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The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  2,113 ratings  ·  236 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 wiped
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published October 11th 2011 by Times Books (first published October 1st 2011)
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Mar 24, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Apr 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As we are, currently, in the middle of a pandemic, it seemed a good time to read this book – which seemed to keep cropping up as a Kindle Deal of the Day. I know very little about such things and, as always, am curious to try to find out about subjects which I do not really understand; especially if they are affecting me personally.

If you have a medical background, this may not suffice, but, personally, I found it a very readable and informative account of the discovery of viruses – from the Lat
Jenny Brown
Feb 23, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Erica Clou
It's a bit disorganized for me, and considering how interested (read: worried) I am in this topic, I found it a bit dull. However, the tidbits I learned here and there about pandemic viruses in general and specific viruses in particular, I think it was well worth my time to read. The book had some particularly interesting facts regarding the AIDS virus and the Nipah virus (from bats to pigs to people). The connection between pandemics and eating meat, in general, is interesting. I've read before ...more
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: black
Update in 2021: So, I read this book years ago (it was written in 2011, I think I read it in 2014), and decided to go back and see how it held up. Well, it holds up pretty well. In fact, looking at my review below is kind of weird; I wrote all that in 2014 in response to his book. I am not convinced that, even now, we as a species have figured out that tying every part of the world together economically is the enabling factor for the current "viral storm", and they will recur until and unless we ...more
Sep 19, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Seema Singh
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent & apt for the current situation.
Jan 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Betsy Ashton
Oct 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Betsy Curlin
Jan 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book seemed more focused on singing the praises of the author and his organization than on actually discussing viruses and their potential consequences.
Eric Jay Sonnenschein
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
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
Jan 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Matt Fitz
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is book 3 to educate myself on pandemics. It's a bit dated in that it was published 9 years ago (2011) - so it pre-dates the worldwide epidemics of MERS (2012), Zika (2015) and a host of other more geographically contained epidemics. Interesting also to see some of the low reviews from its initial publication calling the author an "alarmist." (The author is a virologist). It's also a little dated in that the author had hoped to harness the then nascent crowd-sourcing technology to create "c ...more
Tessa in North Florida
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
Jun 14, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Feb 04, 2018 rated it liked it
If you’re already familiar with pop science books about diseases, this isn’t really going to surprise you any. It’s competently written, though at times the statistics are a little off (as another reviewer pointed out). I don’t agree that he’s too unduly alarmist, though; our current environmental and social conditions are just about perfect for a pandemic (viral or otherwise) to sweep through the world’s population. If you doubt it, The Great Influenza by John M. Barry should disabuse you of th ...more
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
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!
For those of us who are concerned about infectious diseases, pandemics, and their possible impact on the future, but don’t have a degree in virology, the author provides information in an easily understood manner. And while the name-dropping and personal accomplishments woven throughout may come across as a little braggy, they can also serve as reminders to the reader of the author’s first-hand experience and qualifications on the subject that garnered him invitations to work with so many expert ...more
Oct 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-tech
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it liked it
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.
Nov 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
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!
Erin Henry
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I want to be this guy and do what he does! The author explains how infections can become epidemics and then pandemics. He also discusses how we could potentially prevent pandemics by isolating infections when they are in a smaller number of people. Fascinating.
Nov 07, 2011 rated it liked it
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 19, 2016 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Eric Sullenberger
Aug 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is the 7th book about diseases and outbreaks that I have read since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5 of which were disease or epidemiology specific. This is the best of them so far. It is not too technical for non-scientist and yet I learned enough from it for it to be useful. It covers a broad range of diseases and history- most of which are fairly famous and well known, but still enlightening. The only complaint I have about the book is that it definitely seems at times to be address ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was an engaging book written by an expert (but sometimes it felt self-serving to the author). That said, I liked how the author gave crystal clear examples. Did you know if a human was the size of a soccer stadium, that a single hexagonal patch on the ball would be the size of a virus? Examples like this are useful to the reader - and it allows for discussion beyond the book. The broad concepts are easy for any reader to grasp, and I enjoyed the viral research (vaccine) history that was emb ...more
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