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Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

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4.22 of 5 stars 4.22  ·  rating details  ·  3,098 ratings  ·  495 reviews
The emergence of strange new diseases is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse. In this age of speedy travel, it threatens a worldwide pandemic. We hear news reports of Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and something called Hendra killing horses and people in Australia but those reports miss the big truth that such phenomena are part of a single pattern. The bugs that tran ...more
Hardcover, 1st edition, 587 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by W. W. Norton (first published September 24th 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Tony
You have to understand. I have my phobias. So it makes for awkward social encounters. Like: “Mommy,” said the little girl in the elevator, “Why is that man holding his breath the whole way down from the 16th floor?” I have been known to say things like, “Will you please stop sneezing in the direction of my beer?” I went to a doctor’s office a few years ago. Nothing ultimately serious, but possibly so, so that I went for the quickly scheduled appointment even though I was already nursing a bad co ...more
Linda
Disclamer: I received this book from the Goodreads First Reads Giveaway program.

I'm very grateful that I did. I happen to be a physician, specializing in Public Health and Preventive Medicine. I work in an environment where epidemiology underlies everything I do. Therefore, I feel that I can give an especially educated evaluation of this book.

The first thing I would like to comment on is the cover. It's an eye-catching blurred photograph of a screaming mandrill. Everywhere I carried the book (wh
...more
Russ
Full disclosure first, I'm a fan of this type of non-fiction. Laurie Garret - The Coming Plague, Richard Preston - The Hot Zone, Randy Shilts - And the Band Played On... the list goes on and on. I love this stuff. But having said that, this is truly the best thing I've ever read on the subject of infectious agents spilling over from their host species into humans. Brilliant, readable and absolutely spell-binding, Quammen's description of mutation, illness and the effect of human encroachment int ...more
David
Sep 28, 2013 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Tony
A "spillover" occurs when a microbe crosses over from an animal to humans, as an infectious disease. David Quammen describes many examples of this: SARS, ebola, HIV, influenza, marburg and hendra.

Each chapter is a detective story--scientists, veterinarians and medical researchers are detectives searching for the source of a disease. The source is usually a reservoir--an animal that carries the microbe, but is not usually harmed by the microbe.

And--now here's the best part--Quammen is not a stay
...more
Parker F
This book was an exciting and informative tour of zoonotic diseases, but the fragmented style diminished my enjoyment. Quammen practices an annoying form of gonzo journalism in which he needlessly inserts himself into the narrative because he is too lazy to do otherwise.

There are numerous throwaway chapters that are included for no other reason than because Quammen made a trip or did the interview. For instance, many pages are devoted to the unenlightening tale of a scientist who accidentally p
...more
Elizabeth
Is it possible to "really like" a book like this? I think I may have shortchanged this book with the three star rating. Hmmm.

But I digress.

It is official- I now know too much. Most of us have probably spent some amount of time thinking about a pandemic. How could we not? Reading this book will not ease said fears. It is unsettling to read how easy it is for an infection to *spillover* (sorry) from animal to human. This book reveals just how easy it is and gives you enough information to scare t
...more
Kaethe
This is a book about zoonoses, diseases that come to humans from other animals. It is scary, sure, because there are always new microbes out there ready to go rampaging through our vast society. It is also rather comforting, both the methodical search for vectors and reservoirs, the details of transmission and treatment, the stream of breakthroughs that enable researchers to locate and sequence. And through it all, Quammen maintains a casual, light conversational tone, reassuring the reader that ...more
Molly
Thrilled to see that David Quammen had a new science book, I snatched this up. It’s been 15 years since his book "Song of the Dodo” about island biogeography, which remains at the top of my favorite non-fiction.

Can one *enjoy* a book about infectious disease? Anyone who's read Richard Preston's “The Hot Zone” will guiltily admit, yes (interestingly, he takes Preston to task for overplaying descriptions of Ebola infection. “Bleeding out" is not accurate.)

There is inherent narrative drama in the
...more
Nikki
I found this book fascinating. When I originally got it out of the library, some of my friends were a biiiit concerned that given my GAD was health-focused, this would just make me have a panic attack. I'm happy to report that I was simply happily curious, digging around with great enthusiasm, stopping to google things, etc.

In terms of the level this is at, it's perfectly comprehensible to anyone, I would say. Granted, I do have a background in reading plenty of popular science, an A Level in bi
...more
Jafar
I try not to read books that make me paranoid or hypochondriac — and that's not the intention of this book — but I'll think twice next time that I'm in some exotic place and close to wild animals. The Monkey Forest in Bali was mentioned in this book in relation to herpes B (a deadly disease caused by a spillover from macaques monkeys to humans). Thanks goodness I feel a visceral revulsion towards monkeys. I didn't hand-feed any or let them climb up my head and shoulders so that I can take a pict ...more
Emily
This book is about zoonoses--illnesses that spread from animals to people. It describes the typical process: the virus or bacteria lives, long-term and harmlessly, in a reservoir species. When it infects an amplifier species, it can spread more quickly to humans. For example, the Hendra virus has its reservoir in flying foxes (large Australian bats), but when it infects horses, it can spread to people, who are in much closer contact with their sick horses than with bats.

Not only are zoonoses th
...more
John
I found this book to be absolutely fascinating and I could not put it down. Essentially, the author makes it his mission to demonstrate how the ecological footprint of the human race profoundly affects the exposure to and infection by new and deadly viruses.

For anybody who enjoyed reading The Hot Zone or watching the movie Outbreak, this book is right up your alley. The author takes us through many different viruses, providing the history behind their development, the story of their outbreak, a
...more
Clouds
Completely coincidental that I read this just before the big Ebola outbreak... but does sort of reinforce why this is essential reading.

Pure class from beginning to end - the best science journalism I've read.

[full review to follow]

After this I read: Falling Free
Sue
This book is a gripping tale of disease “spillover” that will thrill those interested in science – and probably many who aren’t. After all, we all get sick occasionally. Quammen looks at the ways pathogens (usually viruses) have spilled from animals to humans. He traces the origins of, among others, Ebola, SARS, bird flu, Lyme disease, and AIDS. These zoonotic diseases can escalate rapidly into global pandemics when human-to-human transmission occurs.

For five years Quammen trailed scientists in
...more
Rebecca Foster
(4.5) This exposé of zoonoses (diseases passed from animals to humans) is top-notch scientific journalism: pacey, well-structured and entirely gripping. Although it’s a rather sobering topic, this is not scare-mongering for the sake of it; indeed, Quammen frankly concludes that we are much more likely to die of heart disease or fatal car crashes: “Yes, we are all gonna die. Yes. We are all gonna pay taxes and we are all gonna die. Most of us, though, will probably die of something much more mund ...more
Ine
Spillover is a chilling tale of the ecology of zoonotic viruses, viruses transmitted from animals to humans - yes, we are (sometimes very much) a part of that ecology. Reading Spillover while the largest outbreak of Ebola (the subject of chapter II) in history was raging through West Africa certainly lent added poignancy and urgency to Quammen's alarming supposition that the human population explosion and the resultant increase in human encroachment into wildlife areas will have disastrous effec ...more
Mal Warwick
Where Do "Emerging Diseases" Emerge From?

AIDS, Ebola, Marburg, SARS, H5N1 — every one of the world’s scariest diseases is a “zoonosis,” that is, a virus harbored by animals and transmitted to humans, often by other animals, in a complex minuet that often stretches out into decades.

AIDS, for example. According to the latest research, reported by David Quammen in Spillover, Patient Zero was not that French-Canadian flight attendant you may have read about who went amok in the 1970s but a hunter in
...more
Spencer
Yet another incredibly fascinating book from one of my all-time favorite authors, David Quammen. This book is about zoonotic viruses, meaning viruses that "spillover" from animals to humans. Many of these are familiar to all of us: HIV, Ebola, SARS, influenza, etc., although some are less well known. These (and many, many others) all trace their origins to species other than humans. Some of the most common "reservoirs" of these diseases are primates, bats, and birds, and the way in which viruses ...more
Katie
A book about zoonotic diseases (animal infections transmissible to humans), and how they arise, their past and present, and how they might be (well actually, will almost certainly be) the source of the next great pandemic.

This book was impressively well-researched, well-structured and well-written. Not dry at all. In fact, much of the time it was as if the author was having a conversation with you. It's an inherently interesting topic, and it was executed well. There's a lot of information here
...more
Alexandra
A fascinating topic made frustrating by a flippant and awkward tone throughout. While I learned quite a bit (the information about bats as carriers is quite interesting), Quammen's tone is almost too casual, and his diversions into sarcastic observations are unnecessary. I'm not a scientist, and I know this book is written for the layperson, but a slightly more professional tone would have kept me more involved. As it is, I'm likely to recommend his book, but with the warning that the tone might ...more
Carol.
Dec 03, 2014 Carol. is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
There is no way this will turn out well.
Stefani
I worry about illness a lot. Coughing kids spewing germs, public bathrooms and airplanes are all harbingers of doom and sickness as far as I'm concerned and should be avoided as much as possible. I wash my hands often and for at least 30 seconds at a clip, and almost never leave the bathroom without kicking in the door rather than touching the handle.

That being said, I am also fascinated by the study of diseases, its origins and treatments. As a child, I used to read the Merck Manuel cover to co
...more
Scotchneat
Great science writers make me so happy (and jealous). Quammen explores what we know so far about zoonosis (infectious disease transmitted between species), especially as it affects the human species. Spillover.

What makes this such an engrossing read is that Quammen grounds all of the science in stories - of places, people, animals - without demonizing any element in the fascinating chain of events that happen when a spillover occurs. Bacteria and viruses are evolving to survive as well.

He cover
...more
Liz
I would call this book a zoonotic companion to The Coming Plague. Quammen embarks on an incredibly ambitious effort in this book and I would say he does an excellent job. His science writing is easy to understand and he doesn't shy away from difficult concepts. His ebola chapter, considering the current outbreak, was quite sobering. In my opinion this book is a must for public health students.

This book is supposed to be readable to a general audience. This means Quammen did a lot of expository
...more
Athena
It is quite rare to read a book about infection diseases and actually think that it could make a great detective story.

David Quammen has written this fascinated book about zoonoses, the animal infections transmissible to humans, and has made epidemiology look like a super-exciting field. I almost regretted for not taking biology more seriously during my University years.

His vivid style and his ability to explain complex subjects clearly makes the book gripping and lively and the material accessi
...more
Patrick
This book has so much information packed into it I feel like I should get a masters degree after finishing it. Of course, it is around 520 pages not including the footnotes, references, etc., including a bit of speculative fiction from the author about the origin of the AIDS epidemic. Nevertheless, I learned so many things about animal/human spillovers and I would enthusiastically recommend this book.

Some people who've reviewed this book remark that it is scary or depressing to know more about t
...more
Gary Schroeder
Spillover deals with the phenomenon of disease spread to humans through contact with animals. As humans press into ever more remote corners of the earth, crowding once distant animal populations into ever smaller physical spaces, the frequency of our encounters with them increases...and so does the opportunity for humans to become infected with animal-borne diseases, known as zoonoses.

Many frightening human diseases are zoonoses including SARS, AIDS, ebola, Lyme disease, and the so-called “bird
...more
Mary
Quammen's book Spillover is a book that those who enjoy reading nonfiction especially about science will really love. I liked this book. It was fascinating reading. I am sure washing my hands a lot more frequently now, but have not started wearing a mask.

Spillover reads almost like a collection of mystery stories. He discusses various diseases that have moved from animals to humans and explains the scientific detective work that went into to finding the method of transmission to humans. Among t
...more
Elizabeth Theiss
It's hard to resist a book about pandemics. SARS, AIDS, Lyme disease, small pox, the plague, influenza. There is something morbidly fascinating about epidemiology. Where do such diseases originate? How do they spread? Who is victim zero? It's rather like a classic whodunit where the perpetrator is always a heartless disease agent.

Spillover is an account of recent zoonotic diseases that have "spilled" from animal to human populations. The stories are well-drawn histories of outbreaks and the sci
...more
Jennifer
I like germs. I like to read about them, see where they are spreading according to websites devoted to germs, and even hope to work in infection control when I get done with school. All that said, I have to add that I only like other people's germs, not ones that get me or my kid or my dog. So I found this book pretty terrifying because while it debunks some of the more dramatic symptoms of various illnesses I have read about lately (people don't really liquify from Ebola) it forces me to think ...more
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David Quammen (born February 1948) is an award-winning science, nature and travel writer whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Outside, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review; he has also written fiction. He wrote a column called "Natural Acts" for Outside magazine for fifteen years. Quammen lives in Bozeman, Montana.
More about David Quammen...
The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature

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“Alternatively, anyone who favors Intelligent Design in lieu of evolution might pause to wonder why God devoted so much of His intelligence to designing malarial parasites.” 3 likes
“People and gorillas, horses and duikers and pigs, monkeys and chimps and bats and viruses: We’re all in this together.” 1 likes
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