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Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine

Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine

3.6 6
by Randolph M. Nesse, George C. Williams

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The answers are in this groundbreaking book by two founders of the emerging science of Darwinian medicine, who deftly synthesize the latest research on disorders ranging from allergies to Alzheimer's and from cancer to Huntington's chorea. Why We Get Sick compels readers to reexamine the age-old attitudes toward sickness. Line drawings.


The answers are in this groundbreaking book by two founders of the emerging science of Darwinian medicine, who deftly synthesize the latest research on disorders ranging from allergies to Alzheimer's and from cancer to Huntington's chorea. Why We Get Sick compels readers to reexamine the age-old attitudes toward sickness. Line drawings.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Nesse and Williams have written a lively discourse on the application of the principles of evolutionary biology to the dilemmas of modern medicine. Nesse, a physician and an associate professor of psychiatry, and Williams, a professor of ecology and evolution, provide a primer on Darwin's theory of natural selection. They explain that the functional design of organisms-e.g., our bodies-may suggest new ways of addressing illness. The book begins with a look at the causes of disease and their evolutionary influences. But the book mainly assesses the concept of adaptation by natural selection, and illustrates the ways Darwinian thinking can be applied to medical problems. As one example, the authors examine the use of penicillin over the past 60 years against bacterial infections. The book's quirky information may speak to a broad audience: researchers, for instance, have found that relatives of schizophrenics have an unusually high frequency of inclusion in Who's Who-which may counterbalance drawbacks of the disorder in evolutionary terms. The tendency toward child abuse, too, may be influenced, the authors say, by evolution and the passing on of genes. And there may well be an evolutionary reason to welcome morning sickness, they argue: nausea and food aversions during pregnancy apparently evolved to impose dietary restrictions on the mother so as to correspond with fetal vulnerability and, thereby, minimize fetal exposure to food toxins. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Offering new insights on the failure of evolution to eradicate disease, psychiatrist Nesse and ecologist Williams offer numerous suggestions on why certain seemingly negative traits have not been eliminated through natural selection. A brief discussion of the basics of evolution is provided, along with examples of how the theory of natural selection may relate to aging, cancer, allergies, and other diseases. One particularly intriguing chapter is devoted to the possibility of an evolutionary contribution to psychological disorders such as excessive anxiety or depression. Marc Lappe's recent Evolutionary Medicine: Rethinking the Origins of Disease (LJ 10/15/94) conveys a similar message on the increasing need to consider evolutionary principles in the treatment of disease. Both books are thought-provoking and worthy purchases, but librarians interested in a slightly less technical narrative may prefer Why We Get Sick.-Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.
William Beatty
Although they realize that evolution selects not for health but for reproductive success, the Darwinian physicians of Nesse and Williams' trope see the body as "a bundle of careful compromises." These Darwinians also see trouble-causing genes as those that combine good and bad features because they have not adapted completely from their Stone Age purposes to the diverse demands of today's environment and ways of living. Physicians should look for the evolutionary, not the proximate, causes of disease, Darwinians say. For example, the gene that causes sickle-cell anemia, which is most often seen in malaria-ridden areas, actually protects the individual who has it from malaria (and now, apart from in areas endangered by malaria, this gene is decreasing in frequency). When physicians look at allergy, cancer, even mental diseases, through Darwinian eyes they see and, Nesse and Williams say, will increasingly see medical problems in a new and thought-provoking light. "Why We Get Sick" deserves pondering by both physicians and laypersons.
From the Publisher
"By bringing the evolutionary vision systematically into one of the last unconquered provinces, Nesse and Williams have devised not only means for the improvement of medicine but fundamental new insights into the human condition."--Edward O. Wilson, Harvard University

"In moving the focus from 'how' to 'why' questions, Nesse and Williams introduce readers to a new way of thinking about illness, one that promises to be of increasing interest as...our culture turns toward evolutionary explanations for human predicaments."--Peter D. Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed

Meet the Author

Randolph M Nesse, M.D., is a practicing physcian and professor and associate chair for education and academic affairs in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School.

George C. Williams, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the State University at Stony Brook and editor of The Quarterly Review of Biology.

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Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Kathleen4 More than 1 year ago
Kathleen Mr. Virzi Enviromental I thoroughly enjoyed reading "Why We Get Sick" by Randolph M. Nesse, M.D, and George C. Williams, PH.D. Essentially the book goes over how evolution may be the reason for many of the genetic diseases and disorders known today, as well as how bacteria and viruses evolve. The main topics discussed in this book were genes, DNA, and evolution. I found this book to be incredibly informative and intriguing. This was definitely the perfect book choice for me, because I find evolution fascinating and how evolution can lead to adaptations that still exist today. I believe that the knowledge of evolution is key to understanding how and why our bodies work the way that they do. Another aspect about this book that I found interesting was that in the end the author related many mental disorders to evolution and how at some point, certain mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, sleep disorders, and even child abuse, may have been an advantage to many humans. I find it interesting how some adaptations at certain times in history could be so beneficial at that time, but other times, such as the present they can become burdens. I find evolution and genetics to be incredibly fascinating and I don't think I can ever learn enough about them and this book did a fantastic job at explaining the information in a way that was intriguing and interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys learning about genetics and evolution, as well as some of histories past illnesses and plagues and how they became so powerful. I give this book a thumbs up and a rating of 9 out of 10. It was well written, and even though it was packed with information it was easy and clear to understand. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it.
RG71 More than 1 year ago
Gives a whole new perspective on disease and nutrition. Very enlightening.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall this is an excellent book for anyone interested in why our bodies (in particular our immune system) does what is does in response viral and bacterial infectious disease. In addition the book also discusses mental illness. The book stands apart from other scientific text in that it looks at sickness in the light of evolution. It takes human evolutionary history (millions of years) into account to understand the ultimate cause of sickness and not just the proximate cause. The book will expand your level of thinking and teach you to think at a higher level when it comes to answering questions about why we even have disease and sickness. I also picked up some helpful pointers on how I can improve my health and take care of my body, although the main point of this book is Darwinian Medicine and not a guide on nutrition and wellness. I think this is a must read for anyone interested in medicine or health related field, especially immunology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Re: "God is real": If God created the universe, who then created God?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book goes out and says that evolution is real and indirectly says thats there is no one true God. I know there is and if you are a christian then i hope you never have to read this book