Picking up where The Tipping Point leaves off, respected journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz’s Strange Contagion is a provocative look at both the science and lived experience of social contagion.
In 2009, tragedy struck the town of Palo Alto: A student from the local high school had died by suicide by stepping in front of an oncoming train. Grief-stricken, the community mourned what they thought was an isolated loss. Until, a few weeks later, it happened again. And again. And again. In six months, the high school lost five students to suicide at those train tracks.
A recent transplant to the community and a new father himself, Lee Daniel Kravetz’s experience as a science journalist kicked in: what was causing this tragedy? More important, how was it possible that a suicide cluster could develop in a community of concerned, aware, hyper-vigilant adults?
The answer? Social contagion. We all know that ideas, emotions, and actions are communicable—from mirroring someone’s posture to mimicking their speech patterns, we are all driven by unconscious motivations triggered by our environment. But when just the right physiological, psychological, and social factors come together, we get what Kravetz calls a “strange contagion:” a perfect storm of highly common social viruses that, combined, form a highly volatile condition.
Strange Contagion is simultaneously a moving account of one community’s tragedy and a rigorous investigation of social phenomenon, as Kravetz draws on research and insights from experts worldwide to unlock the mystery of how ideas spread, why they take hold, and offer thoughts on our responsibility to one another as citizens of a globally and perpetually connected world.
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)
Publisher: Harper Wave (June 27, 2017)
Psychology and especially why people do what they do has always fascinated me so I was immediately pulled into Strange Contagion. I was not familiar with the Palo Alto tragedies where a series of students and recent graduates from one high school committed suicide on the commuter train tracks, and it is both sad and mystifying. Besides living in the same town and going to the same high school, there was no real connection to these students--they all participated in different activities and were not friends, yet a cluster was formed. Author Kravetz, recently moved to the community looked for an explanation and found it in the phenomenon of social contagion--which if it sounds like a disease, it moves and acts like one with its ability to infect a group like a virus.
I was immediately absorbed in the book which although it can lapse deeply into science and facts at times, manages to put the information forth in a palatable way. Kravetz did a lot of research but the detailed facts he uncovered are tempered with emotion--you can tell he truly cares about his subject and the heartbreak his community faced, as well as having his own fears of bringing up his children in a community where the suicide clusters happened not once, but twice. The examples of social contagions are not limited to Palo Alto--it is in many aspects of life. Examples included bulimia and how the discovery and attempts to provide information via the media led to a sudden increase of cases, gun violence and school shootings, the outbreak of accusations of abuse and satanic rituals at daycare centers across the country, and even the more mundane like work groups and how one negative person on a team can drag down productivity--something I have witnessed many times. There are positive examples of social contagion too, like telenovelas with positive images that led to increased sign-ups for adult literacy. Kravetz gives some ideas including caring more about ourselves and each other, training people to look for warning signs of social contagions, and trying to intercept negative chains before they get started. There is also a resource section on suicide prevention at the back of the book.
Strange Contagion packs a lot of information into 280-some pages and its hard to do it justice in a review. If you like learning about science, psychology and emotion, you will likely find this book as fascinating as I did. Living in the times that we do, it is especially easy to see social contagions in action--as the recent elections are a great example. I found many ah-hah moments in the book and will probably go back and read at least sections of it again. Not a breezy summer read but a good one.
Author Notes: Lee Daniel Kravetz has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a graduate of the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Journalism. He has written for Psychology Today, the Huffington Post, and the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and children.
Find out more about Lee at his website, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.
So, Strange Contagion is a book that leans to the serious and scientific and not the food. There are a few mentions of coffees, lunch, apples and sushi and tempura and I am not making light of the seriousness of the suicides in Palo Alto by including a recipe pairing--it's what I do. I decided to go with dopamines for my inspiration, also known as the good enhancing or happy hormone in the brain. I do a workshop on "good mood foods"--that includes foods thought to naturally boost the dopamine levels with serotonin, selenium, Omega 3 fatty acids, Vitamin D, folic acid and calcium. I figure that we live in a tough world, so anything we can do to make ourselves feel better is a good thing.
Here are a dozen foods thought to add to a positive mood.
12 Good Mood Foods
2. Oranges and other citrus fruit
3. Oats & whole grains
5. Chicken and turkey
7. Seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, flax, sesame)
8. Fatty fish (salmon, black cod, sardines)
9. Dark chocolate
10. Green Vegetables
11. Dairy products
Honestly, avocado toast never fails to put me in a good mood and I eat it at least a couple of times a week--at my favorite local coffee shop and at home as I asked the owner what was in their Spicy Garlic Aioli and recreated it so I can supplement my avo toast consumption on days I'm not there. Although nothing beats their toast and having someone make it for me, it's a pretty close approximation. When I don't have ripe avocados on hand, I like using apple bananas and almond butter on my toast and nothing enhances a mood like drizzling dark chocolate on top of something. I make both of these on an oat and grain seeded bread. Plenty of good mood foods going on here.
I've included my recipe for Sriracha-Garlic Mayo, that I use on the toast and just about anything else as well as instructions for putting both toasts together.
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
(Makes 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use vegan garlic mayo)
2 1/2 Tbsp sriracha, or to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder (I use roasted garlic powder)
1/2 Tbsp pickle or caper juice + more to taste and thin as needed to drizzle
Stir together ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and add additional Sriracha or seasoning as desired.
Cover and chill until ready to use. Will keep for about a week to ten days in fridge.
To make Avocado Toast with Spicy Garlic Mayo: Toast seeded grain bread and spread with a thin layer of garlic butter. Top with thinly-sliced avocado and drizzle with Sriracha Garlic Mayo. Sprinkle lightly with celery salt and enjoy!
To make Banana Almond Butter Toast: Toast seeded grain bread and spread with a layer of almond butter. Top with thinly sliced banana and drizzle melted dark chocolate on top if desired. Enjoy!
Notes/Results: What can I say? I eat both of these toasts all the time and love them. If you don't like bananas, sliced strawberries work equally well with the almond butter and chocolate, and you can also substitute peanut butter or any other nut butter if you like. With the Sriracha-Garlic Mayo, you can make it as hot as you like--I like it to have a good kick but not burn my taste buds and the creamy avocado cools things down a bit. Just don't leave off the celery salt from this toast--the combination just makes it. Whether for breakfast, lunch, or a snack, these toasts keep me satisfied and in a good mood.
I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
I'm also linking up these tasty sandwich-y toasts to Souper Sundays, hosted here at Kahakai Kitchen. Each Sunday we feature delicious soups, salads, and sandwiches from friends around the blogosphere--please join in if you have any to share. Here's this week's post and linkup.
Note: A review copy of "The Strange Contagion" was provided to me by the publisher Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.