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The Trembling Mountain: A personal Account of Kuru, Cannibals and Mad Cow Disease

"Between his undergraduate years at Princeton and medical school at Yale, Klitzman spent a year conducting basic epidemiological research in Papua, New Guinea. Here, as in his books covering his medical internship (A Year-Long Night) and psychiatric training (In a House of Dreams and Glass), he presents an engaging autobiographical account of his experiences. Working for Nobel Prize-winner (Physiology/Medicine, 1976) Carleton Gajdusek in 1981, Klitzman lived amid the Fore, a previously cannibalistic tribe in some of the most remote parts of the country. Their community had been devastated by kuru, a deadly and heartbreaking neurological disease, spread by the ritual consumption of deceased relatives (including brain matter). Over the course of the narrative, the young Klitzman interviews stricken individuals, comes to grips with hugely divergent cultures and comes of age himself. What gives kuru additional and timely import, and makes it more than just an odd tropical malady, is that it appears to be closely related to Mad Cow disease ... a briskly engaging and informative work."

--Publishers Weekly


"The key word here is personal. Physician Robert Klitzman tells us his life story and humanizes what could easily have been a tabloid-size horror story of Stone Age cannibals and rotten-brained cows. Vivid portraits of the men and women he helped and worked with lift this book above mere sensationalism, showing one people's tragedy in the hopes that others can be averted. Kuru is a fatal disease formerly epidemic among the Fore people of New Guinea, with symptoms including involuntary laughing, dementia, and loss of motor control. Traced to their ritual cannibalism, it was found to be caused by nonliving crystal-like proteins in the brain. Klitzman traveled to New Guinea before attending medical school to work with these people and quickly learned how little Western medicine could do for the afflicted--he could only make their deaths as comfortable as possible. His despair is palpable. Fortunately, most Fore have been convinced to give up the most dangerous of their ancestral practices, and the disease has largely abated. But mad cow disease (and others like it), caused by the same class of protein as kuru, remains a threat to Westerners--a threat Klitzman would rather we not face. His very personal story forces us as readers to examine our own lives and our own ancestral practices, perhaps to make some changes ourselves."
--Rob Lightner, Amazon.com