The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness (Paperback)Suzanne O'Sullivan (author)
This fascinating book from an award-winning neurologist explores some of the most mysterious psychosomatic illnesses that have broken out in specific communities around the world, testing the boundaries of scientific understanding.
Shortlisted for the Royal Society Prize 2021
In Sweden, refugee children fall asleep for months and years at a time. In upstate New York, high school students develop contagious seizures. In the US Embassy in Cuba, employees complain of headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises in the night.
These disparate cases are some of the most remarkable diagnostic mysteries of the twenty-first century, as both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain them within the boundaries of medical science and - more crucially - to treat them. What unites them is that they are all examples of a particular type of psychosomatic illness: medical disorders that are influenced as much by the idiosyncratic aspects of individual cultures as they are by human biology.
Inspired by a poignant encounter with the sleeping refugee children of Sweden, Wellcome Prize-winning neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan travels the world to visit other communities who have also been subject to outbreaks of so-called 'mystery' illnesses.
From a derelict post-Soviet mining town in Kazakhstan, to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua via an oil town in Texas, to the heart of the Maria Mountains in Colombia, O'Sullivan hears remarkable stories from a fascinating array of people, and attempts to unravel their complex meaning while asking the question: who gets to define what is and what isn't an illness?
Reminiscent of the work of Oliver Sacks, Stephen Grosz and Henry Marsh, The Sleeping Beauties is a moving and unforgettable scientific investigation with a very human face.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Number of pages: 336
Weight: 241 g
Dimensions: 195 x 130 x 22 mm
'One of the most intriguing and provocative books of the year' - Ian Sample, Guardian
'To compare any book to a Sacks is unfair, but this one lives up to it. Not because it is alluringly freakish, but because it is so compassionate, and so driven by deep curiosity about the human psyche. I finished it feeling thrillingly unsettled, and wishing there was more' - James McConnachie, Sunday Times
'O'Sullivan doesn't offer easy answers. She just shows us, with wonderful compassion and the minimum of judgment, the ways in which people across the world have manifested symptoms that have helped them through - or beyond - painful situations... It is, in every sense, mind-blowing' - Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph
'O'Sullivan travels the world collecting fascinating stories of culture-bound syndromes, which she relays with nuance and sensitivity.- Alice Robb, New Statesman
'A bracing read, a little like a cold shower on a hot summer's day' - Marcus Berkmann, Daily Mail
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“A fascinating read!”
'The Sleeping Beauties' is a fascinating and empathetic exploration of psychosomatic disorders, or 'functional' neurological diseases. This book looks at several "mystery" illnesses from... More
“A Fine Line”
This is a well written exploration of a contoversial area of medicine, in which, O'Sullivan uses modern theories of neuropsychology to to push back against those who believe in conspiracies or fakery. She... More
“A wonderfully written text about an unfortunately heavily consequential but also taboo set of disorders.”
I had heard of passing references to mass hysteria and resignation syndrome before reading The Sleeping Beauties, and unfortunately due to the inflammatory nature in which I had heard of these things, had a little... More
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