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Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

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The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat―and what it means for how we should. The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg―a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs―was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat―and what it means for how we should. The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg―a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs―was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He was also among the most despised figures in Nazi Germany. As a Jewish homosexual living openly with his male partner, Warburg represented all that the Third Reich abhorred. Yet Hitler and his top advisors dreaded cancer, and protected Warburg in the hope that he could cure it. In Ravenous, Sam Apple reclaims Otto Warburg as a forgotten, morally compromised genius who pursued cancer single-mindedly even as Europe disintegrated around him. While the vast majority of Jewish scientists fled Germany in the anxious years leading up to World War II, Warburg remained in Berlin, working under the watchful eye of the dictatorship. With the Nazis goose-stepping their way across Europe, systematically rounding up and murdering millions of Jews, Warburg awoke each morning in an elegant, antiques-filled home and rode horses with his partner, Jacob Heiss, before delving into his research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against the absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrived at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbreaking, his work was soon eclipsed in the early postwar era, after the discovery of the structure of DNA set off a search for the genetic origins of cancer. Remarkably, Warburg’s theory has undergone a resurgence in our own time, as scientists have begun to investigate the dangers of sugar and the link between obesity and cancer, finding that the way we eat can influence how cancer cells take up nutrients and grow. Rooting his revelations in extensive archival research as well as dozens of interviews with today’s leading cancer authorities, Apple demonstrates how Warburg’s midcentury work may well hold the secret to why cancer became so common in the modern world and how we can reverse the trend. A tale of scientific discovery, personal peril, and the race to end a disastrous disease, Ravenous would be the stuff of the most inventive fiction were it not, in fact, true.


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The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat―and what it means for how we should. The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg―a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs―was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He The extraordinary story of the Nazi-era scientific genius who discovered how cancer cells eat―and what it means for how we should. The Nobel laureate Otto Warburg―a cousin of the famous finance Warburgs―was widely regarded in his day as one of the most important biochemists of the twentieth century, a man whose research was integral to humanity’s understanding of cancer. He was also among the most despised figures in Nazi Germany. As a Jewish homosexual living openly with his male partner, Warburg represented all that the Third Reich abhorred. Yet Hitler and his top advisors dreaded cancer, and protected Warburg in the hope that he could cure it. In Ravenous, Sam Apple reclaims Otto Warburg as a forgotten, morally compromised genius who pursued cancer single-mindedly even as Europe disintegrated around him. While the vast majority of Jewish scientists fled Germany in the anxious years leading up to World War II, Warburg remained in Berlin, working under the watchful eye of the dictatorship. With the Nazis goose-stepping their way across Europe, systematically rounding up and murdering millions of Jews, Warburg awoke each morning in an elegant, antiques-filled home and rode horses with his partner, Jacob Heiss, before delving into his research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against the absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrived at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbreaking, his work was soon eclipsed in the early postwar era, after the discovery of the structure of DNA set off a search for the genetic origins of cancer. Remarkably, Warburg’s theory has undergone a resurgence in our own time, as scientists have begun to investigate the dangers of sugar and the link between obesity and cancer, finding that the way we eat can influence how cancer cells take up nutrients and grow. Rooting his revelations in extensive archival research as well as dozens of interviews with today’s leading cancer authorities, Apple demonstrates how Warburg’s midcentury work may well hold the secret to why cancer became so common in the modern world and how we can reverse the trend. A tale of scientific discovery, personal peril, and the race to end a disastrous disease, Ravenous would be the stuff of the most inventive fiction were it not, in fact, true.

30 review for Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sonja Arlow

    Cancer research seems to be like the parable of the blind men and an elephant. One branch of research feels the legs and declare that cancer is genetically driven and spend billions on gene sequencing to find the oncogenes. The other feels the trunk and says no its environmental and proclaims that carcinogens are everywhere waiting to give us cancer. Yet another feels the tusk and says its viral and finally the last one feels the tail and says its metabolic. The truth lies somewhere muddled in the Cancer research seems to be like the parable of the blind men and an elephant. One branch of research feels the legs and declare that cancer is genetically driven and spend billions on gene sequencing to find the oncogenes. The other feels the trunk and says no its environmental and proclaims that carcinogens are everywhere waiting to give us cancer. Yet another feels the tusk and says its viral and finally the last one feels the tail and says its metabolic. The truth lies somewhere muddled in the middle. Some cancers are genetic, others are viral and most definitely some are carcinogenic. And once you have cancer the metabolic part really kicks into overdrive..... Many cancer breakthroughs were swept under the rug for decades and this book that deals with one such man, Otto Warburg, his research, and the decline in popularity of his theory that cancer metabolism is crucial to understand prevention and cure. He was a gay Jewish man in Nazi Germany who defied the Nazi regime in astounding ways. He was also a complete asshole and alienated many of his peers through his narcissism and God complex as well as his propensity to get into drawn-out feuds if anyone criticized his work. The book is a mix between detailing his life, outlining the German science community and its change and struggles with the rise of WW2 as well as some REALLY interesting bits on Hitler. And finally it shows that Otto Warburg was indeed right about the fact that the majority of cancers are glucose gluttons and the more you feed it (by overeating and not laying off the cupcakes) the more fuel you give to the fire. This is called the Warburg Effect and is now a well-accepted fact in the oncology community. An interesting addition to the cancer genre but if you have never read books on cancer in the past I would rather you start with The Cancer Code or if you want to be challenged a bit more The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alexa Klein

    This is a fascinating book about an openly gay, Jewish scientist researching cancer in Nazi Germany. Sam Apple weaves together science and history in a masterful way so that you're learning about cells, disease, and diet while enraptured by the narrative. His writing is clear and compelling and hits the perfect balance between thorough explanations of science and interesting and amusing anecdotes that give the reader deep insight into what Warburg was like, including when he had his secretary se This is a fascinating book about an openly gay, Jewish scientist researching cancer in Nazi Germany. Sam Apple weaves together science and history in a masterful way so that you're learning about cells, disease, and diet while enraptured by the narrative. His writing is clear and compelling and hits the perfect balance between thorough explanations of science and interesting and amusing anecdotes that give the reader deep insight into what Warburg was like, including when he had his secretary send away a Nazi official who came to ask for his papers proving his Aryan descent (which Warburg obviously could not produce). The bold reason Warburg gave for refusing to meet with him was that the official arrived at the institute unshaven and "spread unpleasant odors about him." These meticulously researched details make this book a hard one to put down and one you are guaranteed to learn a lot from.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    So, to begin: “…Warburg’s early work on sea urchin eggs is typically explained as a first effort to understand cancer……” (Pg.14) WHAT? Sea urchin eggs? Really? This book is part biography of Otto Warburg, part history and very much research science into the mystery of cancer. Otto was a fascinating man and this book is a fascinating read. Otto Warburg (1883-1970) (Nobel laureate 1931) was a bull-headed obstinate Jewish genius much despised for refusing to leave Germany during the Nazi reign and f So, to begin: “…Warburg’s early work on sea urchin eggs is typically explained as a first effort to understand cancer……” (Pg.14) WHAT? Sea urchin eggs? Really? This book is part biography of Otto Warburg, part history and very much research science into the mystery of cancer. Otto was a fascinating man and this book is a fascinating read. Otto Warburg (1883-1970) (Nobel laureate 1931) was a bull-headed obstinate Jewish genius much despised for refusing to leave Germany during the Nazi reign and for at one point attempting to get papers stating that he was an Aryan. He was that passionate to be able to continue his work. Otto saw himself as German and that was that! Otto devise what is known as the “Warburg effect” (please look it up on Google). After the war when Otto fell out of favour the “Warburg effect” became all but obsolete. Fast forward about 60 years it was suddenly found to be a significant tool for the continuation of cancer research. The “Warburg Effect” is still in use today. Sam Apple has written what could have been a dense incomprehensible tome in a manner that I found to be very reader-friendly.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Hogan

    Just finished Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection by Sam Apple. Oscar Warburg 1883-1970 was a a German physiologist, medical doctor, and Nobel laureate. Warburg was Jewish and gay but managed to keep his job in medical research throughout WW2 Germany because of his reputation and breakthrough work on the metabolic aspects of cancer. He was brilliant & imperious and not surprisingly a very controversial figure. His observation, dubbed the "Warburg effe Just finished Ravenous: Otto Warburg, the Nazis, and the Search for the Cancer-Diet Connection by Sam Apple. Oscar Warburg 1883-1970 was a a German physiologist, medical doctor, and Nobel laureate. Warburg was Jewish and gay but managed to keep his job in medical research throughout WW2 Germany because of his reputation and breakthrough work on the metabolic aspects of cancer. He was brilliant & imperious and not surprisingly a very controversial figure. His observation, dubbed the "Warburg effect” that cancer cells convert glucose to lactate regardless of the presence of oxygen has been a part of cancer research since his discovery in the 1920’s. His research into the connection between diet and cancer was largely overlooked in his lifetime, not even bearing mention in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s seminal book , Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2011. Warburg's work is back in play. Sam Apple, a brilliant non scientist writer does a wonderful job converting complex science into regular speak. I never thought I would appreciate cellular biology until I read this book. I finally understand cancer at the cellular level and more importantly a glimpse at preventative measures.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Brilliantly written, Ravenous is both a great biography of an unusual man and an important contribution to the understanding of cancer. This is science literature at its very best. I loved this book!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Incredible read - Sam weaves the history of cancer research in to the history of WWII, the Nazi regime, and the postwar scientific community in a very engaging yet informative way. You will learn not only about the path of cancer research and the current state, but the impact of society and politics on the activities of science itself. Despite sounding like a nonfiction read on niche topic, this book is written in such a way that it's hard to put down. Incredible read - Sam weaves the history of cancer research in to the history of WWII, the Nazi regime, and the postwar scientific community in a very engaging yet informative way. You will learn not only about the path of cancer research and the current state, but the impact of society and politics on the activities of science itself. Despite sounding like a nonfiction read on niche topic, this book is written in such a way that it's hard to put down.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    "Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against an absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrives at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbre "Hitler and other Nazi leaders, Apple shows, were deeply troubled by skyrocketing cancer rates across the Western world, viewing cancer as an existential threat akin to Judaism or homosexuality. Ironically, they viewed Warburg as Germany’s best chance of survival. Setting Warburg’s work against an absorbing history of cancer science, Apple follows him as he arrives at his central belief that cancer is a problem of metabolism. Though Warburg’s metabolic approach to cancer was considered groundbreaking, his work was soon eclipsed in the early postwar era, after the discovery of the structure of DNA set off a search for the genetic origins of cancer. Remarkably, Warburg’s theory has undergone a resurgence in our own time, as scientists have begun to investigate the dangers of sugar and the link between obesity and cancer, finding that the way we eat can influence how cancer cells take up nutrients and grow. Rooting his revelations in extensive archival research as well as dozens of interviews with today’s leading cancer authorities, Apple demonstrates how Warburg’s midcentury work may well hold the secret to why cancer became so common in the modern world and how we can reverse the trend. A tale of scientific discovery, personal peril, and the race to end a disastrous disease, Ravenous would be the stuff of the most inventive fiction were it not, in fact, true."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Luis Cuesta

    I received this book as a Goodreads giveway. This book is a detailed biography of German biologist Otto Warburg (1883-1970), who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1931 for his work on cell respiration and metabolism, especially as related to cancer. The research that Warburg is best known for today, and the work that forms the backbone of “Ravenous,” is his discovery that cancer cells behave differently from healthy cells in two very specific ways: They consume massive amounts of glucose — Appl I received this book as a Goodreads giveway. This book is a detailed biography of German biologist Otto Warburg (1883-1970), who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1931 for his work on cell respiration and metabolism, especially as related to cancer. The research that Warburg is best known for today, and the work that forms the backbone of “Ravenous,” is his discovery that cancer cells behave differently from healthy cells in two very specific ways: They consume massive amounts of glucose — Apple compares them to ravenous shipwrecked sailors — and they eschew aerobic respiration in favor of fermentation. Author Sam Apple keeps the scientific explanations easy to understand, while interviews with a slew of characters add color. As health and science writer Apple shows that although occasionally harassed by Nazi officials, Warburg,a scientist of Jewish Descent, was likely protected by Hitler, a hypochondriac terrified of cancer. The postwar years produced little change in Warburg’s routine, and theories about the pathogenesis of cancer dominated research until the 1960s, when scientists turned their attention to DNA and cancer-causing genes postwar years produced little change in Warburg’s routine, and theories about the pathogenesis of cancer dominated research until the 1960s, when scientists turned their attention to DNA and cancer-causing genes

  9. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

    Definitely one of the most colorful and memorable German scientists of the first part of the 20th century, Otto Warburg was somehow able to avoid what would have led to certain death for a homosexual Jew in the Nazi regime were it not for his outsized personality and luck. He made the Dr. Strangelove prototype seem tame at times in comparison as the stories and quotes pile up in an almost unbelievable rate. And layered throughout is the story of his cancer research and its relevance today. Overa Definitely one of the most colorful and memorable German scientists of the first part of the 20th century, Otto Warburg was somehow able to avoid what would have led to certain death for a homosexual Jew in the Nazi regime were it not for his outsized personality and luck. He made the Dr. Strangelove prototype seem tame at times in comparison as the stories and quotes pile up in an almost unbelievable rate. And layered throughout is the story of his cancer research and its relevance today. Overall just an amazing story and biography – intentionally / unintentionally hilarious throughout, and just an amazing tale at the crossroads of history and science.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    The first couple of parts of this book is mainly about the brilliant arrogant scientist and his life and research in nazi Germany which was interesting since he was gay and Jewish. The last part was more of a focus on how he was right all along, that cancer cells feed off of glucose which creates insulin. Would have been better if the author had differentiated between high fructose sugar and fructose from fruit because there is a difference. I couldn’t tell sometimes which he was talking about a The first couple of parts of this book is mainly about the brilliant arrogant scientist and his life and research in nazi Germany which was interesting since he was gay and Jewish. The last part was more of a focus on how he was right all along, that cancer cells feed off of glucose which creates insulin. Would have been better if the author had differentiated between high fructose sugar and fructose from fruit because there is a difference. I couldn’t tell sometimes which he was talking about and I think he meant both as if they were exactly the same.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Interesting details about how a gay, Jewish man was sparred/conspired with the Nazis due to his cancer research. Also some interesting details on the current study of sugar and it’s role in cancer. However, the majority of this book is a history of the scientific research by Warburg and others and reminded me of many a day in microbiology and organic chemistry lectures that I would gladly have missed.

  12. 5 out of 5

    WNvXXT

    Tried to read this all the way through and didn't come close to succeeding. I don't usually skip chapters - I'll just put it down and / or return it. Subject matter, in this case Cancer Diet connection - was too interesting so I basically skipped most of the first 2/3 and went to the Pure White and Deadly chapters. Tried to read this all the way through and didn't come close to succeeding. I don't usually skip chapters - I'll just put it down and / or return it. Subject matter, in this case Cancer Diet connection - was too interesting so I basically skipped most of the first 2/3 and went to the Pure White and Deadly chapters.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    I enjoyed learning about the history of cancer research and the life of Otto Warburg. I learned a lot about cancer and potential diet risk factors. It has inspired me to modify my diet. I listened to the book and it was not difficult to listen to.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John W. Evans

    An exceptional read, start to finish, and a fascinating story. The mix of insight, science, and history is first-rate. Apple is an exceptional writer. Not to be missed!

  15. 4 out of 5

    peter lang

    Well written Although I am not a science person the book was written in a way that anyone could follow. Warburg was a complicated man, this book captures his essence.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Janey

  17. 4 out of 5

    Snap_out_of_it

  18. 4 out of 5

    Castlearrgh

  19. 4 out of 5

    Steven L.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Robert Kenny

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  23. 4 out of 5

    Riloai

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rubel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Weiss

  26. 4 out of 5

    Liz Sinnott-armstrong

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joseph J. Iacono

  28. 5 out of 5

    Liveright Publishing

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pepita

  30. 4 out of 5

    Biggus

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