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Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  2,678 ratings  ·  351 reviews
Scientists agree that a pathogen is likely to cause a global pandemic in the near future. But which one? And how?

Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have either newly emerged or reemerged, appearing in territories where they’ve never been seen before. Ninety percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a deadly pandemic s
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 16th 2016 by Sarah Crichton Books (first published November 17th 2015)
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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 v ...more
Elizabeth A
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction, audio
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 understa
Atila Iamarino
Aug 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 co
Alex Givant
Aug 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent overview of cholera, ebola, and other infectious diseases. Must read in current situation - not to scare yourself, but to be prepared to what may come.
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
Ericka Clouther
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.
Mal Warwick
Feb 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
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 aroun
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Anne Chappel
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was fascinated by this 2016 published book. Obviously the extra frisson has to do with our current times, but still ... it's a wealth of information about the current state of pathogens that want to leap onto humans and do horrible things. The battle is constant. I am amazed by the complexities of our bodies, our cells, our skin that protects us. Likewise, I was caught up in the ways in which corruption has made pandemics worse - many times. And it continues. At one stage Shah says that the ne ...more
Tom Glaser
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If not for the COVID-19 crisis, I probably wouldn't have read Pandemic. But finding myself with extra time on my hands, I decided to engage with a longer-form exploration of the subject instead of the hourly updates on new infections and business closings pouring out of the media.

This book is really interesting. It’s only 217 pages, but packed with information about pathogens, how they spread, and how they can be managed. If you found Sapiens interesting, you’ll find Pandemic worthwhile, too. Bo
Ben Rogers
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent book. But sad.

Why sad?

Because the signs were there with previous similar diseases.

This could have probably all been prevented. But everything just repeated itself (for the most part).

It's all accounted in this book.

Interesting points about how the WHO handled things in the past too.

Definitely check it out!

Feb 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 ot
Victor Sonkin
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.
Savir  Husain Khan
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
A pandemic is a disease epidemic that has spread across a vast region, for instance, multiple continents, or worldwide.
The Author explains how various viruses spread, and an epidemic that supposes to affect a specific region reached the level of the global pandemic.
For example, SARS, a CORONA virus started in Guangzhou, China, in the year 2003. A victim arrived in a hospital. Doctors were unsure of the cause. The physician in charge traveled to Hong Kong, where he checked into a hotel and infect
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about various past pandemics. Reading it during the current pandemic just made me realize how history repeats itself, from the emergence of the disease to the lack of government response; to the reaction of the people, who would rather blame an invisible enemy rather than changing their lifestyle in directions that could prevent future disasters; to the late WHO response and bad decision-making due to financial interests; to the unwillingness to take precaution measures for fear ...more
Elena Granger
May 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Several months ago I would not have picked this book to read. But times change and here I am writing a review.
It was published in 2015 and already predicted the huge pandemic to happen in the future. A good book that gives you quite a solid understanding of what the pandemic actually is, why it happens sometimes and the greatest thing is that it always comes to an end.
It gave me the strength and motivation to leave on even in isolation not being able to travel and the hope to get back to normal
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book on pandemics. Cholera is covered quite extensively as are more recent pandemics. The author wrote this book wrote it before COVID-19 outbreak but warns of more to come. She mentions Chinese wet markets caused SARS which leaped from bats to humans. Scientists and doctors have been vilified in the 19th century for trying to get the government to make changes to end a pandemic. WHO has been vilified by some Western governments as well as the UN, leaving people in poorer countries muc ...more
Reading_ Tam_ Ishly
Apr 07, 2020 rated it liked it
I just wanted more details and in-depth writing. The first chapter started out good. Other than that most of the topics were like teasers.
Aditya Dabas
How do people keep getting away with publishing books that could barely be a two thousand word essay?
Michael Gerald
May 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
A good supplement for anyone reading about infectious diseases and pandemics these days. Ms. Shah also has the sagacity to point out that most infectious disease outbreaks in history occurred in Western societies due to unhygienic habits, private greed, and scientific ignorance.
Jul 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very well researched and informative. This book covers many aspects of epidemic tracking and prevention, including the history, politics, epidemiology, and genetics behind infectious diseases. Despite being written in 2016, this book was very aware of the threat posed by our current coronavirus pandemic. The causes and potential emergence of COVID-19 are discussed in detail in the book, along with multiple other global health threats which still loom in India, Africa, South America, and the Unit ...more
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" informati ...more
Joanna Taylor Stone
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
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.
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Terrifying! But I couldn't put it down -- tons of interesting history, thoughtful analysis, and musings on the future.
Feb 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
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 hospit ...more
May 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shah focuses on how human beings respond to contagions--from host behavior to the psychology and sociology that actually inhibits our ability to identify and fight epidemics / pandemics because people often overlook the science because of biases ranging from scientific frameworks to scapegoating.

This is the forth book on pandemics that I've read since March of 2020. I like this one for its strong narrative arc. I think people from the humanities as well as from psychology and sociology would be
This book is obviously incredibly timely, and yet it is hard to believe it was published five years ago.

For instance, "Of all the new pathogens emerging today, novel influenza viruses like H5N1 are the ones that keep the most virologists up at night. If H5N1 or any other novel avian influenza evolved to transmit effectively between humans, the death toll would be swift and substantial.... A novel influenza virus that could spread as well as the seasonal flu with an even marginally higher mortal
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-for-thought
In this book, Sonia Shah describes the story of cholera and shows how its emergence as a pandemic can serve as a framework for understanding how other microbes brought about diseases like Ebola, MRSA, and SARS. Although this book was published before the arrival of COVID-19, the framework is very much applicable to making sense of the current pandemic.

I really liked how Shah brought each stage of the progression to life by including historical examples of how biological, social, political, and e
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Sonia Shah is a science journalist and prize-winning author. Her writing on science, politics, and human rights has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Scientific American and elsewhere. Her work has been featured on RadioLab, Fresh Air, and TED, where her talk, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria” has been viewed by over 1,000,000 people aro ...more

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“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 City and New Orleans. In 1836, it felled King Charles X in Italy; in 1849, President James Polk in New Orleans; in 1893, the composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in St. Petersburg.” 3 likes
“Globally, 12 percent of bird species, 23 percent of mammals, and 32 percent of amphibians are at risk of extinction. Since 1970, global populations of these creatures have declined by nearly 30 percent. Just how these losses will shift the distribution of microbes between and across species, pushing some over the threshold, remains to be seen.53” 2 likes
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