A Molecule Away from Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain

Norton. Feb. 2022. 240p. ISBN 9781324002376. $25.95. SCI
As a cognitive neurologist, Peskin (Univ. of Pennsylvania) sees her role as connecting a patient’s narrative to “the molecules causing the problem.” In this first book, she tells the stories of patients (some her own, others from history) who have been upended by “mutants, rebels, invaders, and evaders”—molecules that hijack the brain and cause diseases that can lead to personality and movement disorders, hallucinations, seizures, memory loss, even death. These illnesses include Huntington’s disease, Pick’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, multiple neuritis, Alzheimer’s and early-onset Alzheimer’s, pellagra, and the now-extinct kuru. By exploring the molecular and genetic underpinnings of these diseases, researchers have been able to understand them far better and successfully treat some patients. More needs to be done, including improvements in diagnosis, but Peskin believes that advances are within reach, and that Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s can be prevented or even cured within our lifetimes.
VERDICT A captivating and convincing study that should bring hope and confidence to general readers as well as general practitioners, and to the millions living with neurodegenerative illness and their families. An exemplary work in the relatively new field of narrative medicine.
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