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Collectors of Lost Souls Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen

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ISBN-10: 0801890403

ISBN-13: 9780801890406

Edition: 2008

Authors: Warwick Anderson

List price: $27.95
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Description:

This riveting account of medical detective work traces the story of kuru, a fatal brain disease, and the pioneering scientists who spent decades searching for its cause. When whites first encountered the Fore people in the isolated highlands of colonial New Guinea during the 1940s and 1950s, they found a people in the grip of a bizarre epidemic. Women and children succumbed to muscle weakness, uncontrollable tremors, and lack of coordination, until death inevitably supervened. Facing extinction, the Fore attributed their unique and terrifying affliction to a particularly malign form of sorcery. The Collectors of Lost Souls tells the story of the resilience of the Fore through this devastating plague, their transformation into modern people, and their compelling attraction for a throng of eccentric and adventurous scientists and anthropologists. Battling competing scientists and the colonial authorities, the brilliant and troubled American doctor D. Carleton Gajdusek determined that the cause of kuru was a new and mysterious agent of infection, which he called a slow virus (now called prions). Anthropologists and epidemiologists soon realized that the Fore practice of eating their loved ones after death had spread the slow virus. Though the Fore were never convinced, Gajdusek received the Nobel Prize for his discovery. The study of kuru opened up a completely new field of medical investigation, challenging our understanding of the causes of disease. But The Collectors of Lost Souls is far more than a tantalizing case study of scientific research in the twentieth century. It is a story of how a previously isolated people made contact with the world by engaging with its science, rendering the boundary between primitive and modern completely permeable. It tells us about the complex and often baffling interactions of researchers and their erstwhile subjects on the colonial frontier, tracing their ambivalent exchanges, passionate engagements, confused estimates of value, and moral ambiguities. Above all, it reveals the "primitive" foundations of modern science. This astonishing story links first-contact encounters in New Guinea with laboratory experiments in Bethesda, Maryland; sorcery with science; cannibalism with compassion; and slow viruses with infectious proteins, reshaping our understanding of what it means to do science.
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Book details

List price: $27.95
Copyright year: 2008
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date: 10/6/2008
Binding: Hardcover
Pages: 352
Size: 6.25" wide x 9.25" long x 1.25" tall
Weight: 1.298
Language: English

For twenty years Warwick Anderson, medical doctor and historian of science, has been studying kuru, those who were infected by the disease, and the scientists who identified and investigated it. He is the author of Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine and Racial Hygiene in the Philippines and The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health, and Racial Destiny in Australia.

Introduction: The Disease Europeans Catch from Kuru
Stranger Relations
Portrait of the Scientist as a Young Man
A Contemptuous Tenderness
The Scientist and His Magic
Hearts of Darkness
Specimen Days
We Were Their People
Stumbling along the Tortuous Road
Conclusion: Denouement Was a Bit Difficult
Acknowledgments
List of Abbreviations
Notes
Bibliography
Index