Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

David Quammen. Norton, $28.95 (480p) ISBN 978-0-393-06680-7
Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) is a masterful writer who adroitly blends science and journalism, speculation and fact, as well as horror and humor in his latest tour de force. He traverses the globe exploring cases in which animal-borne diseases somehow jump to humans, often with devastating consequences. This cross-species transmission of disease—the “spillover” of the book’s title—has happened for the 200,000 years modern humans have been present on the earth, but the frequency and consequences of such events have been increasing dramatically in recent years. According to Quammen, diseases of this sort are responsible for “the death of more than 29 million people since 1981.” And, as he explains so well, these diseases “represent the unintended results of things we are doing.” Environmental destruction, burgeoning human populations, increased mobility, and extremely different patterns of food production are all part of his story. Quammen is adept at describing the epidemiology, anthropology, and molecular biology of SARS, AIDS, Ebola, and a host of other frightening maladies. His profiles of researchers, both in the lab and in the field, are every bit as compelling as are his descriptions of those unlucky enough to catch one of these dreadful diseases. This is a frightening but critically important book for anyone interested in learning about the prospects of the world’s next major pandemic. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/06/2012
Release date: 10/01/2012
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