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The Viral Storm

3.73  ·  Rating Details ·  1,455 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews

Dynamic young Stanford biologist Nathan Wolfe reveals the surprising origins of the world's most deadly viruses, and how we can overcome catastrophic pandemics.

In The Viral Storm, award-winning biologist Nathan Wolfe tells the story of how viruses and human beings have evolved side by side through history; how deadly viruses like HIV, swine flu, and bird flu almost wipe

ebook, 320 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Times Books (first published October 1st 2011)
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Mar 24, 2013 Kate rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-health
An oversimplified view of infectious disease that lacked new information for anyone even moderately well-read in the field, I was disappointed by Nathan Wolfe's book. Wolfe attempted to follow the pattern so often used by infectious disease literature - open with a case study of a real person infected by the disease before transitioning into more depth information on the microbe. However, the opening anecdotes frequently ended up being unconnected to the rest of the chapter. Wolfe then failed to ...more
Sep 19, 2016 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I wanted to read this because it seemed relevant considering recent headlines. When I started this book, I thought this was not for was way too scientific and even though I like research, it just wasn't meaning anything to me. It reminded me of a bad college lecture. But once I settled into the rigor of this book, I actually started thinking that it was interesting. I enjoyed the connections the author was making as he linked so many things to viruses, their development and the spreadi ...more
Jenny Brown
Feb 23, 2012 Jenny Brown rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It sounds like Wolfe has done some interesting research and is working hard to prevent a new viral pandemic, but if you want the details you'll have to look elsewhere, because this poorly edited, badly written book won't give them to you.

Most chapters start with a punchy description of some poor schnook dying of a viral disease, but we learn almost nothing else about that disease and the rest of the chapter gives us only vague dumbed down overview of some topic that, if you have read anything pu
Nathaniel James
Nov 08, 2014 Nathaniel James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a little sad to see people who "know" about this subject bashing the book for not telling them anything new. The author is quite clear about the intended audience, and it certainly isn't them.

Personally, I was looking for a basic introduction to the subject of virology and an equally basic understanding of where we stand today in terms of recognition, treatment and prevention of epidemics. I think the book did an admirable job in this regard. Nor am I particularly bothered about the book's
Betsy Ashton
Oct 02, 2014 Betsy Ashton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nathan Wolfe's The Viral Storm should be required reading for everyone talking or worrying hysterically about the current Ebola outbreak. An internationally recognized expert in the fields of viral forecasting, immunology, infectious diseases and human biology, Dr. Wolfe's book reads like a primer rather than a text book. His language is approachable for all readers.

He breaks down how viruses, both good and evil, developed alongside humans. He tracks the history of viruses that are benign. We ne
Nov 14, 2011 Molly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good, easy to read overview of the science of viruses - it doesn't match the page-turning quality of Richard Preston's the Hot Zone, but what does? Nathan Wolf focuses on the science, rather than the stories, of tracking viruses and viral diseases and gives you the basics: what viruses are, how they infect humans (by way of birds and mammals), how viruses extend their range and how he and other scientists are working to catch the next viral epidemic before it wreaks havoc. That section ...more
Betsy Curlin
This book seemed more focused on singing the praises of the author and his organization than on actually discussing viruses and their potential consequences.
Jan 19, 2012 Andy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is alarmist baloney. The author either doesn't know what he's talking about or else is deliberately misleading the reader.

Right from the start, for example, on page 9, he writes "H5N1 is important because it kills remarkably effectively. The virus's case fatality rate, or the percentage of infected individuals that die, is around 60 percent. For a microbe, that's incredibly deadly."

The reason this statement is so incredible is because it's not true.

First of all, he has the wrong definition
Sep 30, 2014 Gary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author gives a fairly good look at how Virologist think and see the world. He'll explain in general terms how they see the world and what kind of work they do. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone who thinks they might want to enter the field or for those who have not read any other books on similar topics.

It's obvious to me that the author knows a whole lot more about the subject, but in order to keep the book interesting for the widest possible audience he usually only explains
Feb 01, 2012 Meg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult
This is one of the best non-fiction science books I have read. Nathan Wolfe, a biologist, though I think virologist would be more accurate, takes us into the world of viruses and their implications for humanity. His steady pace and even-handed way of presenting the facts makes this a very readable book for a novice such as myself. His explanations of how viruses function, react to one another, mutate, and harness the will of their hosts are easily understandable without being overly simplistic. ...more
This book was easy to follow and understand, so it is good for its intended general audience. I do have to say it was dry in some spots, though. Many reviewers who already have knowledge in this field have panned the book for its simplicity and lack of new information, but that is not the target audience. There needs to be books at this level for people like me, who want a general understanding of the subject matter; the experts can get their information from peer reviewed articles in scientific ...more
Tessa in Mid-Michigan
Not all scientists can write. Stanford visiting professor Nathan Wolfe can and does a superb job. Concepts which have been difficult for others to explain flow easily from Wolfe's pen. He brings us up-to-date and shares fascinating situations which show just how complex our world has become.
One of the most important concepts to take away from the book is that there is probably no single disease host or reservoir for any particular disease, as was previously thought. Rather, all species have a
Eric Jay Sonnenschein
The Viral Storm is a fast, informative overview of the human interaction with microbes and infectious diseases. It is a good book to start with if you are interested in epidemiology and the scary possibility of pandemics. Anyone who has kept abreast of the various outbreaks in the past quarter-century will be familiar with much of this information, eg. HIV, Ebola, Avian flu, SARS, etc. but there is also much that is new and interesting, for instance, the appearance of Monkeypox in the remote for ...more
Oct 21, 2014 Kit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Near the end of this book, published in 2011, the author calls for Risk literacy when it comes to pandemics. Now in 2014 we are witnessing an alarming lack of this quality among decision makers and the public when it comes to the Ebola scare. This book could go a long way towards developing pandemic risk literacy in those who choose to read it. Despite some of the other reviewers' comments regarding the lack of in-depth treatment, the book's formulaic structure, and the author's tendency to thin ...more
May 21, 2016 Dawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Get our your Germ-X because there is a Viral Storm coming and we're all toast!


This book details how viruses evolve and adapt to overcome our fragile immune systems. The author posits it is only a matter of time before the ultimate virus comes along that will wipe out millions of people worldwide. Cheery thought, huh? The book is very interesting and does make for compelling, if not euphoric, reading. So go wash your hands and read up!
Oct 18, 2011 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While it does paint a scary picture of our modern situation as a species, it's not a fear-mongering book. It's respectable on how it covers and weighs the various possible sources of epidemic novelties, and does a good job of showing that reliance on bush meat due to poverty is the key enemy in regions of most-likely-origin, not culture.

Included a nice 101 on the viral nature of humanity, the bulk of mute/defunct viruses our DNA includes.

Oct 15, 2012 Tim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book, how it combined the science and the investigations of the diseases. While there is definitely a scary part of this story, there is also a promising part too. A dedicated core of health professionals worldwide is working 24/7 to protect us. They are learning more about past and future diseases and how they transfer between humans and animals.
The writing was engaging and the scientific explanation clear and help progress the story. Great pace.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Jun 26, 2012 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: spotted in the library
Shelves: science
Pretty interesting but not overwhelming, if you are already somewhat interested in viruses. Probably just an okay introduction to the subject if you don't already know much about it.

Also there were some usage errors that an editor should have caught. Like not knowing the difference between flair and flare, and an incorrect possessive plural (virus's instead of viruses') early on.
Less provocative than the title would lead you to believe, this book basically is a primer for the microbial world and how viruses jump from one species to another and within species. Probably more fun than your microbiology textbook, laced with anecdotes about chimp research in Africa, etc., but not for those looking for an exciting read about why bird flu will kill us all.
James Neve
Nov 06, 2012 James Neve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is currently scaring me to death.... I finally finished it. Thought-provoking... My only random question is why he makes little or no reference to sea-mammals and marine life in terms of bacteria and viruses... Maybe I forgot a chapter, or maybe that's another branch of research.....? I may visit his blog/website and ask.
Great book!
Nov 07, 2011 Lowry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Focuses a lot on the biological and anthropological origins of the AIDS epistemic. Definitely written for the layperson, at times maddening in its simplicity and lack of depth.
Aug 10, 2014 Rossdavidh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black
Subtitle: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age.

So, sometimes I am a bit concerned about the fact that I've been reading a bunch of books about disease and plague lately. But, you know, they're good, and part of why is that the history of disease is a kind of shadow history of the humans who harbor them. Just as the Black Death couldn't have happened if there hadn't been links (economic, cultural, and military) between Asia and Europe, and the conquest of the New World by the Old couldn't have happened
What if we could develop the technology to predict where and when the next viral pandemic will pop up? How might we do this? In the book, The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age , American virologist Nathan Wolfe takes us from steamy African jungles into modern climate-controlled laboratories in pursuit of exotic viruses [Penguin Press, 2011: Amazon UK; Amazon US]. His goal: to identify which viruses show the potential to become the next deadly pandemic — and to stop them before they re ...more
May 30, 2017 Linnaea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I've read a lot about pandemics so there wasn't a whole lot that was new. I enjoyed reading how cellphones and wifi/data is changing medicine.
Mar 19, 2017 Gisele rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Great book about viruses.
Jun 02, 2017 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Viruses of all kinds, pandemics, epidemics, good and very bad. Amazing variation and variety.
Leila B
Mar 12, 2014 Leila B rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Viral Storm by Nathan Wolfe.

Us, viruses -vrii?- and how we met and interacted over the years. Who kills who. Who might kill who. And who do we figure out who will kill next.

The good...

It's a short, interesting read. It does get repetitive (see below) but covers quite a bit of ground. The subject matter is interesting as well, and the author clearly knows what he is talking about and what he wants to impart. He does that well, without sounding alarmist and OMG! The end of the world!

He also ou
Oct 17, 2014 Ru rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a jarring, eye-opening look into the world of infectious diseases by virologist Dr. Wolfe, and especially timely now, with the largest Ebola epidemic in world history striking Africa and making its unprecedented entry into the U.S. This book is basically broken down into layman's terms, which Dr. Wolfe makes clear early on, that he will use terminology that frames his points often in a general way. He covers a lot of ground, discussing the microbial world and what that means in terms of ani ...more
Chris Demer
Apr 19, 2013 Chris Demer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, history, biology
This is a very readable book that is carefully researched. In it Wolfe answers some of the questions about how pandemics begin, why they gain strength and means of preventing them. But the book is much more than that. He weaves primate behaviors, human behaviors and viral outbreaks into a colorful and interesting whole, clarifying in the process answers to the above questions.

First, it is clear that other primates hunt. In doing so, butchering and eating the raw meat of other animals (mainly mon
Kim Price
May 10, 2016 Kim Price rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After reading some of the negative reviews on this book I have to say that I don't agree with every negative comment. Yes, the book is simplified but it's not a textbook for medical students. It is a book written for regular people. Yes, there is name dropping but those are the names of people that are actually doing something to help humanity. Yes, you have to do more research if you want to get more in-depth information but only if you are really interested in the topic. Yes, the H1N1 might no ...more
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“Following his studies with Carrel, Voronoff worked in Egypt for the Egyptian king. Voronoff soon became fascinated with the eunuchs that were part of the king’s harem. In particular, he noted that the castration they received seemed to increase the speed at which the eunuchs aged. This observation was the beginning of Voronoff’s obsession with a surgical answer to aging. Likely inspired by the pioneering work of his mentor and the excitement of the new surgical techniques, Voronoff began to dabble in experimental transplantation. But he went beyond the techniques that his mentor had perfected. In early experiments Voronoff transplanted the testicles of a lamb into an old ram, claiming that the transplant served to thicken the ram’s wool and increase its sex drive. These early studies foreshadowed the work that would follow.” 1 likes
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