'It is in every sense, mind-blowing.' Daily Telegraph
In Sweden, refugee children fall asleep for months and years at a time. In upstate New York, high school students develop contagious seizures. In the US Embassy in Cuba, employees complain of headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises in the night.
These disparate cases are some of the most remarkable diagnostic mysteries of the twenty-first century, as both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain them within the boundaries of medical science and - more crucially - to treat them. What unites them is that they are all examples of a particular type of psychosomatic illness: medical disorders that are influenced as much by the idiosyncratic aspects of individual cultures as they are by human biology.
Inspired by a poignant encounter with the sleeping refugee children of Sweden, Wellcome Prize-winning neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan travels the world to visit other communities who have also been subject to outbreaks of so-called 'mystery' illnesses.
From a derelict post-Soviet mining town in Kazakhstan, to the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua via an oil town in Texas, to the heart of the Maria Mountains in Colombia, O'Sullivan hears remarkable stories from a fascinating array of people, and attempts to unravel their complex meaning while asking the question: who gets to define what is and what isn't an illness?
Reminiscent of the work of Oliver Sacks, Stephen Grosz and Henry Marsh, The Sleeping Beauties is a moving and unforgettable scientific investigation with a very human face.
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Dr Suzanne O'Sullivan has been a consultant in neurology since 2004, first working at the Royal London Hospital and now as a consultant in clinical neurophysiology and neurology at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. She specializes in the investigation of complex epilepsy and also has an active interest in psychogenic disorders. Suzanne's first book, It's All in Your Head, won both the Wellcome Book Prize and the Royal Society of Biology Book Prize and her critically acclaimed Brainstorm was published in 2018.
O'Sullivan doesn't offer easy answers. She just shows us, with wonderful compassion and the minimum of judgment, the ways in which people across the world have manifested symptoms that have helped them through - or beyond - painful situations . . . It is, in every sense, mind-blowing. -- Helen Brown * Daily Telegraph * O'Sullivan travels the world collecting fascinating stories of culture-bound syndromes, which she relays with nuance and sensitivity. -- Alice Robb * New Statesman * A bracing read, a little like a cold shower on a hot summer's day. -- Marcus Berkmann * Daily Mail * The stories are remarkable. But no less remarkable is O'Sullivan's revelation of the way we all absorb cultural expectations of illness and reject or exhibit symptoms in response . . . Her enlightening and sympathetic book should be required reading for all doctors - and for all patients. -- Wendy Moore * Literary Review * To compare any book to a Sacks is unfair, but this one lives up to it. Not because it is alluringly freakish, but because it is so compassionate, and so driven by deep curiosity about the human psyche. I finished it feeling thrillingly unsettled, and wishing there was more. -- James McConnachie * Sunday Times * By making social problems visible on the body, O'Sullivan believes, these conditions allow voiceless people to make
themselves heard. Perhaps this eloquent and convincing book will be the start of making people in authority listen, make change and help. -- Katy Guest * Guardian * O'Sullivan's beautifully written book interweaves the stories of those afflicted in this way around the world, in a travelogue of illness that is ultimately a travelogue of our own irrational, suggestible minds . . . It is a measure of how effective O'Sullivan is at describing the dilemmas and difficulties of treating psychosomatic conditions that, by the end, a visit to a witch doctor begins to feel like the most sensible medical intervention in the book. -- Tom Whipple * The Times * Each case study peels back the rigid framework of modern medicine and demands that we reframe our understanding of what is and isn't illness. This is a progressive book that doesn't hold back on criticising the dogged diagnostic obsessions of Western medicine. -- Lucy Kehoe * Geographical * No one doubts that there is something genuinely wrong with these children, yet medicine cannot locate it. O' Sullivan tours the clusters to see if she can do any better. * Strong Words * In this fascinating book, O'Sullivan makes a case for empathy. * iNews * In my view the best science writer around - a true descendant of Oliver Sacks. -- Sathnam Sanghera, author of <i>The Boy with the Topknot</i>
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