Madness and Memory

The Discovery of Prions- A New Biological Principle of Disease



Stanley B. Prusiner


Yale University Press, 2014


ISBN: 978-0-300-21690-5

The discovery of prions is one of the most controversial scientific tales of the late 20th century, and as such deserves to be told. Not only do we learn about the thought process and evolution of the discovery, but we also get a candid glimpse into the world of science as a job- things like the securing of funds, management of lab personnel, publishing and presenting controversial data and dealing with competitive colleagues. Furthermore, this account was written by the discoverer himself, Stan Prusiner, so the reader will therefore get a first-hand account of the story as it unfolded.

Unfortunately you will not find a compelling chronicle here, which is a shame as the story is so colorful as to deserve a much flashier narrative. You can tell that the author want to share with you the anxiety, frustration and tribulations of making a new discovery, but it just doesn’t come through in the prose. True to form, this book reads more like straightforward and bland recounting of events than a thrilling tale of discovery. I appreciate that the author clearly found this project cathartic and was liberating past demons, but in the end he tends to appear more pedantic and whiny than hero. Nevertheless, given the magnitude of the discovery and how easy it is to follow the story, I would still recommend reading this book.