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The Forgetting: Alzheimer's: Portrait of an Epidemic
by David Shenk
ISBN 0385498373 / 9780385498371 / 0-385-49837-3
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First attracted to his subject by its horrific ability to destroy the human mind and body, journalist David Shenk ultimately finds reasons to accept Alzheimer's disease--and almost forgive it--in The Forgetting. Shenk describes his work as a biography, the life story of a biological outlaw that sends victims "on a slow but certain trajectory toward forgetting and death." But his illuminating portrait of this growing epidemic offers more than a basic chronology. Shenk begins with the disease's christening in 1906, when German physician Alois Alzheimer discovered mysterious tangles and plaques in the brain of a dead woman who in life had suffered severe memory loss and dementia. The tale unfolds to reveal a host of intriguing players: struggling scientists (the clever, the bullheaded, and the pharmaceutically endowed), politicians divided by opposing priorities, exhausted caregivers, and patients whose biological clocks virtually tick backward over an average eight-year period. It includes impossible twists: longer life expectancies and successful treatments for other diseases mean more cases of Alzheimer's will inevitably occur. Shenk's graceful synthesis of personal accounts (from Plato to Reagan) with a century-long search for answers and cures leads him to an impressive conclusion. Perhaps Alzheimer's disease is much like winter: "Once it is gone, we'll face less hardship, but we'll also have lost an important lens on life." --Liane Thomas [via]