Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond Info

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A thrilling glimpse into the next likely global
contagion---and how to stop it.

Over the past fifty years,
more than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in
new territory. Experts around the world are bracing for a deadly,
disruptive pandemic.

In Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from
Cholera to Ebola and Beyond
, prizewinning journalist Sonia Shah
reveals how that could happen, by drawing parallels between
cholera---one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing
pathogens---and the new diseases that stalk us today. As Shah traces
each stage of cholera’s dramatic journey from harmless microbe to
world-changing pandemic, she reports on the pathogens that have followed
cholera’s footsteps---from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own
family to the never-before-seen killers emerging from China’s wet
markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince,
and the suburban backyards of the East Coast. A true story that is both
gripping and alarming, Pandemic delves deep into the convoluted
science, strange politics, and the checkered history of one of the
world’s deadliest diseases, offering a prelude to the future that’s
impossible to ignore.


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Reviews for Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond:

2

Feb 28, 2016

I am in the middle of reading Spillover and am enjoying it much more than this book. Pandemic is more current for certain, but David Quammen, the Author of Spillover, is by far more scientifically literate. Shah spends an awful lot of time focused on paradigm shifts in science. She even seems to have a really good grasp of Thomas Kuhn's arguments; and yet, she failed to realize the science she researched for this book has been pushed out by the very methods Kuhn elucidated in book, in fact the I am in the middle of reading Spillover and am enjoying it much more than this book. Pandemic is more current for certain, but David Quammen, the Author of Spillover, is by far more scientifically literate. Shah spends an awful lot of time focused on paradigm shifts in science. She even seems to have a really good grasp of Thomas Kuhn's arguments; and yet, she failed to realize the science she researched for this book has been pushed out by the very methods Kuhn elucidated in book, in fact the very methods she, herself, wrote about in this very book. She seems to lack critical thinking skills when it comes to psychology studies, never questioning the methods. If someone said it was true, she seemed to not only accept it, despite glaring flaws in the methods for those studies, but used the bad studies to argue her opinion. The old way of viewing evolution, the selfish gene as driver of all evolution, is on its way out the door. Yet, she clings tightly to that paradigm. She is enamored with the good genes/sexy sons hypothesis, selfish gene dogma, David Buss style evolutionary psych (which amounts to "just-so-stories). Her lack of adopting a progressive paradigm, considering her progressive subject matter was disappointing at best. I also didn't relate to her personal experience with the virus she and her son share. That detracted from the story for me.

Even with the negatives, the subject matter is trilling. What she lacks in scientific understanding, she really makes up for with her history of various viruses. Absolutely fantastic.

If you are only going to read one book about pandemics, let it be Spillover. But, if you are willing to read more than one book, because of the history she provides, this is definitely worthwhile. ...more
5

Jun 24, 2016

I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author.

When we think about Pandemics, most of us think about them in a historical context, and there seems to be this strange belief that we'll be able to successfully deal with whatever pathogens come our way with the aid of the super duper drugs churned out by Big Pharma. Boy, oh boy, are we wrong.

How the topics and events in this book are not the headline news every single night is something I simply do not understand. Well, I do I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author.

When we think about Pandemics, most of us think about them in a historical context, and there seems to be this strange belief that we'll be able to successfully deal with whatever pathogens come our way with the aid of the super duper drugs churned out by Big Pharma. Boy, oh boy, are we wrong.

How the topics and events in this book are not the headline news every single night is something I simply do not understand. Well, I do understand, because it is much more entertaining to hear about an escaped monkey, than to address the microbes said monkey might be spreading about on it's jaunt.

The topics covered in this book are a clear and present danger to all of us. Not those people over there, but all of us, and if we learn anything from history, it should be that microbes will find a way to become pathogens, and these in turn will find a way to spillover to humans.

I know there are other highly reviewed books out there on this subject but if, like me, you are new to really diving into these topics this is a great place to start. It is easy to read and digest, and the author makes complex subjects accessible to a layperson. This book explores not just the life cycle of pathogens and the history of pandemics, but also explores how medicine, big pharma, global travel, population numbers, habitat and environmental destruction, cultural norms, etc., all affect and contribute to the problem.

There are so many dots this book connected for me, and I learned about events that should have been major news stories that got little, if any, national coverage in the media. I found this a fascinating, educational, and terrifying read. I just picked up the ebook, and have not doubt that I will re-read it. I highly recommend this one. ...more
4

Aug 25, 2016

Um livro que me surpreendeu. Fui ler esperando mais do mesmo, depois de ter lido obras como Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic e The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, mas felizmente fui surpreendido. Sonia Shah traz um conteúdo bem atualizado e pertinente, discutindo os fatores que favorecem novas pandemias e grandes porquês com muito poder de explicação (a melhor parte).

Nossa relação de nojo ou conivência com sujeira, que varia de acordo Um livro que me surpreendeu. Fui ler esperando mais do mesmo, depois de ter lido obras como Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic e The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, mas felizmente fui surpreendido. Sonia Shah traz um conteúdo bem atualizado e pertinente, discutindo os fatores que favorecem novas pandemias e grandes porquês com muito poder de explicação (a melhor parte).

Nossa relação de nojo ou conivência com sujeira, que varia de acordo com a familiaridade, a maneira como reagimos a novas epidemias apontando culpados, grandes habitações e a grande circulação de pessoas, entre outros. Só pelos grandes fatores o livro já fale. Sem falar nas atualizações sobre o que aconteceu em relação à surtos recentes de Ebola e Cólera. Ajuda bastante a entender o problema atual de Zika, desde o que fez a doença circular à maneira como as pessoas reagiram até online. ...more
5

Jan 13, 2016

Why do some pathogens provoke yawns while others trigger panic?

Is it too much faith in medicine? Is it first-world arrogance? Is it the difference between vector-borne pathogens versus airborne or blood-borne? All of the above?

Shah manages to answer and analyze these kinds of questions while expertly retracing pandemics of the past centuries, and foretelling the ones of the future. Through her research and writing, it becomes clear how very delicate this balance is - the one that we created to Why do some pathogens provoke yawns while others trigger panic?

Is it too much faith in medicine? Is it first-world arrogance? Is it the difference between vector-borne pathogens versus airborne or blood-borne? All of the above?

Shah manages to answer and analyze these kinds of questions while expertly retracing pandemics of the past centuries, and foretelling the ones of the future. Through her research and writing, it becomes clear how very delicate this balance is - the one that we created to shield ourselves from disease and pestilence. The re-emergence of diseases that have been dormant (or underreported) for decades is of particular interest. She specifically looks at cholera - a bacteria that never went away - but was fought back by modern sanitation and public works. However, the balance was thrown in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010, and it's epidemic status is now endemic.


Vibrio cholarae - Cholera bacterium

Cholera's fascinating - and devastating - history is retold here (also read in Johnson's The Ghost Map: ) with some new details and context. Shah also delves into the recent pandemics caused by zoonosis - infectious diseases in animals that have spilled over into human populations. These are familiar newsmakers in recent years: swine flu, West Nile, SARS. She travels to Guangzhou province of China, the birthplace of SARS and witnesses the very same (now illegal) trade at "wet markets" that made SARS a household world. She briefly traces the phenomenon of medical tourism - traveling to other countries for expensive medical treatments - and the unique risks involved with "superbugs" and antibiotic resistant strains of bacterial pathogens that are then brought back to the traveler's home country. She even shares her own family's reoccurring struggle with MRSA after a seemingly innocuous cut on her son's knee.

The structure of the narrative is likely it's strongest point. Shah uses lenses for each chapter - "Locomotion", "Filth", "Crowds", etc. in which to view the pandemics. How was disease *helped* by locomotion and by crowds? With the wealth of historical data, early industrial New York is the case study. Booming industry, steady stream of immigrants from other countries, and from rural US areas, coming together in extremely close quarters (some of the statistics she states are mind-blowing - people packed in like sardines) and THIS is where pandemics bloomed. In the historical context (and still very much still today as we are seeing with unfolding details about Zika in Latin America) her lens of "Corruption" and its role in pandemics: the Manhattan Company and their active role in groundwater pollution and the cholera outbreaks of the 19th century.


Collect Pond in lower Manhattan - Five Points slum

Shah's final chapter is a call to action, but also to that of information and education.

The One Health movement... argues that human health is linked to the health of wildlife, livestock, and the ecosystem.

Modern farming and livestock conditions, both in the West and the East - comparable in so many ways to the tenements in developing world countries where disease is rife, and in NYC during the cholera outbreaks in the 19th century - could very well be the point of spillover to human populations.

Yes, the book may scare you - wash your hands more, clean and disinfect open wounds, clean up after yourself and your pets (and then wash your hands again!) - but it is truly one of education and knowledge.



Read for Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge - Science ...more
5

Feb 23, 2016

To judge from the over-the-top rhetoric on display among the Republican candidates in the 2016 Presidential primary campaign, many millions of Americans live in abject fear of immigration, terrorism, and having their guns taken away. It’s true there are genuine reasons to fear that our lives, our livelihoods, and our lifestyles might be disrupted in the foreseeable future. But they have nothing to do with immigration, terrorism, or hunting rifles.

Any logical, clear-headed look at the world To judge from the over-the-top rhetoric on display among the Republican candidates in the 2016 Presidential primary campaign, many millions of Americans live in abject fear of immigration, terrorism, and having their guns taken away. It’s true there are genuine reasons to fear that our lives, our livelihoods, and our lifestyles might be disrupted in the foreseeable future. But they have nothing to do with immigration, terrorism, or hunting rifles.

Any logical, clear-headed look at the world around us reveals that the true existential threats on the horizon include climate change, nuclear holocaust, pandemics, and, at a higher level of logical abstraction, rampant consumerism. However, the most immediate of these threats to our civilization appears to be contagious disease. In Pandemic, Sonia Shah’s superb new survey of the past, present, and future of infectious disease, spells this out with startling clarity. Just so it’s clear: she’s not writing about simple colds and mild flus, but about illnesses that might kill tens or hundreds of millions of people with little warning and with unpredictable consequences for the cohesion of society. The heart of the problem, as she explains, is that “epidemics grow exponentially while our ability to respond proceeds linearly, at best.”

A balanced view of contagious disease

Thanks to alarmist reporting, Americans are terrified that hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola will “break out” and kill us by the millions. Shah patiently explains that much more common diseases are far more likely to pose threats to us, influenza and cholera in particular. A series of unfortunate mutations in either one could fashion a disease that is not just virulent (contagious) but also highly lethal. Today, for example, influenza kills only a small proportion of its victims. We tend to regard it more as a nuisance for most of us, a threat only to those who are most vulnerable. However, the “Spanish flu” (the H1N1 virus) that broke out in the final days of World War I infected up to 500 million people (between a fifth and a third of the world’s population) and killed between 50 and 100 million. Epidemiologists live in fear that H1N1 or one of the countless other varieties of influenza incubating in Southern China could put on a repeat performance — or worse. Cholera poses a similar threat.

Sanitation, Hippocratic medicine, and Christianity

One of the most fascinating passages in Pandemic is Shah’s account of the role of Christianity in fostering infectious disease for more than a thousand years.

History shows us that two thousand years ago the Romans piped clean drinking water to their cities through an elaborate system of aqueducts and made public baths available to one and all. Cleanliness was a virtue to them. That all began to change with the advent of Christianity a few centuries into the Common Era. Unlike the Jews and (later) the Muslims, Christian clergy disdained personal hygiene, associating it with Roman polytheism and viewing cleanliness as superstitious. It was common for Catholic priests and the Protestant pastors who succeeded them in some parts to discourage their flocks from bathing. For many centuries, the vast majority of people in Christian lands lived side-by-side with their animals atop pits filled with excrement and cooked with smelly water drawn from contaminated streams or wells.

When disease struck, as it did with increasing frequency as population grew and gravitated toward the cities, the physicians who purported to combat it were in the thrall of the Hippocratic school of medicine, which attributed all disease to an imbalance in the four “humors” within the body and in external factors that exacerbated it. For example, cholera, which sickened hundreds of millions through the centuries and killed half of them, was blamed on the inhalation of what the ancient physician Galen termed “miasmas” (offensive smells). The nineteenth-century physicians who practiced medical “science” based on these beliefs “increased [cholera’s] death toll from 50 to 70 percent.” Though the germ theory of disease was first proposed in the sixteenth century, it wasn’t until three centuries later, on the cusp of the twentieth century, that practicing physicians began to accept the role of microorganisms in causing disease.

Meanwhile, progress toward improved sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water was even slower. As Shah explains in chilling detail, the construction of London’s sewer system was not prompted because public health officials understood that water used for drinking and washing was dangerously contaminated. The reason they proposed the effort was that they thought it was essential to pipe all the smelly sewage into the Thames, the source of the city’s drinking water! Only in the twentieth century did it become common for municipalities to regard drinkable water as a necessity of life.

Why is contagious disease more of a threat today than ever before?

In Pandemic, Shah describes the role of contemporary trends in making the threat of epidemic disease greater than ever. Five stand out: climate change, continuing urbanization, ever more accessible global transportation, resistance to vaccines, and the encroachment of development on previously virgin lands, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Amazon. The result is that an increasing number of unknown and unpredictable new tropical diseases is emerging and making their way into more and more crowded cities further and further north on the globe. All the while, diseases previously thought conquered, such as polio and measles, rise up in communities around the globe.

About the author

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sonia Shah is an American investigative journalist who has reported from around the world, principally on corporate power and gender inequality. Pandemic is her sixth book. Though her parents are both physicians and she lives with a molecular biologist, it appears that the impetus for writing this book came from a painful personal experience with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which she contracted from her son. Shah describes her eye-opening experience at length in Pandemic. ...more
4

Feb 25, 2019

Like I’ve been saying people need to stop asking for antibiotics before they get test results back and when they do get prescribed they need to take all of it. Bacteria want to survive and they mutate eventually we won’t have anything to combat them. Scary.
4

May 03, 2018

One of the more interesting science books I've read in a long time, and one of the most important. I strongly recommend it to everyone. I'm also going to try some of the books recommended below.

The author does spend too much time on cholera history in the middle of the book- interesting but not the only focus of the book so it feels belabored. Power through it, it's worth it.
4

Feb 12, 2016

A thorough look into the history of pathogens' interactions with humans, and the different factors that affected how quickly, and how far, they spread.

I love that Shah goes as far as to bring up the political, psychological, and ecological aspects, because those often get overlooked. For instance, many people would agree that Lyme disease is becoming more of a problem, but it's not always mentioned that it's partly because of the destruction of natural wildlife. (i.e., Deforestation ==> less A thorough look into the history of pathogens' interactions with humans, and the different factors that affected how quickly, and how far, they spread.

I love that Shah goes as far as to bring up the political, psychological, and ecological aspects, because those often get overlooked. For instance, many people would agree that Lyme disease is becoming more of a problem, but it's not always mentioned that it's partly because of the destruction of natural wildlife. (i.e., Deforestation ==> less otters ==> more ticks, because otters would usually help get rid of ticks in the environment ==> Lyme disease spreads.)

This was a very approachable read. It's definitely a journalistic, and not an academic work. A few of the sources she used were rather outdated, and I felt like some of the concepts and studies she mentioned (such as in Chapter 9) weren't concrete enough to state as fact. I'd feel better if the book had been written by someone with more of a science background. But nevertheless, it was very compelling, and makes for a good introduction to infectious disease. ...more
5

Oct 14, 2017

The title says more or less all about it —and this is a striking and breathtaking account of epidemics worldwide, their past and (possible, scary, quite likely inevitable) future. A very good account. The title says more or less all about it — and this is a striking and breathtaking account of epidemics worldwide, their past and (possible, scary, quite likely inevitable) future. A very good account. ...more
4

Jan 11, 2016

Terrifying! But I couldn't put it down -- tons of interesting history, thoughtful analysis, and musings on the future.
5

Feb 29, 2016

I have been hospitalised thrice: twice for dengue, and once for typhoid. These events occurred about a year or two years apart, and all of them happened when I was in grade school. The first incident (dengue) happened when I was around eight or so, and the experience has left me with a deeply-ingrained, almost visceral, fear of hypodermic needles of any sort. This meant, of course, that the subsequent hospitalisation incidents were horrifying to me even if I was being treated at very good I have been hospitalised thrice: twice for dengue, and once for typhoid. These events occurred about a year or two years apart, and all of them happened when I was in grade school. The first incident (dengue) happened when I was around eight or so, and the experience has left me with a deeply-ingrained, almost visceral, fear of hypodermic needles of any sort. This meant, of course, that the subsequent hospitalisation incidents were horrifying to me even if I was being treated at very good hospitals and received quality care every time.

And yet, despite the traumatising circumstances I have just mentioned, I am utterly fascinated by both diseases - especially dengue, which, unlike typhoid, cannot be vaccinated against and, being viral in nature, cannot be cured with antibiotics. Some might call it masochism, but I call it curiosity, more so because either disease could have killed me had I not received appropriate treatment and care before either disease could reach their more devastating stages.

This fascination extends to other diseases, like SARS and AIDS and Ebola: all of which are lethal, and all the more interesting to me because of that lethality. When news of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa made headlines in 2014, I kept an eye on it not because I was afraid the disease would make it to the Philippines, but because I was interested in learning about how such a deadly virus would spread, and more importantly, how it would be contained. I was also interested in the hysteria citizens of Western countries exhibited as the epidemic was ongoing, watching as the hysteria unearthed deep-seated racism and xenophobia even in more “enlightened” countries. The social aspect is as important and interesting to me as the medical side of things: after all, crises as large as the Ebola epidemic affect much more than just the bodies of the sick, but extend into the rest of society as well.

I am doing the same thing this year, now that there is nothing but talk of the Zika virus in the international news. While Zika is not as graphic in its effects as Ebola, there are still some interesting overlaps in terms of how people have reacted to it (in particular, how the Western - specifically American - scientific establishment did not really attempt to formulate a vaccine for it until it appeared within their own borders, much like how there was no serious attempt to create a vaccine for Ebola until American aid workers started coming home sick with it). Similar, too, is the hysteria some Americans are exhibiting over the virus, with several conspiracy theories regarding its origins already making the rounds.

In the end, it was Zika that led me to Sonia Shah’s book Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. Shah did an interview with NPR about the future of pandemics, and it encouraged me to pick up her book.

Pandemic is divided into ten chapters, plus an introduction. In each chapter, Shah tells the story of the 19th century cholera pandemic that brought several major European and American cities to their knees with her own investigation into the nature of 21st century pandemics. From time to time, her narrative is interspersed with her own personal experience, ranging from recollections of visiting family in India to helping her son recover from a wound infected with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: the poster child of drug-resistant bacteria). The goal is to understand how and why pandemics happen, and what humanity can do to stop them - or if not, at least mitigate their spread.

The first thing the reader needs to realise about this book is that it is not for the squeamish, nor for the hypochondriacal. Shah does not hold back in describing the effects of some of the deadliest pandemics in the world; indeed, she opens her Introduction with the following excerpt:

Cholera kills people fast. There’s no drawn-out sequence of progressive debility. The newly infected person feels fine at first. Then half a day passes ,and cholera has drained his or her body of its fluids, leaving a withered blue corpse.

That’s why, even after being infected, you could, say, eat a decent breakfast at your hotel, of sunny-side-up eggs and tepid juice. You could drive over dusty, potholed roads to the airport. You’d feel perfectly well enough to withstand the long queues there. Even as the killer silently brewed in your gut, you’d push your bags through security, perhaps even pick up a croissant at the coffee shop and enjoy a brief respite in a cool molded-plastic chair at the gate before a crackly PA announced the boarding of your flight.

It would be only after you’d shuffled down the plane’s aisles and found your lightly tattered upholstered seat that the stranger within would make itself known, in a deadly, explosive onslaught of excretion, and your trip overseas would be suddenly and cruelly curtailed. Without the benefit of modern medicine rapidly administer,d you’d be faced with a fifty-fifty chance of survival.

I think the above selection makes it abundantly clear that, if the reader is of a rather nervous disposition, it might not be very wise to pick this book up unless they are absolutely certain of what they are about to get themselves into. I myself felt a touch nauseated in some parts of the book, and I like to think I have a rather strong stomach when it comes to these sorts of things.

But why cholera? If an author of a book about pandemics wants to talk about historical pandemics with relevance to the contemporary world, why not the 1918 influenza - the one that probably killed more people than all the battles of World War I combined? After all, influenza is one of the greatest viral threats to the world, and many of Shah’s readers will likely remember the H1N1 flu pandemic that happened in 2009. Shah explains her decision to use the 19th century cholera pandemic as her historical point of comparison in the following excerpt:

Cholera is one of only a handful of pathogens—including bubonic plague, influenza, smallpox, and HIV—that in modern times have been able to cause pandemics… Among them, it stands alone. Unlike the plague, smallpox, and influenza cholera’s emergence and spread were well documented from the beginning. Two centuries after it first emerged, it remains exceptionally potent, with an undiminished power to cause death and disruption… And unlike relative newcomers like HIV, cholera’s an old hand at pandemics. So far, it’s caused seven, the latest hitting Haiti in 2010.

Today cholera is known primarily as a disease that affects impoverished countries, but that wasn’t always so. In the nineteenth century, cholera struck the most modern, prosperous cities in the world, killing rich and poor alike, from Paris and London to New York and New Orleans. … Over the course of the nineteenth century, cholera sickened hundreds of millions, killing more than half of its victims. It was one of the fastest-moving, most feared pathogens in the world.

But Shah’s narrative of the history of cholera is mostly a frame for a more pressing concern: the current wave of pandemics that are occurring today. Sometimes it seems like not a year passes without some new disease breaking out into the world, with paranoia and hysteria following in its wake, and it can sometimes feel like humanity is helpless against these new biological threats. Shah, however, points out that history can show us the way:

By telling the stories of new pathogens through the lens of a historical pandemic, I could show both how new pathogens emerge and spread, and how a pathogen that had used the same pathways had already caused a pandemic. The path from microbe to pandemic would be illuminated in the overlap, where two dim beams intersected.

Shah succeeds admirably in the above goal. By taking apart the history of cholera, she shows the true complexity underlying a pandemic. It is not so straightforward as a pathogen becoming deadly enough and virulent enough to be a true safety concern, nor is it just about scientists conducting research in the field or in laboratories. Pandemics occur, she claims, through complex interactions of history, economics, politics, and culture. “Epidemics are sparked by social conditions as much as they are by introductions,” she states in Chapter 6, and that is quite true. Even a cursory look at the ongoing Zika outbreak shows how a good grasp of culture and societal conditions is key to not only predicting where Zika will show up next, but ultimately, how it might be contained, or even cured. The same applies to any future pathogens that may emerge in the future.

Underpinning all of this is Shah’s writing. There is a sense of urgency in it that drives the book forward, though it must be noted that that urgency can also sound a little bit like sensationalism in some places; fortunately that does not happen very often. This is just a minor complaint on my part, though, as it does not really interfere overmuch with the rest of the book

Overall, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond is a book that more people should read, despite the discomfort it is bound to induce. By combining historical accounts, the latest scientific research, and her own personal experience, Shah is able to show a possible path that humanity can take in confronting the biological threats that lie just beyond the horizon. Taking a multidisciplinary approach to the study of disease is merely the first step, but it is, perhaps, the most important one, because it is only by understanding how humanity interacts with the world - both inside and outside our bodies - that we can begin to find a way to understand what makes a pandemic, and hopefully, stop them from happening. ...more
5

Jan 11, 2016

Missed my calling as an epidemiologist for sure. Loved this and think it's important reading in the nearly post-antibiotic age in which we live.
3

Mar 07, 2016

Pretty good. I do like how Shah tried to organize the material into chapters according to the ways infectious diseases take advantage of human behaviors to spread into pandemics. However, that meant the narrative ping-ponged around between different diseases and often felt too disjointed for my taste. More distinction should have been made between the different modes of transmission of the different agents (she did cover cholera fairly extensively). I have a lot more "insider baseball" Pretty good. I do like how Shah tried to organize the material into chapters according to the ways infectious diseases take advantage of human behaviors to spread into pandemics. However, that meant the narrative ping-ponged around between different diseases and often felt too disjointed for my taste. More distinction should have been made between the different modes of transmission of the different agents (she did cover cholera fairly extensively). I have a lot more "insider baseball" information packed into my head on this subject so can fill in detail better.

(If you're interested in a real-time example of many ideas in this book, look up the news and medical articles surrounding the current health crisis surrounding Zika virus) ...more
4

Jul 09, 2016

Interesting view of emerging pathogens by continually referring back to cholera and its history to compare it. The author is a clear writer, she did a lot of good research (including going to a wet market in China, which I wouldn't do for a million dollars, literally, as I have read a good deal about zoonosis and SARS), and I learned a heck of a lot about cholera.

Take away: human nature hasn't changed since cholera was an epidemic in the U.S. and advances in science have been undermined by human Interesting view of emerging pathogens by continually referring back to cholera and its history to compare it. The author is a clear writer, she did a lot of good research (including going to a wet market in China, which I wouldn't do for a million dollars, literally, as I have read a good deal about zoonosis and SARS), and I learned a heck of a lot about cholera.

Take away: human nature hasn't changed since cholera was an epidemic in the U.S. and advances in science have been undermined by human behavior, in particular overpopulation and its downstream consequences, and omg it is awful what might happen!

That is my main complaint here, that it seems a little scaremongery. (I began looking differently at the package of pork chops in my freezer as I read this and wondered if I'd ever find the courage to defrost them.) But then the author has MRSA, and I don't, so perhaps this explains our different levels of alarm. So far my incurable diseases aren't quite that gross. ...more
5

Jun 21, 2019

Ms. Shah did an excellent job discussing pandemics and how they happen. She highlighted many issues that currently exist and how it might impact us. She also covered a wide range of topics from "wet markets" in SE Asia to the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti.

She did such a good job of writing this, that I'm actually looking at other things she has written (newspaper articles that is).

I do admit she had picked a different disease besides Cholera as the central disease. I feel that cholera is a Ms. Shah did an excellent job discussing pandemics and how they happen. She highlighted many issues that currently exist and how it might impact us. She also covered a wide range of topics from "wet markets" in SE Asia to the recent cholera outbreak in Haiti.

She did such a good job of writing this, that I'm actually looking at other things she has written (newspaper articles that is).

I do admit she had picked a different disease besides Cholera as the central disease. I feel that cholera is a "golden child" among authors writing about diseases.

...more
4

Apr 28, 2018

Troubling subject, fun book. In addition to covering the core subject well, the author is great at going into relevant historical subjects that you wouldn't necessarily expect but shed new light on the subject.
4

Sep 06, 2018

A lot of focus is on cholera. I would have liked to see more pathogens addressed but that may be a bit unfeasible. Also a pretty interesting history of epidemiology, how it came to be and how it functions today.
3

Jun 11, 2018

Decent read about the science, politics, and history of pandemics. Shah focuses primarily on cholera and ebola. The most interesting parts for me were how pathogens spread in history versus modern times and a small piece about ancient pathogens and their influence on the evolution of our DNA, a subject she just touches but definitely something I want to read more about. For a more comprehensive and educated account on this subject matter I recommend reading ‘Spillover’ by David Quammen.
4

Apr 20, 2016

Excellent read! Here's my review:

Tessa’s Nonfiction Recommendation: Pandemic by Sonia Shah

Even after reading lots of books on infectious disease, I’m still always interested in a new one. Shah’s newest book, Pandemic, covers new developments and old patterns clearly and factually—and it is, at times, ominous and chilling. The current status of contagions and public health which Shah exposes is riveting, with fascinating details and previously unknown conclusions (to me, at least).

Shah loops the Excellent read! Here's my review:

Tessa’s Nonfiction Recommendation: Pandemic by Sonia Shah

Even after reading lots of books on infectious disease, I’m still always interested in a new one. Shah’s newest book, Pandemic, covers new developments and old patterns clearly and factually—and it is, at times, ominous and chilling. The current status of contagions and public health which Shah exposes is riveting, with fascinating details and previously unknown conclusions (to me, at least).

Shah loops the book’s history with the current day by tracing cholera’s two-hundred-year global attack from the Sunderbans, Bay of Bengal, in 1817 to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. She traces the history of Manhattan from Native American fishing grounds to cholera-breeding slums to the creation of the Manhattan Water Company, which become today’s JP Morgan Chase & Co. Her own family’s battle with the nearly indestructible MRSA infection becomes another datum in the appalling recital, revealing more unsettling contemporary difficulties, mostly due to how little we know about this awful condition.

The third chapter, Filth, is full of fantastic fecal facts. For instance, snuff was not always a tobacco product. Many in the 1700’s used powdered fecal matter in their noses, called poudrette. Martin Luther, in the 1500’s, took a spoonful of his own feces daily, for his health. (Before you get too critical, remember that some among us today think eating our baby’s placenta is healthy. And leeches are making their way back into medical practice, too, I hear.)

The chapter Crowds makes the case that the world has changed radically in the manner livestock are handled, contributing hugely to the current problems of contagion genes reasorting themselves into new mutated forms that can infect more species, more efficiently, more often. I was convinced.

Corruption examines the political influences and ramifications of disease outbreaks throughout history, and it is the most alarming factor of all. The current state of the UN’s World Health Organization as laid out here explains a lot about recent poor handling of outbreaks.

"Between 1980 and 2000, the number of deaths pathogens caused in the US alone rose nearly 60 percent...Excluding HIV, …by 22 percent." I’m still reading this excellent book, but I strongly recommend that every single adult, all citizens, read the chapter on Corruption. Our survival as a country, and as a species, may well depend on important changes in the handling of global disease. ~ Tessa May 2016 4 out of 5 stars

PS--After finishing, I would caution that the ending is kinda lame, but the content up to that point continues to give new insight into the latest discoveries.

"Experimentally ridding mice of their microbes altered their behavior in suggest ways, reducing both their anxiety responses and ability to perform tasks requiring memory; exposing one mouse to the microbes of another led it to behave in ways that mimic the other." p. 198 ...more
3

Nov 21, 2016

Well that was a thousand different kinds of depressing.

That's not the fault of the book. The book gives a nice overview of the spread of contagious disease and how we as a society handle it. Spoilers: we are horrible. Aaron Burr doubly so.

I did have a few issues with the book. First of all, it was read by the author, and normally I really like that, and am willing to concede a few idiosyncrasies in that case. However, there were a couple words that Shah kept mispronouncing that were driving me Well that was a thousand different kinds of depressing.

That's not the fault of the book. The book gives a nice overview of the spread of contagious disease and how we as a society handle it. Spoilers: we are horrible. Aaron Burr doubly so.

I did have a few issues with the book. First of all, it was read by the author, and normally I really like that, and am willing to concede a few idiosyncrasies in that case. However, there were a couple words that Shah kept mispronouncing that were driving me up the wall. "juh-NOME" for genome; "ex-CRET-uh" for excreta, "gin-NAY-uh" (what???) for the nation of Guinea (has she never had a guinea pig?); and a few others that were just confounding and irritating, especially considering that Shah is a science journalist. I totally understand that there are some words you see in print and never hear them out loud so you go a long time thinking one thing is another, but if you're going to be reading your own audiobook, you might want to look into that.

She also criticized the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation for trying to eradicate malaria instead of just controlling it; I realize that this may be the case, I'm no expert on malaria. But she failed to back up this criticism with any evidence and every time she brought up the topic of malaria again, I was left wondering. (Considering Shah has given a TED talk called, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria," this really stuck out to me.)

Lastly, she kind of used the words "pandemic" and "epidemic" interchangeably. I realize that there's a lot of wiggle-room between the usage of the two, but there were some instances where it felt like she they might just be synonyms.

These would be minor issues wherein the discussion of disease was a small part of a larger text, but considering that that was the main gist of the book overall, I had a hard time distracting myself from these things.

All that said, the anecdotes and evidence within ranged from hilarious to depression-inducing, and were well-presented and always engaging. It was a good overview of the subject with a strong focus on the cholera epidemics of the 1800s and 1900s (and their unfortunate reemergence of late), and if you just need something quick to read or listen to, this is good, but I would highly recommend "Spillover" by David Quammen for a slightly more in-depth discussion, especially of the zoonotic diseases that were brought up in "Pandemic." ...more
5

Nov 27, 2015

Summary:I couldn't ask for more than from my nonfiction than thisengagingly told story with its mix of history, science, and important predictions about the future of medicine.

Although every pandemic seems uniquely and surprisingly deadly, there are some common principles that can be learned from our past. Using cholera as a case study, Sonia Shah describes some of the factors that can lead to pandemics. She also explores how those factors have changed or stayed the same over timeand describes Summary: I couldn't ask for more than from my nonfiction than this engagingly told story with its mix of history, science, and important predictions about the future of medicine.

Although every pandemic seems uniquely and surprisingly deadly, there are some common principles that can be  learned from our past. Using cholera as a case study, Sonia Shah describes some of the factors that can lead to pandemics. She also explores how those factors have changed or stayed the same over time and describes some of the challenges that might face us when the next pandemic strikes.

I enjoyed everything about this book. I love learning about science and history and this was a great mix of both. The author's choice to organize this book with one topic per chapter and with a focus on one specific disease as an example was inspired. It made the discussion of factors that contribute to pandemics more than hypothetical. She also didn't hesitate to bring in discussions of other diseases and her personal experiences when they helped make a point, so the focus on cholera wasn't limiting. The book seemed well cited (I didn't vet her sources, but there were citations where I felt they were needed) and I was impressed by the author's expertise.

My only possible complaint is that I wish this book were longer and that's not because I feel it was lacking in any way. I just would have liked to read more! The book was engaging and covered topics in science and history that are of great interest to me. Despite the focus on possible future pandemics and the frightening nature of some of the information the book contained, the author didn't come across as a fearmonger. I enjoyed learning a lot of fun facts, but also information I think everyone should be aware of about the way pandemics arise. If this topic at all appeals to you, I'd recommend picking this up.

 
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This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey ...more
4

Oct 18, 2016

This is a rare nonfiction read for me, but I was thinking about pandemics, because who doesn't, and I remembered hearing good things about this book when it came out earlier this year. It's packed with fascinating, terrifying details, presented in a highly readable narrative.

The book examines the factors that lead to diseases spreading and considers how they came into play during past outbreaks, comparing long-ago and recent scenarios. Some of the facts bode poorly for the future, as when Shah This is a rare nonfiction read for me, but I was thinking about pandemics, because who doesn't, and I remembered hearing good things about this book when it came out earlier this year. It's packed with fascinating, terrifying details, presented in a highly readable narrative.

The book examines the factors that lead to diseases spreading and considers how they came into play during past outbreaks, comparing long-ago and recent scenarios. Some of the facts bode poorly for the future, as when Shah explains that diseases are more likely than ever before to jump from other animals into humans, since habitat destruction and climate change push these populations closer together. In other areas, progress works in our favor, and I was glad to have the benefit of historical distance when reading the horror stories of periods when mistaken scientific beliefs made people more vulnerable to disease. I was astonished to learn about the influence of pathogens on human evolution, and I was amused to come across some surprise Hamilton content.

My only disappointment was that the book didn't cover as much ground as I expected. I was under the impression there would be more speculation on future outbreaks, but that was less of a focus than I imagined. I was also surprised that certain famous pandemics, such as the bubonic plague and influenza in 1918, received little attention. I suppose Shah wanted to present less-explored material by focusing on cholera's long history and several diseases with twenty-first century outbreaks. So while I would have been happy for another hundred pages or so with those topics included, I enjoyed/feared all the information contained in this entertaining/horrific book. ...more
4

Mar 17, 2016

Pandemic tells the story of how pathogens evolve, spreads and crosses over the specie boundaries to lay waist to us humans. Sonia Shah looks at both the history and what the future holds for us in regards to Pandemics the event that strikes fears into all,.

The author uses the history of Cholera to thread all the chapter together as she covers how pandemics happen to the conditions that makes pathogens a mass killer. Each chapter builds the readers knowledge and scares you just a little bit Pandemic tells the story of how pathogens evolve, spreads and crosses over the specie boundaries to lay waist to us humans. Sonia Shah looks at both the history and what the future holds for us in regards to Pandemics the event that strikes fears into all,.

The author uses the history of Cholera to thread all the chapter together as she covers how pandemics happen to the conditions that makes pathogens a mass killer. Each chapter builds the readers knowledge and scares you just a little bit more. As humans strived to improve their life and explore the world around them they also opened the gates for pathogens to follow and lay waste.

If I could go back to being a young lad I would strive to become a Virologist. This topic fascinates me as much as it scares me. Sonia Shah has delivered a well-balanced and informative book. By exploring the history of Cholera she ties it in seamlessly to the modern day pathogens such as Ebola, SARS and Avian and Swine flu. I highly recommend this book to one and all......now where's that hand sanitizer?

...more
3

Nov 15, 2016

I'm always up for an interesting read about infectious diseases/pandemics, etc., but for some reason I just couldn't get into this one as much. It felt more like the author really wanted to tell a history of Cholera epidemics (which would have been fine), but then awkwardly slapped on material about SARS, Ebola, and a few other epidemics just to take up more space or perhaps cover diseases that have more "in your face" media coverage. For those interested in epidemics/pandemics/infectious I'm always up for an interesting read about infectious diseases/pandemics, etc., but for some reason I just couldn't get into this one as much. It felt more like the author really wanted to tell a history of Cholera epidemics (which would have been fine), but then awkwardly slapped on material about SARS, Ebola, and a few other epidemics just to take up more space or perhaps cover diseases that have more "in your face" media coverage. For those interested in epidemics/pandemics/infectious diseases I would recommend Spillover by David Quammen as an alternative. ...more
3

Feb 27, 2019

This was a decent book on how to prevent getting sick with the emerging virus du jour, but the tracking is mostly relegated to the history of the disease. There is a variety of diseases discussed, but the most in-depth disease (and one that comes up so frequently that this book should have just been about) discussed was cholera. So much cholera. Please note that the author is pro-vaccine. The author reads the audiobook and was pleasant to listen to but she pronounced certain words very This was a decent book on how to prevent getting sick with the emerging virus du jour, but the tracking is mostly relegated to the history of the disease. There is a variety of diseases discussed, but the most in-depth disease (and one that comes up so frequently that this book should have just been about) discussed was cholera. So much cholera. Please note that the author is pro-vaccine. The author reads the audiobook and was pleasant to listen to but she pronounced certain words very differently than how I pronounced the same words. Don't listen at mealtimes, though - because cholera. ...more

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