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Publisher's Summary

A thrilling story of scientific detective work and medical potential that illuminates the newly understood role of microglia - an elusive type of brain cell that is vitally relevant to our everyday lives.

"The rarest of books: a combination of page-turning discovery and remarkably readable science journalism." (Mark Hyman, MD, number one New York Times best-selling author of Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?)

Named one of the best books of the year by Wired

Until recently, microglia were thought to be helpful but rather boring: housekeeper cells in the brain. But a recent groundbreaking discovery has revealed that they connect our physical and mental health in surprising ways. When triggered - and anything that stirs up the immune system in the body can activate microglia, including chronic stressors, trauma, and viral infections - they can contribute to memory problems, anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Under the right circumstances, however, microglia can be coaxed back into being angelic healers, able to make brain repairs in ways that help alleviate symptoms and hold the promise to one day prevent disease.

With the compassion born of her own experience, award-winning journalist Donna Jackson Nakazawa illuminates this newly understood science, following practitioners and patients on the front lines of treatments that help to “reboot” microglia. In at least one case, she witnesses a stunning recovery - and in others, significant relief from pressing symptoms, offering new hope to the tens of millions who suffer from mental, cognitive, and physical health issues.

Hailed as a “riveting”, “stunning”, and “visionary”, The Angel and the Assassin offers us a radically reconceived picture of human health and promises to change everything we thought we knew about how to heal ourselves. 

©2020 Donna Jackson Nakazawa (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"A fascinating deep dive into the unsung heroes (and villains) inside our skulls.... Donna Jackson Nakazawa has a journalist’s eye for story, a scholar’s understanding of the research, and a patient’s appreciation for how high the stakes truly are." (Susannah Cahalan, New York Times best-selling author of Brain on Fire)

“In a stunning show of precision and heart, Jackson Nakazawa offers a captivating, page-turning story of scientific discoveries that overturn centuries of medical dogma and fundamentally reshape psychiatry, medicine, and the treatment of mental and physical illnesses. The Angel and the Assassin offers extraordinary promise and heralds hope in a time of skyrocketing rates of ‘microglial’ diseases - including depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s, and addiction. It is paradigm-shifting reading for us all!” (Christina Bethell, PhD, MPH, director of the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative and professor at Johns Hopkins University)

“I can think of no topic more fascinating or exciting than microglia, the long-misunderstood brain cells whose power over brain health may hold the promise of cure for so many. The Angel and the Assassin is riveting, engaging, and visionary.” (Terry Wahls, MD, author of The Wahls Protocol)

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A Magnus Opus for Microglia

As a neuroscientist, I found this book a refreshing and accurate narrative of the current state of microglial research. Nakazawa brings popular science into the 21st Century of immunology and the brain, exploring cutting-edge research and highlighting some of the most influential scientists in the field. Weaving together narrative and science for the everyday listener, Nakazawa creates a beautiful tapestry befitting of this once understudied cell type.

Unfortunately, the performance of this audiobook was incredibly disappointing. The pronunciation of “microglia” throughout the book is frustrating and very distracting. Of the dozens of microglia researchers I work with, not a single one pronounces it this way. Other key words that are integral to the story of this book such as “tau” are mispronounced as well and make certain chapters hard to follow. That being said, this may not be a huge deal to those outside of the neuro-immune/AD fields. I expect better from Random House Audio, now I’ll think twice before buying science audiobooks from them in the future.

12 people found this helpful

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Microglia pronounced wrong by narrator

The book itself is excellent. Donna Jackson Nakazawa turns scientific information into an interesting and understandable story, and it wholeheartedly deserves five stars.

HOWEVER, the narrator mispronounced “microglia” throughout the book and it drove me crazy. I understand a new version is in process..I hope that Audible automatically replaces earlier purchases when it is completed. But seriously Audible, you should have better quality control than this!

5 people found this helpful

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Fascinating, Intriguing, Grateful

I am incredibly grateful to Donna Jackson Nakazawa for writing this book. I also read Childhood Disrupted. Both books are beyond stellar. These books read like stories. I can feel her passion for her subject matter. And both books apply to my life. She truly cares about traumatic childhoods and brains that seem to be beyond repair. For people who have suffered greatly and feel like there’s no hope. If I could give these books 1000 stars I would. It truly brought understanding to my complicated world. Thank you so much for your beautiful writing and your dedication to mental health!

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Not all the answers, but gets to the root cause

Pretty rare for me to review a book before I'm done with it. This book is worth it just for the first couple of hours. Already bought the book as a gift for a few friends, as well. It's that good.

I'm not going to say it holds all the answers, but it may hold all the causations, from autism, to depression to Alzheimer's. Even though it raises a lot of questions, I found it very comforting to finally run into something that makes so much sense.

I have studied a lot of eastern philosophy. I did enjoy how it made the point that there is no separation of the mind and the body.

I thought this part from the book summed it up fairly well:

[S]cientist now refer to this process of excessive glial attacks on neurons and synaptic over pruning as neuroinflammation. Or, in diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's as neurodegeneration.

In disorders like autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder and mood disorders. Neuroscientist call this process neural-developmental changes.

But, whatever term we use to refer to these brain changes, they all mean the same thing. Tiny microglia are engulfing and destroying synapses, and this is the catalyst that sets in motion hundreds of different disorders and diseases that have long remained the black box of psychiatry and neurology.

This means that the long held line in the sand between mental and physical health simply does not exist.

When an individual's immune system is over taxed, for some disease may show up in the brain. While for others, it may show up in the body. It could inflame your joins, or your mind, or both.

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fascinating beginning to end

There were no wasted words. The book was fascinating, balanced, realistic and optimistic all at once.

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Engaging and hopeful

I found the information presented in an engaging and thoughtful manner allowing anyone to digest and stay focused as the information and processes were presented. I’ve already downloaded her all of Ms. Nakazawa’s works!

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Brain science has come a long way!

If the information doesn’t apply personally it will make you think of someone in your life that may have been affected. Let’s look at cause and affect body wide. What if the brain in our body actually is an integral part of our immune response to stressors and disease? After all, the same God created our entire body. What is the likelihood that our brain would be so disconnected ?
Not everything is fixed by a pill. Yes, medication can be effective. But what if there is more to the increased prevalence of brain disorders including memory loss, OCD, ADHD, mental illness, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis and dementia? All brain related disorders. How do stresses play a role?
This book is packed with information about brain science and health in relation to immunity, mental and physical health. The brain is an amazing organ that has long been mysterious and misunderstood. There is new science.
This is an interesting and enlightening listen for anyone who has been touched by or interested in brain science and health.

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Informative and Well Explained

This book contains a wealth of information about a new frontier in neuroscience. The case studies really supported the meatier parts of the text.

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THE BEST most life changing book I have ever read!!

The narrator is superb. The writing is superb. The content is of such importance I feel like buying a book for everyone I know and asking them to read it!
The book provides data that offers so much hope for so many medical issues, especially mental health (the costs of which are 200+billion yearly. I believe I am quoting the author correctly) and a new way to understand why people suffer as they do. There are solutions on the horizon that will advance treatment in ways that will make current treatments seem so limited in outcomes. There is not anyone who will come away without new empathy and understanding of others after reading this book.

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Good but too much fluff

Great approachable rendition of recent medical discoveries and research bring them to the mainstream. Absolutely too much minute by minute recounting of patient experiences. Slows down momentum and makes you wish you had a print version.

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  • Natalie Price
  • 07-07-20

Fascinating

This is a very important book, highlighting game-changing research relevant to so many people (anyone with mental illness, chronic inflammatory conditions, autoimmune diseases, neurodevelopmental disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as to medical professionals.)

Microglia make up 10% of the cells of our brain. Originally dismissed as annoying little cells that contaminated neuronal cell cultures, over the last few years, it’s become recognised how extremely important these immune cells are.

Up until recently, the brain’s immune system was thought to be non-existent. Now we know “that the brain is a sensitive immune organ, constantly on the lookout for possible new threats—and that myriad immune triggers can slowly change the habits of microglial cells in the brain, so that they remodel our synapses in suboptimal ways, just as environmental triggers can alter the habits of immune cells in the body.”

Absolutely fascinating.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-25-20

Robotic narrator

Amazing subject matter and well written but the cold monotonous drone of the narrator is almost unbearable. I may as well have asked Siri or Alexa to read me a bedtime story to get the same effect. Even on 1.75x speed I had to take a week off in the middle to grit myself for more emotionless text-to-speech robot narration. Do yourself a favour and just buy the physical book.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-03-20

Easy and informative science!

I absolutely love this book by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. I am a health professional working with patients diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases. This information is the cutting edge of neuroscience / neuro immunology, meets neuro hacking meets neuro feedback, and is presented in such a comprehensive and concise way that I plan to recommend it to all my patients. And unlike the reference in the book to wanting to throw it away upon finding out about the links of concussion to MS and other diseases, instead I felt a sense of relief to know that maybe having MS wasn’t actually my fault. That in itself is a gift. Thank you for this great book!