918, a world war was raging, and a lethal strain of influenza was circling the globe. In the midst of all this death, a bizarre disease appeared in Europe. Eventually known as encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, it would spread across the world, leaving millions dead or
Hardcover, 291 pages
Published March 2nd 2010 by Berkley (first published 2010)
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3.76  · 
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 ·  1,408 ratings  ·  182 reviews

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Nenia ✨ Queen of Literary Trash, Protector of Out-of-Print Gems, Khaleesi of Bodice Rippers, Mother of Smut, the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention ✨ Campbell

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Reading a book about a disease that makes people go to sleep and never wake up again is probably not the best bedtime reading, but when it comes to books, I often make bad choices. In case you couldn't tell from the title, ASLEEP is about the sleeping sickness, also known as encephalitis lethargica, literally Latin for "that thing that makes your brain swell and makes you sleepy." It's a disease that's mostly been swept under the rug and in
Feb 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people interested in epidemiology, history of disease
Shelves: science-medicine
I was disappointed in this book. I started it with high hopes, because the little I know about this "forgotten epidemic" indicated that it would make for fascinating reading. Encephalitis lethargica is now mostly remembered as a footnote in the history of Parkinson's Disease (described by Oliver Sachs in his book "Awakenings", but I was curious to know more about its orgin, its relation to the great Influenza Pandemic, and its sequelae. This book left me frustrated. It felt like the author was n ...more
Talulah Mankiller
Apr 22, 2010 rated it it was ok

So we all know that I like diseases, right? I mean, I don’t enjoy having them and if you had one I would be quite sad for you, but I like reading about them. Because I am a ghoul. I’ve tried to come up with other explanations for my fascination, but that’s it: the Mankiller is a ghoul. Plain and simple. End of story.

What with being a ghoul and all, Molly Caldwell Crosby’s Asleep: The Forgotten Epidemic that Remains One of Medicine’s Greatest Mysteries definitely appealed to me. Because it’s
Feb 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you're at all interested in diseases, epidemiology, or even just scientific narrative this book opens up an amazing world of a disease that changed the way modern science regards the human brain. But just as quickly, this disease disappeared into medical history. This book chronicles not only its world-wide spread from the battlefields of WWI to the streets of New York City, but also discusses the history of literature that might hold clues of prior occurrences of the disease. I loved this bo ...more
Oct 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
When I picked up this book ($1.75 at the library's used book sale!) I didn't pay attention to the fact that the author, Molly Caldwell Crosby, also wrote another book I read recently, The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History. That book was interesting, though not terribly well-written. When I realized it was the same author, I looked at the publication date, assuming Asleep must have been her first work. The writing style is terrible - extremely ...more
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a good review to the history of this encephelitis lethargica, commonly known as Sleeping Sickness. Terrible, horrific and rarely spoken about at all. All of us have heard repeatedly of the pandemic of Flu following WWI that killed millions, but so little of this aftermath pandemic. 1918 through the 1930's. And it in so many cases throughout the entire world seemed to shimmy into the same grooves as the economic Depression- and with so much misdiagnosis!

This covers other subjects of the
Peter Hayashi
Mar 15, 2010 rated it it was ok
I started with book with high hopes as the subject of the book is so fascinating and I have enjoyed a number of similar books. I was quite disappointed in this book however. My major complaint is that there was just a skimpiness of the story. There really was not much information about the epidemic and the disease in this book. Instead, we learn quite a bit (too much for my taste) about a couple of physicians, who studied the disorder and either set up or ran organizations that studied and treat ...more
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I unabashedly love medical history. I find the whole "finding a cure" and "discovering a treatment" some of the best stories of human achievement. It's wonderful to read about what the human mind can accomplish.

The best part about these books is they usually have happy endings.

"Polio was awful and horrible and everyone was dying or disabled. Then Salk created the vaccine. And they all lived happily ever after."

"People died from scratches from thorns and got infected and pus was everywhere. Then
Jan 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I happen to catch an interview on BookTV wherein this author and Rebecca Skloot were the guest “interviewees”. Came away from that experience with a desire to read the books written by these two young women. In the case of Ms. Skloot, her book is a best seller [“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”]. This one is not as popular a read I guess. Mores the pity. Ms. Crosby has managed to write a piece of non-fiction that reads very much like a novel.

The “Forgotten Epidemic” which is the subject ma
Janet Jay
This. Damn. Book. I've never been outright taunted like this with my desire to know something. Here, a sample variant of this repeats over and over through the book.

"Of course, all that would change when dr x met Sally Q. The form her illness took would puzzle some of the if the brightest scientists for years to come. ... Let me go back to the day to day lives of the doctors and oh did you know there was a thing called the Great Depression, let's discuss its causes and how each important doctor
Debbie "DJ"
Oct 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
I had never heard of this epidemic that occurred in the early 1900's. profound, scary, and still a mystery. A very interesting and historical read.
Daniela Celhay
Jul 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book and Awakenings should be read in tandem, Caldwell provides plenty of historical detail which can be tedious, instead of going directly to the point like Sack’s book: description of patient’s cases. Some historical tid-bits are good like J.P Morgan’s wife case.

The long-lasting impression on both books would be how a damaged brain either by illness or chemicals can produce such bizarre and frightening behavior.
Apr 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Such an interesting look at history and social issues: through the eyes of an epidemic
Sarah Beth
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
Asleep details the mysterious and alarming sleeping sickness that swept across the globe in the early twentieth century, and which still pops up in isolated cases today. Encepahlitis Lethargica kills 1/3 of its victims who never wake up, and permanently alters/led to the institutionalization of another third. Yet it remains a mystery, and a largely unknown one at that.

Unlike many dry non-fiction (I'm looking at you, The Emperor of All Maladies), this was an easy read. Part of that was due to the
Evanston Public  Library
When most people hear the term sleeping sickness, images of the tropics, Africa, and mosquitoes come to mind. But as Molly Crosby explains in her thoughtful and measured book, a mysterious outbreak of an infectious disease with confounding and terrifying symptoms was also dubbed sleeping sickness mainly because sufferers would fall ill and sleep or half-sleep for a little as a few days or for as much as many months. Many succumbed to the illness literally dying in their sleep. Others awoke in go ...more
Jul 21, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: finished
I really wanted to like this book. It's my type of subject, it's an interesting disease.... but I just felt so disappointed. There was a lot of writing that I could've done without, mostly detailed descriptions of the weather, the sounds, the smells, the sights, the history of NYC, etc. I just wanted the book to cut to the story. I also didn't realize that it was going to almost be more a book about neurology than the disease itself, focusing more on the doctors than the patients.

I'm still real
Alisa Kester
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and well-written book; my only quibble is that there was too much about the doctor's personal lives and not enough about the patients and the disease itself. The most interesting thing? As I'm reading the symptoms/after-effects of this disease, I'm getting more and more freaked out by how similar it sounds to....zombies. Yes, really! Other than the whole "eating your brains" thing, this book could be about zombies. And on page 186, there was actually this:

"...zombie films may well ha
Oct 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Be forewarned, this book is scarily real.

During the epidemic of the Spanish Flu, the Sleeping Sickness, or Encephalitis Lethargica, went virtually unnoticed though millions were affected. Even today there is little information on the sickness, and it left as quickly as it came. Fear still hangs in the air for those who know of this disease's existence; we don't know why it left, so it could easily come again before we know it, and then where would we be?

This book is a chilling recollection of th
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Want to know all about the mundane day-to-day business of New Yorkers in the early 20th century, including weather, traffic updates, fashion choices, and economics lessons? Cool, read this book. Want to know about Encephalitis lethargica? Read Oliver Sacks.
Michelle Henry
Feb 04, 2015 rated it liked it
interesting...well written..and used research from a scientist at ipfw!
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: curious-cases, ww1
Fascinating story of the sleeping sickness epidemic that followed on the heels of the 1918 pandemic flu. Well-written, well-researched, and very much worth the read.
Shhhhh Ahhhhh
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you're reading this, here is what you need to know. It is important that as many people as humanly possible know what's in this book to improve all of our chances of survival in the event of another Encephalitis Lethargica epidemic. This condition which typically starts with flu-like symptoms and a sore throat has no known treatment, has no identified viral cause, and our society has absolutely no plan for stopping it. Epidemics of this happen periodically. The sleeping sickness, as it is als ...more
Apr 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Molly Caldwell Crosby wrote the book Asleep which talks about encephalitis lethargica and how it was a forgotten epidemic. She talks about all the variations of the illness and how it leads to parkinson's among other things. The author talks about many different patients throught history of the disease and their different experiences with it, as well the different doctors who tried to treat these patients. It also brought up subjects like homes to keep the mentally crazed patients who had extrem ...more
Mar 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was an incredibly interesting history of the sleeping sickness epidemic. I wasn't sure how engaging a history of this disease would be, but the authors use of description kept the book from becoming too dry.

The book really feels like a snap-shot view of the disease and the scientists who spent their lives trying to overcome it. I'm not sure if that was to illustrate the fact of how little was know about the disease, or to try to keep the text engaging but it was incredibly interesting to d
Susana Pierce
Jan 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating dive into forgotten medical history, this book gives an overview of the (most recent?) epidemic of encephalitis lethargica though “case histories” that allow the reader to become acquainted with the important scientists who studied the disease, tho understand what is known about the disease itself, and to see it through the eyes of some of those who had it, imparting just a taste of the fear that those who experienced the disease may have felt. Well-written. A page-turner for those ...more
Oct 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have never heard of epidemic lethargica before, but thanks to this one, I now have an idea about this strange illness.

It's fascinating on how the author was able to unify all the records into a storyline. The storytelling is good because of the way it was written as well. an interesting theory to suggest too that even powerful leaders then such as adolf hitler may have had the disease, which affected the way he handled the crisis during world war.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is so full of fascinating information, presented by a skilled writer. And, too, I think it is more than just history, as it is not something that happened once, long ago, never to appear again and, at least to me, it has echoes of the current widespread occurrence of SEID (formerly ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia. Crosby brings it all to life with poignant, often heart-breaking stories of some who suffered the crippling effects of the mysterious epidemic encephalitis. An excellent read.
Oct 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I found this book fascinating. It made me wonder how many people were buried alive? I know that sounds gruesome but the author even says that one patient was pronounced dead 3 times and the patient was fully aware. Who knew J P Morgan's wife was a victim of this deadly disease. It's amazing that there isn't any remedy for this horrible disease that could pop up and claim any one of us at at any time!
Brian Sweeney
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating read, although there was a considerable amount of "filler" in my mind. This is probably because this mysterious disease is, well, a mystery and accordingly there is limited information. There was arguably too much context given for some parts of the story, but that being said, it was an interesting, quick read about a disease that were it to occur to day would be headline news all over the world.
I started listening to this at work, late this afternoon, and, so far, it's captivating. Very similar in style to The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History.
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Molly Crosby is a best-selling author and journalist. Her first book The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History was published in November 2006 by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin, USA. The New York Times hailed it as a “first-rate medical detective drama,” and Newsweek called it “gripping.” The book has been nominated for the Barnes & Noble ...more
“In the United States, the person who led the fight to reform treatment of the mentally ill and to develop asylums was Dorothea Dix. Often neglected in history, Dix was a nurse” 4 likes
“Women, it was believed, simply didn’t have the mind for science or medicine—in spite of the fact that Marie Curie had just become the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice.” 1 likes
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