Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity (P.S.)

Joining the ranks of modern myth busters, Dr. Sharon Moalem turns our current understanding of illness on its head and challenges us to fundamentally change the way we think about our bodies, our health, and our relationship to just about every other living thing on earth. Through a fresh and engaging examination of our evolutionary history, Dr. Moalem reveals how many of the conditions that are diseases today actually gave our ancestors a leg up in the survival sweepstakes. But Survival of the Sickest doesn’t stop there. It goes on to demonstrate just how little modern medicine really understands about human health, and offers a new way of thinking that can help all of us live longer, healthier lives.

Dan Ariely on Survival of the Sickest
MIT professor Dan Ariely has become one of the leaders in the growing field of behavioral economics, and his bestselling book debut, Predictably Irrational, has brought his ideas–and his ingenious experiments and charming sense of humor–to a much wider audience. With the simplest of tests (often an auction or a quiz given under a few conditions) he shows again and again not only that we are wired to make irrational decisions in many situations, but that we do so in remarkably predictable ways.

I have always been puzzled by the way in which genetic diseases have managed to survive throughout the ages. How could it be that these diseases were able to withstand the evolutionary process, where only the most fit survive, and continue to be transferred from one generation to the next? Survival of the Sickest provides a thought provoking yet entertaining explanation to this puzzle.

In this insightful book Dr. Sharon Moalem demonstrates how conditions that are considered unhealthy (such as hemochromatosis, diabetes, and high cholesterol), or even deadly in extreme cases, might actually put their carriers at an advantage in combating other life-threatening illnesses. For example, he explains that hemochromatosis, a disease that, if left untreated, will kill you, may have actually been a defense against the deadliest pandemic in history–the bubonic plague during the 14th century. It turns out that this genetic mutation, which continues to be passed down through generations, actually helped spare many lives at one point.

Throughout the book, Dr. Moalem draws many connections between seemingly disparate subjects, such as the accidental invention of ice wine and cold diuresis, in order to illustrate the basic mechanisms of genetics and medicine in charming and intuitive ways. He skillfully interweaves his knowledge of history, genetics, and medicine not only as they relate to specific medical conditions but also in a way that addresses important challenges of modern society and our future evolution.

In the most general terms, Dr. Moalem’s description of the human body and its complexity left me in awe of how far we have come in our understanding of biology and medicine, while also being reminded that the road to understanding ourselves is still wide open with much more to learn in the decades, and even centuries, to come. It is a fantastic journey on which he leads us and Dr. Moalem is a kind, knowledgeable, humorous, and helpful guide.

 

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2 Responses to “Survival of the Sickest: The Surprising Connections Between Disease and Longevity (P.S.)”

  1. haley Says:

    Eye Opening You don’t need a degree in evolutionary biology to understand Survival of the Sickest. This book gives you a peak into how evolution can actually select for disease, and makes a compelling case for why and how understanding this can shape the way disease is treated in the future. It also explains some fascinating facts – like how some Americans are immune to HIV because they have a mutation and how a person can rust to death but be saved by giving blood. It’ll leave you thinking completely differently about your body, and – in some cases – like when it advises that you should take your sunglasses off for a few minutes when you get into the sun so that your eyes can “tell” your skin to be on guard against it, it’ll actually affect the way you act.

  2. Avid Reader Says:

    Captivating and provocative If you’re a fan of books like The Tipping Point and Freakonomics, I highly recommend Survival of the Sickest. It’s full of the same kinds of fascinating insights that make for great cocktail party conversation. As a parent, I was particularly fascinated by the chapter on how what you eat during pregnancy can influence the way your children (and even their children) metabolize their food. And as a health conscious person, you’ll get practical, actionable ideas on how to think about personalizing your diet based on your background.

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