The Collectors of Lost Souls Turning Kuru Scientists into

The Collectors of Lost Souls Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen What a turn out by the end of the book If you are reading it haven't finished it but want to stop because you've understood everything about Kuru disease in Papua New Guinea do not This book is about the western scientists that investigated Kuru throughout the decades; and focuses on the life of Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who dedicates everything to these people You will learn everything about the disease throughout time how they discovered the mystery of Kuru and the relationships between the Western world and the Fore people I really enjoyed it because it is a combination of science anthropology and scientists' lives Interesting and insightful book Example of a Postcolonial work A full exploration of kuru and prion science from the 1950s to the modern day spanning a broad range in many senses Anderson does a great job writes well and his research is expansive However the book does flag in terms of pointedness though his parallel of exchange relations is clever and perhaps worthy of elaboration All in all a fine read though I wanted the fourth chapter is the most fascinating one a real magic for the Fore people This chapter also revealed a crucial step for the building of modern biomedicine the separation of human spirits from the specimen But the last chapter is unnecessary It makes the book look like a cheap novel This riveting account of medical detective work traces the story of kuru a fatal brain disease and the pioneering scientists who spent decades searching for its causeWhen whites first encountered the Fore people in the isolated highlands of colonial New Guinea during the 1940s and 1950s they found a people in the grip of a bizarre epidemic Women and children succumbed to muscle weakness uncontrollable tremors and lack of coordination until death inevitably supervened Facing extinction the Fore attributed their uniue and terrifying affliction to a particularly malign form of sorcery The Collectors of Lost Souls tells the story of the resilience of the Fore through this devastating plague their transformation into modern people and their compelling attraction for a throng of eccentric and adventurous scientists and anthropologistsBattling competing scientists and the colonial authorities the brilliant and troubled American doctor D Carleton Gajdusek determined that the cause of kuru was a new and mysterious agent of infection which he called a slow virus now called prions Anthropologists and epidemiologists soon realized that the Fore practice of eating their loved ones after death had spread the slow virus Though the Fore were never convinced Gajdusek received the Nobel Prize for his discoveryThe study of kuru opened up a completely new field of medical investigation challenging our understanding of the causes of disease But The Collectors of Lost Souls is far than a tantalizing case study of scientific research in the twentieth century It is a story of how a previously isolated people made contact with the world by engaging with its science rendering the boundary between primitive and modern completely permeable It tells us about the complex and often baffling interactions of researchers and their erstwhile subjects on the colonial frontier tracing their ambivalent exchanges passionate engagements confused estimates of value and moral ambiguities Above all it reveals the primitive foundations of modern scienceThis astonishing story links first contact encounters in New Guinea with laboratory experiments in Bethesda Maryland; sorcery with science; cannibalism with compassion; and slow viruses with infectious proteins reshaping our understanding of what it means to do science I wrote some thoughts about this book hereA compelling account of the decades long search for the cause of kuru disease among the Fore tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea once hypothesized as a slow virus but then eventually shown to be pathogenic protein fragments prions The cast of characters includes doctors biologists anthropologists epidemiologists geneticists colonial security agents the Fore themselves and a range of local field assistants All are drawn in and transformed by the kuru mystery some to great acclaim including a Nobel prize others to great shame and scandal and many to an abject death We see how social relations among the Fore and among scientists are defined and extended through networks of asymmetrical exchange Then we see how a few from each group are able to transect parallel exchange networks producing new hybrid identities and even social ineuality in the process I came into this book knowing something of prion diseases which are damned fascinating and expecting to learn about the science behind them Disappointingly for me the book largely focuses on the human interactions behind and during the discovery of Kuru think mad cow but for humans also acuired via cannibalism which would be interesting if it did not dwell so much on the details After a while the narrative just becomes tiresome repetetive and confusing and it's hard to keep track of who is whoI did enjoy the beginning several chapters which really explored the relationship between the Kuru scientists and the native Fore people of New Guinea and detailed the scientific political and international struggles in determining how to approach the study of a disease that followed no recognizable pattern It's a story too interesting to completely mess up which is why I gave it an extra star The problems with the book start with the title which is greatly deceptive The majority of this work documents in great detail the relations among US and Australian researchers related to kuru as told through their correspondence and reminiscences The perspectives of Fore people are much less central Further the author presents an obviously truncated version of the the Western researchers' motivations and emotional and physical experiences Finally the text lacks organization and focus and much of the theorizing which is presented separately doesn't bear up under close comparison to the narrative It was frustrating and disappointing to read

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