Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel Kravetz

Strange Contagion by Lee Daniel KravetzStrange Contagion: The Suicide Cluster That Took Palo Alto's Children and What It Tells Us About Ourselves by Lee Daniel Kravetz
Published by Harper Wave on June 27, 2017
Genres: Psychological, Social Science
Pages: 240
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours for review consideration.
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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.


Journalist Lee Daniel Kravetz had recently moved to Palo Alto, California when a cluster of teen suicides, all carried out in the same manner, occurred. Like everyone else in the community, he wondered why it was happening. Strange Contagion is the result of his attempt to make sense of these tragedies and the social viruses behind them.

It was disconcerting to learn that social viruses are even a thing. The body catches and fights off viruses all the time; and the mind is part of the body, so the existence of this phenomena makes sense…but it was terrifying to realize they can affect people’s actions. Kravetz takes a look at other communities who have experienced “strange contagions” and how they stopped them. He looks into what conditions have created environments in which they can come about, and cites the scientific research behind it.

Overall, this was a fascinating read, although there were portions that dragged a bit. I recommend Strange Contagion for fans of Malcolm Gladwell (especially if you enjoyed The Tipping Point).

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book. Check out what other readers have to say about Strange Contagion by visiting other stops on the tour. Visit the HarperCollins website for more info on this book.

  • HeatherTLC

    The idea of a social virus is new to me but it makes complete sense – and it is rather creepy as well. Creepy, and fascinating!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  • Oh, interesting! I know about suicide contagion (used to volunteer for a crisis hotline), but I’d love to hear more about the science behind it and about the other kinds of social contagion.

  • This sounds pretty creepy, but also fascinating. Since I’m living in the Bay Area now, I’m extra interested in this local story. Great review!