Sunday, July 10, 2011

How I Turned Mad

It is obvious to those around me when I am completely enthralled in a book. Aside from the utter disregard for my surroundings, I will end a chapter with haste, slam down the book, and obnoxiously shout about how I know that the killer is that old man or how I'm pissed off about the current state of women's health care globally. If it's really good, I'll smash the book two or three times with my fist while giving it a menacing look. If I'm not satisfied with these reactions of slamming, shouting, and smashing, if I feel like these actions haven't completely expressed my rage, I'll pace. This is how I've turned mad.

Despite my efforts to remain friendly and impartial at my new job, I began reading How the Cows Turned Mad by Maxime Schwartz and my coworkers quickly learned of my quirkiness. This book chronicles the discovery of mad cow disease mainly in Britain and France but also a few ancillary locations. My mad was in full effect after reading the chapter "A Tragedy in the Making" which celebrates science and the possible fix of pituitary dwarfism by injecting afflicted patients with pituitary glands harvested from cadavers. Genius! I was riveted by the triumph and grossness of science. In the final paragraph of the chapter (SPOILER ALERT), they bring to light the simple fact that mad cow disease is transmitted in humans by consuming the brain of a person with the disease. THIS WOULD INCLUDE INJECTIONS OF DEAD PEOPLE. How did I not see this coming? I suddenly felt like I was watching the last three minutes of a thriller movie in which you learn that the killer was not dead. He's lurking out there and reaching for a weapon for one last murder. Distracted by the science, I forgot that these people could get mad cow disease. The killer lives! And, if I'm not mistaken (I haven't completed the book yet) mad cow disease is still on the scene today.

The only negative I have to offer about How the Cows Turned Mad is that it is written like a mystery novel. New theories presented on the disease in each chapter are left dangling. I appreciate that this genre is science thriller and this trait is perfectly acceptable. In a Whodunit?, this is desirable but, for me, not in science writing. I hear, however, that these ideas are fleshed out at the end of the book. I must keep reading!

This book is beautifully written on so many levels. It tackles the complex science of physiology, microbiology, and chemistry to successfully explain them while connecting the theories with the history of the disease. It pieces this information together in such a way that it evokes many emotions (see aforementioned madness) that one might experience while watching a horror flick. If you are in anyway looking to increase your crazy (or to learn some wicked science while enjoying a beautifully written piece of literature), I highly recommend this book.


  1. It sounds awesome! And your book smashing made me laugh! <3 you!

  2. The fact that Bob, with B negative blood, cannot donate blood since he was in England over a period of 6 months indicates the seriousness the scientific community still gives "mad cow disease". The book sounds worth reading.

    You might enjoy the following about a drug pulled from the market. It was like a mystery and I could not put it down. I think it was this one: