A Molecule Away from Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain (Paperback)

A Molecule Away from Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain By Sara Manning Peskin Cover Image

A Molecule Away from Madness: Tales of the Hijacked Brain (Paperback)


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Longlisted for the PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

Riveting stories of the brain on the brink, from an acclaimed cognitive neurologist.

Our brains are the most complex machines known to humankind, but they have an Achilles heel: the very molecules that allow us to exist can also sabotage our minds. Here are gripping accounts of unruly molecules and the diseases that form in their wake.

A college student cannot remember if she has eaten breakfast. By dinner, she is strapped to a hospital bed, convinced she is battling zombies. A man planning to propose marriage instead becomes violently enraged, gripped by body spasms so severe that he nearly bites off his own tongue. One after another, poor farmers in South Carolina drop dead from a mysterious epidemic of dementia.

With an intoxicating blend of history and intrigue, Sara Manning Peskin invites readers to play medical detective, tracing each diagnosis from the patient to an ailing nervous system. Along the way, Peskin entertains with tales of the sometimes outlandish, often criticized, and forever devoted scientists who discovered it all.

Peskin never loses sight of the human impact of these conditions. Alzheimer’s Disease is more than the gradual loss of a loved one; it can be a family’s multigenerational curse. The proteins that abound in every cell of our bodies are not simply strings of oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon; they are the building blocks of our personalities and relationships. A Molecule Away from Madness is an unputdownable journey into the deepest mysteries of our brains.

Sara Manning Peskin is an assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe Magazine, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Peskin writes...with a grace and humanity that recall Oliver Sacks. [She is] a dazzling stylist and a compassionate observer.
— Annie Murphy Paul - New York Times Book Review

Peskin provides the reader with an acute and evocative demonstration of the fragility and interchangeability of mental, emotional and behavioral states, and shows how they may be affected by the misbehavior of the molecules defining them.
— Adrian Woolfson - Wall Street Journal

Gripping accounts…scaffolded in clear explanations of their causes, and neuroscientific opportunities towards possible cures.
— Harvard Magazine

Sara Manning Peskin is remarkably skillful at breaking down complex neuroscience into easily digestible components and explaining the mysteries of the brain with profound elegance. Rarely has a writer been able to depict the devastating consequences of neurologic illness through such poignant patient stories. Like Oliver Sacks before her, she is sure to inspire a generation of future neurologists, neuroscientists, and students of the brain.
— Orly Avitzur, MD, MBA, president of the American Academy of Neurology

Sara Manning Peskin’s elegant, empathic portrait of the vulnerable brain is both absolutely terrifying and wonderfully optimistic.
— Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind

Readable and well-researched… with added appeal for anyone with a loved one suffering from brain disease. Fascinating popular science.
— Kirkus

Neurologist Peskin debuts with an impressive account of the search for cures for a number of neurologic diseases including dementia and psychosis...There’s much to savor in this powerful survey.
— Publishers Weekly

Captivating and convincing…should bring hope and confidence to general readers as well as general practitioners, and to the millions living with neurodegenerative illness and their families. An exemplary work.
— Library Journal (starred review)