By lauren aguirre
Imagine waking up one day with amnesia, unable to form even a single new memory. Beginning about a decade ago, a small but growing number of opioid overdose survivors across North America suffered this fate. Each victim was left with surgically precise damage to the hippocampus, the place that holds the keys to our past. The Memory Thief chronicles the efforts of a small team of doctors to understand what this rare amnestic syndrome, which continues to strike new victims seemingly at random, might also mean for the rest of us. Along the way, Aguirre explores the nature of memory—the brain’s almost magical trick for shaping our identities and making sense of the world. Where do memories live? Why do we forget most of what happens in a day but remember some events with stunning clarity years later? And what new strategies may finally break the stalemate in the quest to capture the greatest memory thief of all—Alzheimer’s disease?
Aguirre is an award-winning science journalist who has produced documentaries, short-form video series, podcasts, interactive games, and blogs for the PBS series NOVA. She has covered everything from asteroids to human origins to art restoration, but is particularly fascinated by the brain. Aguirre’s articles on memory and addiction have appeared in STAT, Undark, The Atlantic, Scientific American, and PBS. The Memory Thief is her first book, and was supported in part by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Program in Public Understanding of Science and Technology.
The Memory Thief moves with the rollercoaster speed of a first-rate suspense novel while simultaneously offering a deeply insightful and compassionate look at what makes and breaks human memory.