The Trembling Mountain: A Personal Account of Kuru, Cannibals, and Mad Cow Disease

Overview

Kuru, like Mad Cow disease, is caused by a rare, infectious crystal protein that invades and colonizes human cells, destroying the nervous system of its victims. There is no known cure. It flourished in one of the remotest places on earth, Papua New Guinea, among the Fore, a people living in the Stone Age, who until recently practiced ritual cannibalism, consuming the brains of their forebears during funerary feasts. Robert Klitzman helped establish the links between these rituals and kuru. What he discovered has...

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The Trembling Mountain: A Personal Account of Kuru, Cannibals, and Mad Cow Disease

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Overview

Kuru, like Mad Cow disease, is caused by a rare, infectious crystal protein that invades and colonizes human cells, destroying the nervous system of its victims. There is no known cure. It flourished in one of the remotest places on earth, Papua New Guinea, among the Fore, a people living in the Stone Age, who until recently practiced ritual cannibalism, consuming the brains of their forebears during funerary feasts. Robert Klitzman helped establish the links between these rituals and kuru. What he discovered has provided keys to understanding the mysterious Mad Cow Disease, which may become the world's next major epidemic. Robert Klitzman was 21 years old when he was invited by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Carleton Gajdusek, then at the National Institutes of Health, to conduct original research on kuru. Seizing the chance to travel to the other end of the world, Klitzman embarked on an adventure that would change his life.

"...examines the links between Kuru & Mad Cow Disease... written by a researcher who spent time among the Fore, one of the world's last Stone Age communities, & studied how their cannibalism was linked to the development of Kuru."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Between his undergraduate years at Princeton and medical school at Yale, Klitzman spent a year conducting basic epidemiological research in Papua, New Guinea. Here, as in his books covering his medical internship A Year-Long Night and psychiatric training In a House of Dreams and Glass, he presents an engaging autobiographical account of his experiences. Working for Nobel Prize-winner Physiology/Medicine, 1976 Carleton Gajdusek in 1981, Klitzman lived amid the Fore, a previously cannibalistic tribe in some of the most remote parts of the country. Their community had been devastated by kuru, a deadly and heartbreaking neurological disease, spread by the ritual consumption of deceased relatives including brain matter. Over the course of the narrative, the young Klitzman interviews stricken individuals, comes to grips with hugely divergent cultures and comes of age himself. What gives kuru additional and timely import, and makes it more than just an odd tropical malady, is that it appears to be closely related to Mad Cow disease. Despite the subtitle, however, the link between the two diseases, while very real, is not lingered over by Klitzman. But even stripped of the headlines, his scientific adventure story, although occasionally reflecting a nave and self-centered young man, is a briskly engaging and informative work. 75 photos. June
School Library Journal
YA-In 1981, Klitzman embarked on an NIH-sponsored research excursion to Papua New Guinea, to locate, interview, and compile pedigrees of Fore tribesmen suffering from Kuru, a disease of the brain. Traditionally, until it was outlawed in the 1970s, the Fore celebrated the deaths of their relatives by cooking and consuming them in roasted banana leaves. The closest blood relatives were given the most important body parts-pieces of brain. Klitzman had to determine if there was a connection to the spread of the disease. Language barriers and the natural mistrust of a white man complicated his mission. While not long on action, the book is important for young adult readers for several reasons. The author was only 21 when he made this arduous trip to the other side of the world. He was often on his own, dealing with difficult situations and people, sometimes with a youthful petulance that will be familiar to teens. Secondly, the Fore were one of the last "uncontaminated" Stone Age cultures in existence and the descriptions of their lifestyle, attitudes, and thought patterns are fascinating. Finally, Kuru, a form of bovine spongiform encephalitis, has taken on new importance in the face of Mad Cow Disease today. With the possibility that people in more sophisticated cultures may begin showing signs of the "trembling disease" as a result of infected beef, knowledge of this deadly affliction is important for tomorrow's adults.-Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., EPA Headquarters, Washington, DC
Booknews
The author was 21 years old when he was invited by a Nobel Prize- winning scientist at the National Institutes of Health to study the disease kuru in Papua New Guinea. His narrative, a combination medical mystery, travelogue, and personal coming-of-age story, takes readers into primordial rain forests to meet a Stone Age people whose practice of ritual cannibalism spread the disease among over half the population. What he discovered provided keys to understanding Mad Cow disease, which may become the world's next major epidemic. Includes b&w photos. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738206141
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2001
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr. Robert Klitzman, currently an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, is the author of Being Positive: The Lives of Men and Women with HIV, A Year-Long Night: Tales of A Medical Internship and In a House of Dreams and Glass: Becoming a Psychiatrist. He graduated from Princeton University and Yale Medical School, and has been a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in scientific journals and textbooks, as well as the New York Times and other publications. He has recieved numerous honors and awards, including a Burroughs Wellcome Fellowship (for Future Leaders in Psychiatry) from the American Psychiatric Association, an Aaron Diamond Foundation Fellowship, and a Picker/Commonwealth Scholar Award. He has also been a Fellow at Yaddo and MacDowell.

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