• by Molly Caldwell Crosby
  • Narrated by Christian Rummel
  • 6 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A fascinating look at a bizarre, forgotten epidemic from the national best-selling author of The American Plague.
In 1918, a world war raged, and a lethal strain of influenza circled the globe. In the midst of all this death, a bizarre disease appeared in Europe. Eventually known as encephalitis lethargica, or sleeping sickness, it spread worldwide, leaving millions dead or locked in institutions. Then, in 1927, it disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. Asleep, set in 1920s and '30s New York, follows a group of neurologists through hospitals and asylums as they try to solve this epidemic and treat its victims - who learned the worst fate was not dying of it, but surviving it.


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Anatomy of an Epidemic

During the Great Flu epidemic of WWI, there was an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica —or “sleeping sickness”— that left its victims permanently disabled, a plague of catatonic lethargy. Some people were comatose for years-- and it could recur at any time.

What was it?

This medical-mystery drama, by award-winning reporter Molly Caldwell Crosby, follows the doctors, scientists, and patients of the time as they tried to solve the origins of this disease.

You may remember Oliver Sacks’s "Awakenings" chronicled his work curing the sleeping sickness victim. But science has yet to find the cause of the epidemic, the "why?"

Crosby's book turns a corner in these “sleep” conversations that will have you wide awake to the most chilling prospects yet.
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- Susie "I'm Audible's first Editor-at-Large, the host of In Bed with Susie Bright -- and a longtime author, editor, journo, and bookworm. I listen to audio when I'm cooking, playing cards, knitting, going to bed, waking up, driving, and putting other people's kids to bed! My favorite audiobooks, ever, are: "True Grit" and "The Dog of the South.""

Scary, and still unsolved, medical mystery

This book about encephalitis lethargica is well researched and well written by a woman whose grandmother survived this disease, but mentally damaged. The book examines several case histories, including hers, in detail, to show the wide range of physical and behavioral symptoms that made this disease so baffling for doctors and difficult for families. Its victims, mostly young people, sickened suddenly and fell asleep, for weeks for months. Some woke eventually, some died. Some could function normally again; many suffered degrees of mental/emotional impairment; some displayed uncontrollable anger or became psychotic, suicidal, homicidal (this included small children), others remained 'frozen' like the ones Dr. Oliver Sacks found in a hospital decades after the last outbreak and wrote about in "Awakenings". During two early 20th century pandemic waves of this disease, medical researchers tried to figure out agent was causing it, how it was transmitted, how it might be cured. No luck. Was it linked to pandemic flu?
Rare, sporadic cases still occur. The author makes the point that we may be in terrible trouble if there is another pandemic flu, and another pandemic of encephalitis lethargica.
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- joyce "Greedy, voracious reader since age five. After a number of eye injuries & surgeries, reading is hard. So now, I listen."

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-04-2013
  • Publisher: Audible Studios