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Why We Get Sick Paperback – 1 May 1996


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Product details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Books Ed edition (1 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679746749
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679746744
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.7 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 43,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Why, in a body of such exquisite design, are there a thousand flaws and frailties that make us vulnerable to disease? Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on 2 Sep 2007
Format: Paperback
"If you are starving in a rain forest, eat the camouflaged frog that is hidden in the vegetation, not the bright one sitting resplendent on a nearby branch."

At first glance, this quote from WHY WE GET SICK wouldn't seem to be relevant to the topic. But since the hypothesis of the book is that evolution and natural selection govern the senescence of aging and the physiological responses to diseases and mortally competitive environments, the fact that the gaudier frog has evolved with potent internal poisons that (should) signal "danger" to any potential predator makes the connection vis-a-vis both the amphibian's toxin and the starving hiker whose internal defense mechanisms may at least cause vomiting and diarrhea if frog's legs make it onto the dinner menu.

As authors Randolph Nesse and George Williams summarize:

"First, there are genes that make us vulnerable to disease ... Most deleterious genetic effects ... are actively maintained by selection because they have unappreciated benefits that outweigh their costs ... Second, disease results from exposure to novel factors that were not present in the environment in which we evolved ... Third, disease results from design compromises, such as upright posture with its associated back problems ... Fourth, ... natural selection ... works just as hard for pathogens trying to eat us and the organisms we want to eat. In conflicts with these organisms, as in baseball, you can't win 'em all. Finally, disease results from unfortunate historical legacies ... the human body must function well, with no chance to go back and start afresh ... Susceptibility to disease ... cannot be eliminated by any duration of natural selection, for it is the very power of natural selection that created them.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Sep 1996
Format: Paperback
This book is about the exciting field of Darwinian medicine.
In this book the authors describe why (and not how) we
suffer from various diseases. Looking at diseases from an
evolutionary viewpoint gives us tremendous insight and
offers innovative ideas for treatment and prevention.
Though I tend to treat radical new ideas with skepticism, I
found most of the arguments in this book very convincing.
Apart from being ingenious, this book is also very
entertaining and easy to read.
In my opinion this is the science 'Book of the decade'
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 May 1998
Format: Paperback
As a bright artistic type who is basically scientifically illiterate, I often find myself unable to get through more than a third of my organic chemist husband's science books. Why We Get Sick is written for both the scientist and those who are just plain interested in knowing about things, i.e. people like me. Like all theories, what is presented here could be flawed. However the authors present a very intriguing point of view about health and the human body. Well worth tripping over a few unfamiliar words.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark Stipanovsky TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 May 2012
Format: Paperback
"Buy two copies and give one to your Doctor." Richard Dawkins...

There's not really much more I can say if Richard Dawkins wants to give a copy to our Doctors.

This is a very interesting book and may help us understand why we get sick and lists 6 different issues:
1. Defences
2. Infection
3. Novel environments
4. Genes
5. Design compromises
6. Evolutionary legacies

If this interests you then I suggest read some of the other more in depth reviews or even buy the book...

What I enjoyed about this book is the common sense approach - even when being very scientific the authors have a lovely way of telling a story.

"A caveat is necessary. Doctors and patients, like all other people, are prone to extend theories too far..."

It has great chapters on lots of different subjects and reads like a story like I mentioned earlier and this for me is why the book is so good - its readable unlike for example many research papers on the same subject...

Like all the books I recommend, don't take it too seriously, learn from it and move on. It is one perspective on a multi- faceted terminal condition we call human life...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's impossible for me to understand how people can deny evolution when it explains so much! Once you understand biology, you know evolution is a fact of life. This book explains another aspect of biology we often don't like to be victims of... illness. However, that too is a product of evolution and has reasons for its existence. Enlightening stuff, and very informative.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 9 July 2009
Format: Paperback
This is by any standard a very important book. It stresses the impact which evolutionary biology should have on medical progress. It challenges head-on long ingrained medical treatments of symptoms, which in fact are a part of the body's defenses against illnesses.
It explains the beneficial effects, among others, of fever, vomiting, low iron levels, pain, cough, diarrhea, fear, anxiety or panic.

The basis of the book is Darwin's theory of natural selection which explains the functional design of all organisms. Natural selection involves no plan, no goal, no direction, only `selfish genes' (R. Dawkins). Survival of the latter depends on their reproductive success, not on perfect design, health or (sexual) satisfaction. The role of chance ensures that the future course of evolution is unpredictable.

The authors see six categories of evolutionary explanations of diseases: defenses (ex. fever, emotions); infections (ex. by bacteria); novel environments (ex. artificial light, agriculture instead of hunting-gathering); genes (ex. mutations); design compromises (ex. walking upright predisposes man to back problems); evolutionary legacies (ex. food passes through a tube in front of our windpipe).
The book contains also a serious warning: New breeds of disease-resistant plants should be treated very cautiously.

Why has, until now, the medical profession not taken advantage of the help from evolutionary biology? Opposition to the idea of evolution (ex. by religion) has minimized in general education the impact of Darwin's contribution to the understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.

This book is a must read for all those who want to understand who we really are and how and why we live.
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