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Book Cover for: The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists Into Whitemen, Warwick Anderson

The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists Into Whitemen

Warwick Anderson

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 and cure.

Winner, William H. Welch Medal, American Association for the History of Medicine
Winner, Ludwik Fleck Prize, Society for Social Studies of Science
Winner, General History Award, New South Wales Premier's History Awards

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.

In The Collectors of Lost Souls, Warwick Anderson 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 the epidemic--kuru--was a new and mysterious agent of infection, which he called a slow virus (now called a prion). 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.

Now revised and updated, the book includes an extensive new afterword that situates its impact within the fields of science and technology studies and the history of science. Additionally, the author now reflects on his long engagement with the scientists and the people afflicted, describing what has happened to them since the end of kuru. 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.

Book Details

  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publish Date: Aug 27th, 2019
  • Pages: 352
  • Language: English
  • Edition: Updated - 0002
  • Dimensions: 8.60in - 5.70in - 0.50in - 1.05lb
  • EAN: 9781421433608
  • Categories: HistoryAnthropology - GeneralHistory

About the Author

For almost thirty years Warwick Anderson, medical doctor and historian of science, has been studying kuru, those who were affected by the disease, and the scientists who identified and investigated it. Based at the University of Sydney, he is the Janet Dora Hine Professor of Politics, Governance and Ethics in the Department of History. He is the author of Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines and the coauthor of Intolerant Bodies: A Short History of Autoimmunity.

Praise for this book
[A] magisterial account . . . Anderson's compelling study captures the texture of twentieth-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.
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.
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.
--Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institue
For a lay reader it is an extraordinarily rich story about how, in the twentieth 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.
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
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
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. 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.
--Pauline Kusiak, East Asian Science, Technology and Society
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
A strikingly original and exciting work, imaginatively conceived, meticulously researched, and powerfully argued. It deserves to be widely read.
--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
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
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. 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
An exemplary account of the discovery of the causes of a disease . . . a work of great theoretical insight.
--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 world'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].
--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.
--The Neuro Times
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.
--Health and History