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Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
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Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

4.26  ·  Rating Details ·  5,914 Ratings  ·  698 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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Tessa in Mid-Michigan I also think some parents would get upset over language. I don't know why it is such a big deal these days, but it is. Frequent use of s*** and p***…moreI also think some parents would get upset over language. I don't know why it is such a big deal these days, but it is. Frequent use of s*** and p*** and other words as well. Agree that sections are pretty technical, but selected passages could be extremely useful and helpful.(less)

Community Reviews

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Oct 17, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
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
Jan 15, 2015 Carol. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of diseases, outbreaks, animals, public health, travel

David Quammen is prescient. He appears to have predicted the 2014 Ebola outbreak and country jumping years before it happened. Alright, maybe he isn’t a diviner; maybe he merely pays attention to the scientists around him. After all, there’s a reason he is has been given an Academy Award in Literature and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic explores the science behind human pandemi
Nov 28, 2012 Russ rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 27, 2014 Linda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
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
Sep 28, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 05, 2016 HBalikov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"A zoonosis is an animal infection transmissible to humans. There are more such diseases than you might expect. AIDS is one. Influenza is a whole category of others. Pondering them as a group tends to reaffirm the old Darwinian truth (the darkest of his truths, well known and persistently forgotten) that humanity IS a kind of animal, inextricably connected with other animals; in origin and in descent, in sickness and in health." This is what David Quammen preaches in Spillover: Animal Infections ...more
Rebecca Foster
May 10, 2016 Rebecca Foster rated it it was amazing
(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
Pure class from beginning to end - the best science journalism I've read.

It was completely coincidental that I read this just before the 2014 Ebola outbreak... but that did sort of reinforce why this is essential reading!

Plenty of other goodreads reviews have given superb summaries of the content of the novel, so I'll only touch on that briefly - but here's why I personally loved it:

I originally put this on my long-list as research reading. There's a novel I want to write (one day!) that is set
Dec 15, 2012 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Parker F
Jan 08, 2013 Parker F rated it liked it
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
May 27, 2014 Nikki rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 14, 2012 Molly rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2016 Sebastien rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Superb! David Quammen brings to life the stories of a wide variety of infectious diseases and their spillover from animals to humans. David is a great writer, his narrative drive and prose are magnificent. He does this while presenting the science in a very accessible yet amazingly informative way.

What is astounding is the amount of work and research that must have gone into this book. David conducted a seemingly endless amount of interviews with scientists, researchers, doctors. To say he took
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
Apr 14, 2013 Jafar rated it it was amazing
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
Pierre Menard
Aug 13, 2016 Pierre Menard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the wannabe epidemiologists
Avevo già letto qualche tempo fa un saggio del giornalista scientifico e inviato del National Geographic David Quammen (nato a Cincinnati, in Ohio, nel 1948): l'argomento era il lungo e tortuoso cammino che portò Darwin alla formulazione della sua teoria e devo dire che il libro mi aveva colpito favorevolmente, senza entusiasmarmi troppo. Perciò ero ben contento di leggere, insieme al GdL saggistica del gruppo GR Italia, l'ultimo saggio del nostro autore. Beh, confesso di averlo nettamente sotto ...more
Nov 08, 2012 Emily rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, science, medicine
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
May 08, 2016 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I see why Quammen is so well thought of. Spillover was amazingly informative, had a near perfect execution, explained very difficult, scientific subjects in a manner that a reader with little science background could understand without making it so dumbed down that the same reader found themselves lost in a nexus of weakening metaphors and feeling insulted (I'm looking at you, Winchester). This is how you speak to your audience! You do not dumbdown, but rather heighten the discourse and inform. ...more
Oct 04, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
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

This is a very interesting analysis of emerging zoonotic diseases, focusing on SARS, HIV, and Ebola, among others. There are so many facts here, it's a little overwhelming -- I learned so much that I'd never even thought of before, including the fact that HIV can actually be traced back to, wait for it . . . 1908?! Yeah, I didn't believe it at first, either, but the author clearly presents this in a way that is easy even for a non-scientist like myself to understand.

After reading this, I can tel
Feb 10, 2014 Sue rated it it was amazing
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
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
From start to finish, this book was nothing short of SPECTACULAR! It is longer than most science/ medicine books, but do not let that deter you. I was extremely sad when this book ended. I wanted more!

In the middle of reading this book, I made the mistake of putting this book on pause to read the more recent Pandemic by Sonia Shah. Science is obviously not the authors strong suit. It was extremely disappointing. It might fly with people who are less scientifically literate. She had more up to da
Mar 06, 2013 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
What will be the next pandemic? The next HIV, deadly influenza, or something worse that we can barely imagine? David Quammen convincingly argues that the greatest bugaboo for the human race should be a zoonosis, an infectious disease that spills over from an animal population into humans. He travels around the world and talks to scientists who have worked in the virus-riddled trenches of HIV, malaria, Ebola, SARS, and an ever-growing list of other nasties with shocking fatality rates.

Dec 12, 2014 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-health, 2014
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
Dec 17, 2012 Alexandra rated it liked it
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
Jan 26, 2013 Correen rated it it was amazing

An amazing and detailed description of movement of disease from animal to human, making the process seem normal but frightening. The final case presentation, AIDS, gave a new understanding of how a spillover of long standing could gradually take root and finally break out into a very threatening condition. The last chapter discusses the concept of breakout placing humans at the center.
Mal Warwick
Nov 07, 2012 Mal Warwick rated it it was amazing
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
“We should appreciate that these recent outbreaks of new zoonotic diseases, as well as the recurrence and spread of old ones, are part of a larger pattern, and that humanity is responsible for generating that pattern. We should recognize that they reflect things that we're doing, not just things that are happening to us.”

This book is quite dense, filled with scientific jargon and detail, and it's over 500 pages, which does not add up to an easy read. The author attempts humor, and attempts to
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
Jan 29, 2013 Spencer rated it it was amazing
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
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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.
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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.” 5 likes
“Make no mistake, they are connected, these disease outbreaks coming one after another. And they are not simply happening to us; they represent the unintended results of things we are doing. They reflect the convergence of two forms of crisis on our planet. The first crisis is ecological, the second is medical.” 3 likes
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