A chilling and important look at the social contagions that threaten us.
Kravetz’s gripping narrative has the tension of a thriller, but the stories he shares are tragically real.
Strange Contagion is a deep dive into something very scary, but at the end, it is also about how we can catch hope and resilience and we can spread that even in the darkest of times.
Lee Daniel Kravetz has written a wise and searching book, bristling with restless intelligence. This is a lively, sweeping story. Though Strange Contagion starts with tragedy, it refuses to linger there, instead opening up into questions of community, resilience, and just what it is we owe to one another
This is a powerful book on something pervasive in our world while still mysterious. Mirroring builds cultures, generates social change and connects peoples. Yet it can take lives, many lives while leaving others untouched. The story that Lee Daniel Kravetz weaves here is lucid, profound and compassionate
Compelling and well-researched, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s exploration of why and how social contagions take hold makes fascinating reading. The answers may not be easy but, as he cogently argues, there is much to be gained in their pursuit.
Strange Contagion grabbed me right from the first page. It is social science that reads like a mystery, and the story it tells could not be more important or more timely how a group of teenagers, seemingly privileged and with everything in front of them, could fall prey to social influences and deadly impulses that spread through their community like a virus.
This is a marvelous account of why we catch the emotions and habits of the people around us—for better and for worse. It has big implications for workplaces, schools, and families. And it reads like a novel…only it isn’t fiction
Strange Contagion is the best and most fascinating book I’ve read on social contagions, and a must-read for every parent, teacher, leader, and policy maker who wants to promote the spread of helpful thoughts and actions, and mitigate against harmful ones.
Kravetz (coauthor of Supersurvivors) takes readers along on his six-year journey to discover why eight teenagers in Palo Alto, Calif., ended their own lives in the same manner. Rather than search for causes within the victims’ own short lives, Kravetz considers this cluster of similar suicides as a whole, asking how people consciously or unconsciously catch infectious ideas and behaviors. In conversations with behavioral experts, Kravetz considers how behaviors such as eating disorders, emotional burnout, hysteria, fear, violence, suicide, and even a bizarre case of impulsive uncontrollable laughter can become contagious and get transmitted throughout a community. One observation Kravetz makes is that “people unconsciously catch goals from one another” in ways that can reshape behavior. Solutions to the spread of these behaviors are frustratingly difficult to come by, in part because the possible cures contain their own problematic paradox: talking about infectious behaviors, even with the best of intentions, can perpetuate the contagion. Though the subject of Kravetz’s book may be emotionally disturbing for sensitive readers, the questions he asks are of vital importance. His bold conclusions—that Palo Alto’s particular contagion “is not going to stop” and that “each of us must watch out for one another, especially when we do not have the language to express our pain”—are sobering and potentially lifesaving. (July)
Strange Contagion seamlessly blends mystery and popular psychology to tell a story in which Silicon Valley becomes a hot zone of social transmission. Kravetz yokes the groundbreaking science of social contagions to a high-stakes scenario that’s at once unique and frighteningly familiar to all of us. A striking argument, and cogent warning, in the age of going viral. This tale is worth catching!
Lee Daniel Kravetz is one part journalist, one part sleuth, one part psychologist, and one part doting father on his masterful quest to comprehend an epidemic of teen suicide in Silicon Valley. He expects to get to the bottom of this strange contagion by asking the right questions of the right experts, but the research and opinions he unearths yield maddeningly contradictory insights. Deft in his analysis, ultimately Kravetz surrenders to the complexity of the human condition and reveals a profoundly simple truth supported by the growing field of positive psychology: the strongest antidote to this strange contagion is simply our ability to care deeply for each other and to learn to care for ourselves. If we dare to look in the mirror and accept what we see, Kravetz concludes, we are the solution we are looking for.
Yawning can be contagious. Suicide, too, as this intriguing book shows.A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Take bulimia, for instance. As journalist and psychologist Kravetz (co-author: Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success, 2014) writes, once bulimia was separated from anorexia and described in the psychological literature, the incidence of the disease grew and even spread to places where it had been unknown. Said the author who first wrote it up, "once it was described, and I take full responsibility for that…there was a common language for it." Now, it seems, psychologists are seeking a common language for epidemic suicide, the larger subject of Kravetz's look at how harmful memes spread and to which he was introduced when, soon after moving to Silicon Valley, he was on hand to record instances of children killing or harming themselves in patterns that suggest social contagion in all its varieties of "thought, behavior, or emotion." The author moves about in space and time to address this phenomenon, sometimes with a little definitional fuzziness ("if something as universal as economics can cue a social contagion like greed…"), eventually settling on the notion of primes, or cues "that unconsciously convince people to accept new thoughts, behaviors, and emotions." Such cues surround us, thanks to the pervasiveness of advertising and political argument, and while some of them may suggest to the unwary that killing oneself is a cool thing to do, they also suggest that we buy things, vote for people, and suchlike things in subconscious ways—ways that succeed, notes the author, when it seems as if they are ideas of our own, formed without outside influence. Kravetz's account is too first-personal at too many turns ("Beyond my journalist's penchant for analysis, I personally need to understand if there's a solution…"), but he has covered the bases well, raising provocative questions on whether social contagion can be contained in the way that we ward off leprosy and smallpox. A worthy, only occasionally clunky treatise on matters of urgent concern.