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The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen Hardcover – 6 Oct 2008

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[A] magisterial account... Anderson's compelling study captures the texture of 20th-century medical fieldwork and provides insight into the social dynamics and ethical realities of globalized science and medicine. The Collector of Lost Souls persuades us that these things really happened and shows us why they matter.

(M. Susan Lindee Science)

For a lay reader it is an extraordinarily rich story about how, in the 20th century, the idea of otherness changed so profoundly. Too fast, in some instances, for researchers to catch up and understand that it was no longer acceptable to see the world―and its people―as an open adventure park for scientific exploration.

(The Australian)

This is not a textbook; the scientific, sociological or administrative accounts are readily available elsewhere. It is a saga of proportions seen before in tales such as Jonah and the Whale, or the magical mystery of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Yet the kuru story is true and this book about it demands to be read from the beginning to the end.

(Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health)

Distinguished by captivating storytelling and a historiographically rigorous account of the events. Lost Souls is not only enjoyable for any interested layman, but it also provides a thoroughly researched account of a remarkable scientific adventure that spans four decades.

(Nature Neuroscience)

Anderson has masterfully captured the complex, exotic and often extraordinary nature of this inquiry and the idiosyncrasies of a key scientist... This is a significant book.

(Annette Beasley Oceania)

Warwick Anderson in The Collectors of Lost Souls offers his readers a profound and historically-nuanced account of kuru as a force in shaping modernity.

(Historical Records of Australian Science)

This magisterial work―part history of medicine, part anthropology, and part biography of a protagonist whose scientific and personal adventures rival those of the roguish and tragic characters in Twain, Melville, and Conrad―is also a moral fable about the scientists and the New Guinea Highlanders who contributed to the research that provided a global understanding of human and animal pathology.

(Shirley Lindenbaum, Graduate Center, City University of New York)

This is a book of insights into individuals and research. And what individuals and research they are! The individuals are petty, noble, and brilliant; they soar and fall and secure two Nobel Prizes. The research reveals a new class of disease and illuminates questions at the very basis of biology―how things replicate. And the Fore of Papua New Guinea, who suffered first and most, remain on the margins of the world's economy―and consciousness.

(Hank Nelson, Australian National University)

Anderson brings historical and anthropological sensibilities to the story of kuru while teasing out the moral and market economies that figured in untangling the causes of the disease. The principal characters come to life―both the scientists, especially Carleton Gajdusek, who won a Nobel Prize, and the native Fore, who merit the standing of collaborators. A compelling and fascinating book.

(Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University)

This fine book collects all sorts of interlocked souls―including those of anthropologists, science and medicine studies scholars, epidemiologists, postcolonial thinkers, Pacific Island peoples and nations, mystery buffs, and just plain readers who love a beautifully written, deeply felt book. Anderson brings together a lifetime of study of the history of tropical medicine to track the story of kuru and its many actors. In a voice at once deeply personal and vulnerable as well as rich with decades of research and reflection, Anderson tells the reader about differently situated Fore people in Highland Papua New Guinea, obstreperous and heterodox foreign scientists and adventurers who fit nowhere and travel everywhere, and molecules and tissues that won't stably declare their identity and so lock down the identities of those who live and die within their fierce material grip. I read from cover to cover in one long gulp and wish the same satisfying draft on my colleagues and friends.

(Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet)

Anderson’s book is a valuable and sometimes provocative contribution to the study of science and medicine in colonial and post-colonial contexts. He shows how the relationships between scientific researchers and their 'tribal' research subjects have changed in the past 50 years. Modern bioethics has constructed welcome limits to research activities in this regard, but these limits are often defined purely from the perspective of the western world. Anderson gives an eloquent voice to other concepts and shows that truly global bioethics still face many challenges.

(Bulletin of the World Health Organization)

Especially valuable to the field for what it demonstrates about the possibility of writing a compelling narrative about postcolonial and postmodern complexity in a way that is both straightforward and engaging. It should be read as a venerable model for how to bring the insights of science studies to a broader audience.

(East Asian Science, Technology and Society:An International Journal)

A strikingly original and exciting work, imaginatively conceived, meticulously researched, and powerfully argued. It deserves to be widely read.

(Dane Kennedy Social History of Medicine)

An outstanding book that is must reading for anyone interested in the history of medical science. It will help place in perspective the broad influence, the triumph, and the ultimate tragedy of the life of Nobel Laureate D. Carleton Gajdusek.

(Journal of Child Neurology)

This book is a fascinating read of interest to all historians and (hopefully) scientists, and draws on Anderson's wide ranging interests in the practice of medicine in a colonial context.

(Jasmina Brankovich Health and History)

Very much about possession, The Collectors of Lost Souls should be possessed by everyone and its powers to possess let loose. This is the witchcraft of history at its best.

(Roger Cooter Isis)

Heavily inflected by anthropological method and narrative style, Anderson’s account of Gajdusek’s career is captivating. This master historian of medicine has taken his expertise into the field with great success.

(Journal of the History of Behavioral Sciences)

Essential reading for those concerned with science studies and biomedical ethics.

(Annals of Science)

Who should read Collectors? Many. Transactions and translations; issues of obligation and engagement; of power, respect and autonomy arise regularly and in many contexts, not only in development settings. Undergraduate students will be struck by the dependence of the high-tech of contemporary science on fragile personal relationships. Apprentice historians can learn much from Anderson’s narration of a story where the voices are many and the issues grave. Especially in relation to Gajdusek, I find his stance exemplary. He is chronicler, not biographer; he avoids the temptation to interpret, speak for, reduce to, explain away; he accords Gajdusek both the majesty of his achievement and the dignity of his tragedy.

(British Journal for the History of Science)

Anderson has created that rare thing: an academic page turner.

(Alice Street Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland)

Anderson has written an admirably readable book that weaves together bio-prospecting, cannibalism, colonialism, and globalization and remarkably manages to put the complexity of human relationships at the very center of the story.

(Pauline Kusiak East Asian Science, Technology and Society: and International Journal)

An excellent, even superb, volume, which combines great scholarly vigor with a well-told story on a fascinating and important topic. A highly 'teachable' book, it will also be of interest to anyone studying the Pacific who is interested in learning more about kuru and/or the history of medicine.

(Bulletin of the Pacific Circle)

Far from offering a rational, detached, absolute way of approaching the world of objects and people, in Anderson’s treatment science―and particularly scientific exchange―is as shot through with venality, avarice, outsized appetites and complicated entanglements as other human interactions. In his meticulous and multi-layered study, Anderson does an excellent job of negotiating the thin line between titillating details and scholarly analysis

(IEEE Technology and Society Magazine)

How kuru came to the attention of Western scientists is the story that Warwick Anderson’s stunning The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen. Anderson’s book, which deliberately forces readers to reimagine the meaning of scientific discovery, colonialism, and sorcery, situates its global narrative around sources found in archives in Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the United States and further develops it through oral histories delivered by scientists, anthropologists, and the Fore people.

(Journal of the History of the Neurosciences)

In his riveting description of the exchanges and misunderstandings that constituted the search for kuru, Anderson has created that rare thing: an academic page-turner.

(Alice Street Journal of the Royal Anthropological Inst.)

An exemplary account of the discovery of the causes of a disease...a work of great theoretical insight.

(Ivan Crozier Journal of the History of Medicine)

This is a big story with sex, cannibalism, revolutionary scientific discoveries of unknown infectious proteins and some of the wold's most headline-catching diseases -- kuru, scrapie, CJD and BSE. The larger-than-life central character of this exotic soap opera, Nobel Prize winner Carleton Gajdusek, died in December last year [2010].

(David Turnbull Arena Magazine 100)

This marvelous book deliberately forces us to re-imagine the meaning of sojourn, scientific discovery, colonialism, and sorcery, while at the same time providing us with an account of the discovery of Kuru, a lethal neurological disease, and the science that ultimately determined its etiology.

(Stephen T. Capser The Neuro Times)

This book is great fun to read, is worth exploring for its footnotes as well, and ends with an enigmatic literary twist that is aesthetically pleasing but also worth an anthropological recontextualizing.

(Michael M.J. Fischer East Asian Science, Technology, and Society: An International Journal)

About the Author

For almost 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, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines and The Cultivation of Whiteness: Science, Health, and Racial Destiny in Australia.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars 4 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kuru: How Science Is Done 1 Jan. 2012
By Peter Renz - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written and deep book about important medical research done under difficult conditions. Warwick Anderson has examined the records and met the people who were involved: in New Guinea, Australia, North American and elsewhere. He tells the story in a sympathetic and engaging way.

Kuru is the first of a new class of human diseases to be recognized: first thought to be caused by "slow viruses" and now known to be prion diseases. These diseases pose a riddle whose unraveling has yielded two Nobel prizes so far: D Carleton Gajdusek and Stanley B. Prusiner. If these diseases are ever conquered, that will yield another Nobel. These diseases include kuru, Creutzfeld Jacob disease and its variants (mad cow disease in humans), possibly Alzheimer's disease, and animal diseases such as scrapie.

The story begins in the early 1950s with the work of anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt among the Fore tribes of Papua New Guinea. The Bernts first described the fatal kuru condition, attributed to sorcery by the tribesmen and to a hysterical reaction to cultural contact by the Berndts. It seems quaint to us to attribute a physical disease to sorcery, but many modern westerners attribute physical diseases to possibly imaginary contamination by traces of toxic substances introduced by malign profit-seeking companies. Perhaps our ritual practices are not so far removed from those of primitive peoples? See Horace Miner's classic paper "Body ritual among the Nacirema."

Key roles were played by D. Carleton Gajdusek, a pushy American who invaded this Australian preserve, and Vin Zigas, an Eastern European doctor who worked for the Australian health service in New Guinea. Gajdusek was backed by the considerable resources of a branch of the National Institutes of Health, and the ultimate proof that kuru was transmissible came from experiments with chimpanzees done in Maryland by Gajdusek's colleague Joe Gibbs.

In the late 1950s Igor Klatzo at NIH examined kuru brains sent by Gajdusek and Vin Zigas as having lesions similar to those of Creutzfeld jacob victims, which was, as we now know, right on target. This shows how recognizable features of these diseases are to a pathologist who has seen examples of them.

The path of the research was convoluted, as many varying and appealing hypotheses, genetic, environmental, viral and so on were considered. The various researchers pushed for their points of view and sought to shut out their rivals. Toward the end, all the pieces fitted together and pointed to a transmissible proteinaceous agent that somehow reconfigures proteins naturally found in the body into the forms associated with amyloid plaques and cell abnormality and cell death.

The exact mechanisms by which these agents work are not understood as of this writing. No cures for these diseases are known. We do know enough to recognize and deal with outbreaks such as that of mad cow disease, but we still have a long way to go.

Reading this book, you will see how dependent progress is on the enthusiasm and drive of a few people, and how dependent their work is, in turn, on backing by a team and resources. Anderson rightly casts Gajdusek as central, but his flaws make him a tragic as well as triumphant figure.

This book ranks with the few that describe the full drama of scientific breakthroughs: others are Walter Alvarez's T. REX AND THE CRATER OF DOOM and Andrew Brown's wonderful IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORM.

All highly recommended. Read them.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative but also good to read 24 Jun. 2016
By Grace - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very informative but also good to read. If you like science/adventure stories or channels (like the Discovery Channel or science journals) with a hint of narrative, I definitely recommend this book!
0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to understand 20 Sept. 2013
By Jing Cai - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm A new learner of reading english writtten books, and this is one is very hard to understand since it doesn't have attractive stories...
0 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Special interest of importance as I have been there in Papua and have some support for the area 20 Aug. 2013
By Stanley Sjöberg - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I wanted to study the Culture and background of Papua as I do support an Orphonage in the area. I am just Reading and have nothing more to say now.
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