Strange Contagion: Inside the Surprising Science of Infectious Behaviors and Viral Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves

Lee Daniel Kravetz. Harper Wave, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-244893-4
Kravetz (coauthor of Supersurvivors) takes readers along on his six-year journey to discover why eight teenagers in Palo Alto, Calif., ended their own lives in the same manner. Rather than search for causes within the victims’ own short lives, Kravetz considers this cluster of similar suicides as a whole, asking how people consciously or unconsciously catch infectious ideas and behaviors. In conversations with behavioral experts, Kravetz considers how behaviors such as eating disorders, emotional burnout, hysteria, fear, violence, suicide, and even a bizarre case of impulsive uncontrollable laughter can become contagious and get transmitted throughout a community. One observation Kravetz makes is that “people unconsciously catch goals from one another” in ways that can reshape behavior. Solutions to the spread of these behaviors are frustratingly difficult to come by, in part because the possible cures contain their own problematic paradox: talking about infectious behaviors, even with the best of intentions, can perpetuate the contagion. Though the subject of Kravetz’s book may be emotionally disturbing for sensitive readers, the questions he asks are of vital importance. His bold conclusions—that Palo Alto’s particular contagion “is not going to stop” and that “each of us must watch out for one another, especially when we do not have the language to express our pain”—are sobering and potentially lifesaving. (July)

Correction: An earlier version of this review misspelled a word in the book's subtitle.

Reviewed on: 05/08/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-06-244895-8
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