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Publisher's Summary

While in the ICU with a near-fatal case of pneumonia, Brett Walker was asked, "Do you have a family history of illness?" - a standard and deceptively simple question that for Walker, a professional historian, took on additional meaning and spurred him to investigate his family's medical past. In this deeply personal narrative, he constructs a history of his body to understand his diagnosis with a serious immunological disorder, weaving together his dying grandfather's sneaking a cigarette in a shed on the family's Montana farm, blood fractionation experiments in Europe during World War II, and 19th-century cholera outbreaks that ravaged small American towns as his ancestors were making their way west.

A Family History of Illness is a gritty historical memoir that examines the body's immune system and microbial composition as well as the biological and cultural origins of memory and history, offering a startling, fresh way to view the role of history in understanding our physical selves. In his own search, Walker soon realizes this broader scope is more valuable than a strictly medical family history. He finds that family legacies shape us both physically and symbolically, forming the root of our identity and values, and he urges us to renew our interest in the past or risk misunderstanding ourselves and the world around us.

©2018 University of Washington Press (P)2018 Redwood Audiobooks

Critic Reviews

"A masterful tale, beautifully written, by a highly accomplished historian at his best." (Gregg Mitman, author of Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes

"A moving memoir and profound meditation on living within the histories of our body, family, and environment." (David Armitage, Harvard University)

"Fascinating, literate, profound, wondrously variegated, harrowingly personal." (David Quammen, author of Spillover

What members say

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  • KD
  • 01-11-2018

Important read

lots of important info that anyone can take away from in regards to improve your own health. I was skeptical if the narration would be good given the content but it was great.

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  • Jan
  • 17-10-2018

Best Continuing ed I've heard in ages!

nonfiction, medical, history *****

I can just see my adult kids roll their eyes at the idea of reading this book. As children of a nurse and with assorted family medical histories, they have been subject to lectures on their own personal medical histories plus the particulars of relatives throughout the twentieth century and beyond. The book is well written and should serve as a wake up call to those who speak medicalese. Having spent very many years translating medicalese to patients and others, I am afraid that the tone of the book is more like that of a thesis or dissertation and will miss the mark of teaching those who need the information most. But I do think that it belongs in paramedical curricula and continuing education.
Narrator John N Gully has an excellent delivery and has clearly researched pronunciations.
I requested and received a free audio copy via AudioBookBOOM.

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  • Susan Patterson
  • 16-10-2018

Timely and inspiring!

Made me want to start delving into my own family medical tree & memories of my own health issues growing up.

John Gully did an excellent job narrating. It sounded like a mystery book being unfolded!

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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  • Mark Twain "Eddie"
  • 03-10-2018

Beautiful and important

This is a beautifully written examination of one man's biological inheritance. Not only his medical history, but the roots of his family from which his identity stemmed.

I really enjoyed listening to this audiobook during my commute, and it's inspired me to look into my own family. Definitely recommend.

I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.