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

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

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

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

Synopsis

Robert Klitzman was 21 years old when he was invited by the Nobel prize-winning scientist Dr. Carleton Gajdusek to conduct original research among the Stone-Age Fore group in Papua New Guinea whose ritual cannibalism had infected them with Kuru, an incurable disease akin to Mad Cow Disease. The adventure he embarked on would change his life, and provide keys to understanding Mad Cow Disease, potentially the world's next major deadly epidemic.

Battling the dense primordial rain forests penetrated by few outsiders before him, Klitzman tracked down Fore patients and family members, overcoming their suspicions and superstitions so that he could document the progress and patterns of Kuru. Confronting cultural gaps and his own limitations, he came away with a deeper understanding of human nature. His work with the Fore trained the future doctor in ways that would far surpass medical school.

At once a gripping medical mystery, an exotic travelogue, and a stirring coming-of-age story, The Trembling Mountain is a powerful first-hand account of life on the frontiers of science.

Excerpt

In 1996, when Mad Cow disease spread to humans, I sat at dinner parties and other gatherings as the topic came up and realized that people knew very little about this or related diseases. I had experience and firsthand knowledge that others were interested in hearing about pertaining to this new and strange epidemic. In particular, I had spent months in Papua New Guinea studying kuru, a disease caused by essentially the same infectious agent, which had wiped out much of the Stone Age Fore group there.

Kuru is now disappearing from the earth, but as the culprit, an infectious protein, resurfaces through Mad Cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the disease has become of increasing significance. In addition, the Stone Age fades ever further from the world. Whatever observations and firsthand accounts of it and the people who grew up in it now exist are all that ever will. Particularly as the world becomes increasingly modern and homogeneous, it is important to document as much as possible these all but lost roots of human culture.

These experiences also shed light on what it's like to do science, particularly field work in epidemiology and medical anthropology—the difficulties, ironies, and triumphs, and the ways in which scientists and anthropologists are made.

To protect confidentiality, I have changed certain details in this account.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.