Survival of the Sickest | Teen Ink

Survival of the Sickest

February 8, 2009
By Valerie Johnson BRONZE, Plano, Texas
Valerie Johnson BRONZE, Plano, Texas
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Survival of the Sickest Book Review

Survival of the Sickest, written by author Dr. Sharon Moalem, is a book discussing why evolution has not allowed for the destruction of certain diseases. He states that these deadly diseases, such as Anemia, Hemochromatosis, and High Cholesterol, are in fact tools that evolution used to help the human race survive. He explains how these diseases helped fight against more dangerous and life threatening sicknesses such as, Malaria, the Bubonic Plague, and Vitamin D deficiency related illnesses. The main idea of this book is a simple one. Evolution did not necessarily favor adaptations that made us better. Instead, it favored adaptations that helped us survive. Even if these adaptations would end up killing us in the long run.

This book is written in a very light-hearted and readable style. The author uses lower level vocabulary and humor to keep the reader engaged. He also uses very understandable examples to explain complex medical language. He talks the reader through genetics in a simple and slow writing technique that makes it easy to comprehend complex situations. He does not rush through topics or use high level vocabulary that could possibly confuse the reader and cause them to become disengaged in the book. Instead he thoroughly explains each topic in numerous styles so that all readers can understand what he is trying to tell them. An example of this simple and somewhat humorous explanation technique he uses can be found in the way he tells the reader about why humans have evolved to fend off diseases better than any other species. He says, 'Essentially, animals with a greater risk of being eaten evolve to live shorter lives'so it evolves to reach adulthood faster. At the same time there's never any real evolutionary pressure to evolve mechanisms to repair DNA errors that occur over time because most individuals in the species don't live long enough to experience those errors. You wouldn't buy an extended warranty on an iPod if you were only going to keep it for a week,' (Moalem 190). This keeps the reader interested in the book and eager to hear the next hypothesis he will come up with.

The subject matter itself is also an interesting and entertaining combination of fact and speculation. The author is not scared to go off on a limb and suggest seemingly unreasonable ideas and then quickly uses scientific facts to back up his speculation. For example he explains how the wood frog completely freezes itself in the winter in order to survive. In the spring it thaws out and returns to the normality of living. He uses this example to explain that one day cryogenic freezing could be an effective life sustaining tool. He also says that diabetes is caused from an ice age by the name of the Younger Dryads. As unbelievable as it sounds, he proves that it is a logical argument using scientific facts and research. He also takes the reader on a history lesson in order to explain why diseases helped the human race. The population today may not need Hemochromatosis to protect against the bubonic plague, but at one point in history, only those with this deadly disease survived the onslaught of the Black Death.

The simple writing style and lightness of the somewhat delicate topic makes this book a fantastic read that can be enjoyed by a range of people. Experts in the subject field of biogenetics and curious high school kids can both appreciate this book for what it is; and insightful, fascinating, fresh look at the world of biogenetics and what it can mean for you personally. I say personally because scientists have com to understand that, 'diseases are more prevalent in certain groups,' (Moalem 65). An example of this would be, 'European Americans are more likely to die of cancer and heart disease than Latino, Asian or Native Americans,' (Moalem 65-66). The author states that by knowing what you are at risk for, genetically, can help you fight off future diseases and complications. This book also presents the idea that by looking into the past we can determine a better future for humans and diseases. The book presents the idea that if we look at how bacteria and viruses spread we can force them to evolve so that they won't kill us in order to spread. This is an attention-grabbing theory that many people want to dig deeper into. I know that I personally wanted to find out more about the effects that we as humans can have on bacteria.

This book is a great beginner book if you are interested in Biogenetics and evolutionary genetics. It will help you understand some of the most groundbreaking theories and ideas in the science community today. It is an easy and interesting read that I have already suggested to many people. It helps you understand diseases, evolution and bacteria and will teach you how you can control these things. It is a book full of information that is applicable to anyone's daily life and is stocked full of a few laughs along the way.

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