The Family That Couldn't Sleep: Unravelling A Venetian Medical Mystery (Paperback)
  • The Family That Couldn't Sleep: Unravelling A Venetian Medical Mystery (Paperback)
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The Family That Couldn't Sleep: Unravelling A Venetian Medical Mystery (Paperback)

(author)
£8.99
Paperback 336 Pages
Published: 01/05/2008

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The first symptoms begin after just a few sleepless nights, with shaking, sweating and overwhelming anxiety. They end only after months of agonising open-eyed deterioration when the victim finally falls into a coma-like state of exhaustion and then dies. Fatal Familial Insomnia is a rare, inherited disease that has afflicted one noble Venetian family for centuries, striking at random and passing from generation to generation like a deadly dynastic curse. The cause? A rogue protein called a prion, which is impossible to destroy and is also responsible for Mad Cow Disease and scrapie in sheep. In this groundbreaking work of scientific detection, D. T. Max pins down this most mutable and maddening of enemies and tells a story that is at once enlightening and spell-binding.

Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 9781846270901
Number of pages: 336
Weight: 320 g
Dimensions: 198 x 130 x 26 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS

A devastating look at the politics of scientific research and a withering condemnation of British farming methods, this is one of the books of the year - Scotland on Sunday

Brilliantly disturbing - Arena

One of the best works of pop-sci of the past decade. Unless you have nerves of steel, just don't eat beef or lamb while you are reading it.... This is the fascinating and moving story of how medical researchers, doctors, veterinarians and anthropologists began to piece together the mystery of what causes prions to mutate and the mechanisms by which prion diseases are spread... Max pulls off the seemingly impossible by bringing these non-living proteins and their ability to wreak havoc on animal and human population vividly to life. He is a terrific storyteller and has the rare knack of making complex and cutting edge science accessible. You don't have to know anything about prions or disease or science to be drawn helplessly into this book, so beautifully does Max give shape to his material. And though the subject matter may, at first, seem gloomy or even prurient, Max's admiration for the creativity and persistence of the scientific detectives who daily grind away in labs across the world inching prion research forward, despite all the politicking, egomania, careerism and lost opportunity of all human endeavour, simply adds to the sense of wonder that so much has been discovered, so quickly. - Melanie McGrath, Evening Standard

What begins as gothic horror smoothly mutates into a compelling medical detective story as Max charts the struggles of competing scientists - an engaging and important debut - Sunday Telegraph

A devastating look at the politics of scientific research and a withering condemnation of British farming methods, this is one of the books of the year... astonishing. - Marc Lambert, Scotland on Sunday

As with all good popular science writing, it's a story chock-full of incident and colour, throwing up memorable characters, including... a tribe of Papuans who snack on each other when times get tough. - Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

Although the BSE/CJD story is now well known, Max's skilful blend of history, science, and human interest shows it in a fascinating new light. - BBC Focus

Max skilfully weaves a trail which traverses the globe over more than two centuries. Moving seamlessly between Casanova's Italy, the sheep farms of Georgian England and the rainforests of post-war Papua New Guinea, he expertly draws together the diverse threads of this absorbing scientific puzzle towards the alarming and controversial discoveries still being made in laboratories here and in the US. 'What begins as gothic horror, however, smoothly mutates into a compelling medical detective story as Max charts the struggles of competing scientists... Although the biological details are complex and the personalities involved often at loggerheads, Max guides readers through this scientific odyssey with not only great clarity and authority but also with tenderness, for he suffers himself from a related neurological condition. In this engaging and important debut book, Max describes the tortuous pursuit of the prion disease mystery as a 'study in frustrations'. - Wendy Moore, Sunday Telegraph

Remarkable... captures possibly better than any other the fascination of truly original scientific research while bringing into focus one of the major intellectual challenges of our times. - James Le Fanu, Literary Review

The material is sensational but this is a serious, lucid and intelligent explication and one that is frequently disquieting. - Observer

The Family That Couldn't Sleep is a riveting detective story that plumbs one of the deepest mysteries of biology. The story takes the reader from the torments of an Italian family cursed with sleeplessness to the mad cows of England (and, now, America), following an unlikely trial of misfolded proteins. D.T. Max unfolds his absorbing narrative with rare grace and makes the science sing. - Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma

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