DEADLY FEASTS by Richard Rhodes


Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague
Email this review


 This gripping study of ``mad cow disease'' by Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb, 1987, etc.) weaves careful research and powerful stories into a chilling narrative that often reads more like science fiction. Indeed, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle gets credit for prescience at one point: The plot of that novel involves an aberrant form of ice crystal that freezes the oceans and brings about the end of life on earth. For ice crystal, read ``prion,'' the term coined by Stanley Prusiner, a California biochemist/neurologist, to describe a proteinaceous infectious particle that is thought to work by triggering the aberrant folding of a normal brain protein. The end result is fatty deposits in the brain, holes where nerve cells used to be, and, eventually, death. There is no cure. The scary thing about the TSEs (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, a generic term used to refer to several diseases generating this damage in humans and animals) is that they can be passed within, and sometimes across, species by the consumption of suspect tissues. (Many kinds of animal feed include ground-up animal parts.) Normal chemicals and heat treatment that inactivate DNA do not, for some reason, destroy TSE agents. Rhodes faults the British for being terribly slow to get started slaughtering infected herds and for failing to insure that farmers complied with new regulations for feed preparation. He goes on to assert that there is enough evidence to suggest that Americans may also fall victim to cross-species brain diseases: the animal TSEs exist here, and we are regularly exposed to a variety of products (milk, meat, gelatin) that may carry infection. Rhodes's argument, that suveillance and protection are needed as much as research, is persuasive. A powerful and alarming book. (First serial to Washington Post magazine; Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour)

Pub Date: March 20th, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-82360-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997


NonfictionENERGY by Richard Rhodes
by Richard Rhodes
NonfictionHELL AND GOOD COMPANY by Richard Rhodes
by Richard Rhodes