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Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond

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From the author of The Fever, a wide-ranging inquiry into the origins of pandemics

Interweaving history, original reportage, and personal narrative, Pandemic explores the origin of epidemics, drawing parallels between the story of cholera--one of history's most disruptive and deadly pathogens--and the new pathogens that stalk humankind today, from Ebola and avian influenza to drug-resistant superbugs.

More than three hundred infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territory during the past fifty years, and 90 percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a disruptive, deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

To reveal how that might happen, Sonia Shah tracks each stage of cholera's dramatic journey from harmless microbe to world-changing pandemic, from its 1817 emergence in the South Asian hinterlands to its rapid dispersal across the nineteenth-century world and its latest beachhead in Haiti. She reports on the pathogens following in cholera's footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers emerging from China's wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world's deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next epidemic might look like--and what we can do to prevent it.


First published November 17, 2015

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About the author

Sonia Shah

15 books315 followers
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 around the world. Her 2010 book, The Fever, which was called a “tour-de-force history of malaria” (New York Times), “rollicking” (Time), and “brilliant” (Wall Street Journal) was long-listed for the Royal Society’s Winton Prize. Her new book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, is forthcoming from Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux in February 2016.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 534 reviews
Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews524 followers
March 8, 2016
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 very methods she, herself, wrote about in this very book. She seems to lack critical thinking skills when it comes to psychology studies, never questioning the methods. If someone said it was true, she seemed to not only accept it, despite glaring flaws in the methods for those studies, but used the bad studies to argue her opinion. The old way of viewing evolution, the selfish gene as driver of all evolution, is on its way out the door. Yet, she clings tightly to that paradigm. She is enamored with the good genes/sexy sons hypothesis, selfish gene dogma, David Buss style evolutionary psych (which amounts to "just-so-stories). Her lack of adopting a progressive paradigm, considering her progressive subject matter was disappointing at best. I also didn't relate to her personal experience with the virus she and her son share. That detracted from the story for me.

Even with the negatives, the subject matter is trilling. What she lacks in scientific understanding, she really makes up for with her history of various viruses. Absolutely fantastic.

If you are only going to read one book about pandemics, let it be Spillover. But, if you are willing to read more than one book, because of the history she provides, this is definitely worthwhile.
Profile Image for Elizabeth A.
1,853 reviews110 followers
July 10, 2016
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 understand, because it is much more entertaining to hear about an escaped monkey, than to address the microbes said monkey might be spreading about on it's jaunt.

The topics covered in this book are a clear and present danger to all of us. Not those people over there, but all of us, and if we learn anything from history, it should be that microbes will find a way to become pathogens, and these in turn will find a way to spillover to humans.

I know there are other highly reviewed books out there on this subject but if, like me, you are new to really diving into these topics this is a great place to start. It is easy to read and digest, and the author makes complex subjects accessible to a layperson. This book explores not just the life cycle of pathogens and the history of pandemics, but also explores how medicine, big pharma, global travel, population numbers, habitat and environmental destruction, cultural norms, etc., all affect and contribute to the problem.

There are so many dots this book connected for me, and I learned about events that should have been major news stories that got little, if any, national coverage in the media. I found this a fascinating, educational, and terrifying read. I just picked up the ebook, and have not doubt that I will re-read it. I highly recommend this one.
Profile Image for moonlight_review.
51 reviews9 followers
November 11, 2020
Over the last few months our life has changed drastically. Covid 19, not only changed our routines but also made us question them and do more self reflection. But is this the last pandemic we will face?
'Pandemic' by Sonia Shah is gives us a detail insight into various pandemics that the world has faced, from Cholera to Coronavirus. Each pandemic challenges us as humanity together, but what are we doing to the overall health of our world?

In this book, the author has backed her thoughts with research, actual news and history which gives us indent understanding of how these pandemics affect us. We also get to read about how Cholera, one of the deadliest pandemic developed step by step.

The language is very easy and the content is very well put. If you want to know more about how pandemics affect us as a human race and also what possible threats we can face in future, you must definitely pick up this one!!
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,735 reviews2,336 followers
March 6, 2016
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 shield ourselves from disease and pestilence. The re-emergence of diseases that have been dormant (or underreported) for decades is of particular interest. She specifically looks at cholera - a bacteria that never went away - but was fought back by modern sanitation and public works. However, the balance was thrown in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010, and it's epidemic status is now endemic.

Vibrio cholarae - Cholera bacterium

Cholera's fascinating - and devastating - history is retold here (also read in Johnson's The Ghost Map: ) with some new details and context. Shah also delves into the recent pandemics caused by zoonosis - infectious diseases in animals that have spilled over into human populations. These are familiar newsmakers in recent years: swine flu, West Nile, SARS. She travels to Guangzhou province of China, the birthplace of SARS and witnesses the very same (now illegal) trade at "wet markets" that made SARS a household world. She briefly traces the phenomenon of medical tourism - traveling to other countries for expensive medical treatments - and the unique risks involved with "superbugs" and antibiotic resistant strains of bacterial pathogens that are then brought back to the traveler's home country. She even shares her own family's reoccurring struggle with MRSA after a seemingly innocuous cut on her son's knee.

The structure of the narrative is likely it's strongest point. Shah uses lenses for each chapter - "Locomotion", "Filth", "Crowds", etc. in which to view the pandemics. How was disease *helped* by locomotion and by crowds? With the wealth of historical data, early industrial New York is the case study. Booming industry, steady stream of immigrants from other countries, and from rural US areas, coming together in extremely close quarters (some of the statistics she states are mind-blowing - people packed in like sardines) and THIS is where pandemics bloomed. In the historical context (and still very much still today as we are seeing with unfolding details about Zika in Latin America) her lens of "Corruption" and its role in pandemics: the Manhattan Company and their active role in groundwater pollution and the cholera outbreaks of the 19th century.

Collect Pond in lower Manhattan - Five Points slum

Shah's final chapter is a call to action, but also to that of information and education.

The One Health movement... argues that human health is linked to the health of wildlife, livestock, and the ecosystem.

Modern farming and livestock conditions, both in the West and the East - comparable in so many ways to the tenements in developing world countries where disease is rife, and in NYC during the cholera outbreaks in the 19th century - could very well be the point of spillover to human populations.

Yes, the book may scare you - wash your hands more, clean and disinfect open wounds, clean up after yourself and your pets (and then wash your hands again!) - but it is truly one of education and knowledge.

Read for Book Riot's 2016 Read Harder Challenge - Science
Profile Image for Boy Blue.
462 reviews72 followers
May 22, 2022
A strange book to read in 2021. So much of it resonates and seems familiar where previously it may have felt alarmist or otherworldly.

Shah dedicates most of the book to examining cholera and the 7 major pandemics it has caused over the past few centuries. In fact the book probably could have been called Cholera: My Favourite Disease given the amount of time it spends addressing that particular microorganism.

Much of what you learn from this book is what we would now class as commonsense after two years in a 24 hour pandemic news cycle.

Still a few nuggets though.

I knew bats were a common vector for disease but I didn't know it was because they have hollow bones and therefore lack the white blood cells and strong immune system other species have. This basically makes them hollow tubed disease incubators. Pigs are also important in the process of getting zoonotic diseases into humans. Due to having quite similar genetic makeup to humans and being intensely farmed they can be the final stepping stone of a disease before it hits humans.

There is an interesting focus on global warming, with an argument that the increase in global temperatures is creating an environment more suited to deadly pathogens. The most alarming development being that fungal infections aren't particularly dangerous to humans due to our warm blood burning most of them away. This effect is stronger when the environment around us is colder. Well, now fungi are growing in warmer and warmer conditions and our body temperature differential is dropping. Maybe a fungal pandemic is on the way.

Monoculture farming and a reduction in species diversity also causes a big risk. For example, some bird species don't carry "bird flu" and so act as a sort of buffer in the wild but when we remove those buffer birds the virus easily spreads. An interesting one was certain diseases spread by migratory birds didn't reach the States for a long time because there was no migratory path there.

There is a little examination into corruption in the WHO. Which I was almost wilfully ignorant about. I want to believe the WHO has everyone's best interests at heart but frankly over 50% of their donors are now private organisations and as the general in The Sympathizer so eloquently put it.

"Nothing, the general muttered, is ever so expensive as what is offered for free."

Shah disappointingly doesn't deal very much with Spanish Flu or any other airborne diseases. Which is such a shame because obviously that's our current dilemma. In fact compared to what we live with now, Cholera seems pretty mild.

I didn't know the Bantu expansion in Africa possibly had a huge boost from the Bantu's resistance to a particularly virulent form of Malaria. Although Rome's pathological advantage was more familiar.

"When unable to defend herself by the sword, Rome could defend herself by means of the fever."

Immunological advantage, what a weapon.

The idea of culture stemming from immune behaviours is a fascinating one. That is we commit to certain behaviours because they help protect our health, these then become part of our culture. For example one could say certain religions don't eat pork as a result of immune behaviours.

Overall, an interesting read that needs a new chapter on Covid-19 and more of a balanced approach to all the diseases to really be the best primer on pandemics.
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,384 followers
August 28, 2016
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 com a familiaridade, a maneira como reagimos a novas epidemias apontando culpados, grandes habitações e a grande circulação de pessoas, entre outros. Só pelos grandes fatores o livro já fale. Sem falar nas atualizações sobre o que aconteceu em relação à surtos recentes de Ebola e Cólera. Ajuda bastante a entender o problema atual de Zika, desde o que fez a doença circular à maneira como as pessoas reagiram até online.
Profile Image for Alex Givant.
276 reviews34 followers
August 26, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Jolanta (knygupe).
888 reviews189 followers
September 5, 2020
pandemic: from the Greek pan ''all'' + dêmos ''people''.
A disease outbreak that spreads throughout an entire country, continent, or the whole world.

But what does it mean, the plague? It's life, that's all. - Albert Camus

Dar viena puiki negrožinė knyga skirta pandemijų istorijai. Autorė, tiriamosios žurnalistikos atstovė, kalba ne tik apie tokių epidemijų, kaip Cholera, Ebola, AIDS išplitimo aplinkybes, vystymąsi, kovą su jomis, bet ir apie tai, kaip buvo slepiama informacija ir tiesiog trukdoma kovoti su šiomis užkrečiamomis ligomis... apie tai, kaip privatūs interesai priešpastatomi visuomenės sveikatai...Pavyzdžiui, kaip Aaron Burr ir Manhattan Company nuodijo New York City cholera, toliau tiesdama medinius vamzdžius geriamam vandeniui. Sonia Shah taip pat kalba apie AIDS, kaip rimto susirgimo neigimą, pasipriešinimą vakcinoms...apie tai, kaip daugelį kartų buvo galima suvaldyti pandemijos plitimą, bet dėl privačių interesų ar dėl skepticizmo, ar kitų dalykų buvo trukdoma tai daryti. Vienas toks pavyzdys- John Snow (ne Jon Snow ;)), gydytojas, vadinamas epidemiologijos mokslo tėvu, supratęs, kad choleros užkratas plinta per vamzdynais atkeliaujantį geriamąjį vandenį ir siūlęs spręsti šią problemą, buvo nušvilptas....

Labai vertas dėmesio skaitinys. Rekomenduoju.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 30 books414 followers
April 6, 2017
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 around us reveals that the true existential threats on the horizon include climate change, nuclear holocaust, pandemics, and, at a higher level of logical abstraction, rampant consumerism. However, the most immediate of these threats to our civilization appears to be contagious disease. In Pandemic, Sonia Shah’s superb new survey of the past, present, and future of infectious disease, spells this out with startling clarity. Just so it’s clear: she’s not writing about simple colds and mild flus, but about illnesses that might kill tens or hundreds of millions of people with little warning and with unpredictable consequences for the cohesion of society. The heart of the problem, as she explains, is that “epidemics grow exponentially while our ability to respond proceeds linearly, at best.”

A balanced view of contagious disease

Thanks to alarmist reporting, Americans are terrified that hemorrhagic diseases such as Ebola will “break out” and kill us by the millions. Shah patiently explains that much more common diseases are far more likely to pose threats to us, influenza and cholera in particular. A series of unfortunate mutations in either one could fashion a disease that is not just virulent (contagious) but also highly lethal. Today, for example, influenza kills only a small proportion of its victims. We tend to regard it more as a nuisance for most of us, a threat only to those who are most vulnerable. However, the “Spanish flu” (the H1N1 virus) that broke out in the final days of World War I infected up to 500 million people (between a fifth and a third of the world’s population) and killed between 50 and 100 million. Epidemiologists live in fear that H1N1 or one of the countless other varieties of influenza incubating in Southern China could put on a repeat performance — or worse. Cholera poses a similar threat.

Sanitation, Hippocratic medicine, and Christianity

One of the most fascinating passages in Pandemic is Shah’s account of the role of Christianity in fostering infectious disease for more than a thousand years.

History shows us that two thousand years ago the Romans piped clean drinking water to their cities through an elaborate system of aqueducts and made public baths available to one and all. Cleanliness was a virtue to them. That all began to change with the advent of Christianity a few centuries into the Common Era. Unlike the Jews and (later) the Muslims, Christian clergy disdained personal hygiene, associating it with Roman polytheism and viewing cleanliness as superstitious. It was common for Catholic priests and the Protestant pastors who succeeded them in some parts to discourage their flocks from bathing. For many centuries, the vast majority of people in Christian lands lived side-by-side with their animals atop pits filled with excrement and cooked with smelly water drawn from contaminated streams or wells.

When disease struck, as it did with increasing frequency as population grew and gravitated toward the cities, the physicians who purported to combat it were in the thrall of the Hippocratic school of medicine, which attributed all disease to an imbalance in the four “humors” within the body and in external factors that exacerbated it. For example, cholera, which sickened hundreds of millions through the centuries and killed half of them, was blamed on the inhalation of what the ancient physician Galen termed “miasmas” (offensive smells). The nineteenth-century physicians who practiced medical “science” based on these beliefs “increased [cholera’s] death toll from 50 to 70 percent.” Though the germ theory of disease was first proposed in the sixteenth century, it wasn’t until three centuries later, on the cusp of the twentieth century, that practicing physicians began to accept the role of microorganisms in causing disease.

Meanwhile, progress toward improved sanitation and the availability of clean drinking water was even slower. As Shah explains in chilling detail, the construction of London’s sewer system was not prompted because public health officials understood that water used for drinking and washing was dangerously contaminated. The reason they proposed the effort was that they thought it was essential to pipe all the smelly sewage into the Thames, the source of the city’s drinking water! Only in the twentieth century did it become common for municipalities to regard drinkable water as a necessity of life.

Why is contagious disease more of a threat today than ever before?

In Pandemic, Shah describes the role of contemporary trends in making the threat of epidemic disease greater than ever. Five stand out: climate change, continuing urbanization, ever more accessible global transportation, resistance to vaccines, and the encroachment of development on previously virgin lands, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Amazon. The result is that an increasing number of unknown and unpredictable new tropical diseases is emerging and making their way into more and more crowded cities further and further north on the globe. All the while, diseases previously thought conquered, such as polio and measles, rise up in communities around the globe.

About the author

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Sonia Shah is an American investigative journalist who has reported from around the world, principally on corporate power and gender inequality. Pandemic is her sixth book. Though her parents are both physicians and she lives with a molecular biologist, it appears that the impetus for writing this book came from a painful personal experience with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which she contracted from her son. Shah describes her eye-opening experience at length in Pandemic.
Profile Image for Anne Chappel.
Author 5 books17 followers
April 8, 2020
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 next pathogen is brewing in the wet markets of Asia: her description of these markets shows how appalling they are - both for their filth and for their treatment of animals - as are the factory farms of the West. (lets hope to god that the wet markets are soon to be shut down).
I highly recommend this book and congratulate Shah on making is easy for a non-scientist to read.
Profile Image for Ericka Clou.
2,187 reviews170 followers
February 9, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,387 reviews156 followers
May 12, 2022
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), from what the author details in the book.

Interesting points about how the WHO too.

Definitely check it out!

Profile Image for Ashwin.
72 reviews35 followers
November 13, 2020
Science journalist and author Sonia Shah, whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, Foreign Affairs, and elsewhere, offers an engaging, deeply informative overview of the global pandemic, taking into consideration one of history's deadliest diseases, Cholera, that killed millions across the globe. Drawing on scientific, medical, and journalistic research, Shah details the role of Industrial Revolution that spurred a great spike in the number of epidemics across the world.

India's first cholera outbreak was in 1817.

"Cholera could never have caused pandemic without the new modes of transport developed in the nineteenth century," says Shah, "And yet, slowly but surely, cholera arrived on Europe's doorsteps."

Newfangled steamboats carried it to Europe within a few years, and then the disease began to spread along trade routes. Not only did the Industrial Revolution accelerate the disbursement of the disease around the world, but it also allowed for more rapid and devastating outbreaks when it reached Europe.

Between 1852 and 1923, the world would see four more cholera pandemics.

Just as steamships carried cholera from India to Europe, and then to the Americas, modern air travel network has spread many new diseases. SARS hopped from a Hong Kong hotel called the Metropole to Singapore, Vietnam and Toronto in a matter of hours. Shah's book is a fantastic primer on many systematic barriers when a pandemic happens, and how government agencies, communities, experts, and knowledge can help or hinder pandemic management. Shah provides a useful review of not just a chronological survey of the pathogens that have inculcated their way into our world, but also the government and public response to them. As she says, "Political leaders corrupted by ideological and commercial concerns throttled contamination measures," instead of planning collective actions that could have averted New York City's cholera epidemic. Shah then underscores the disastrous effects of inadequate response that made cholera’s transmission so effective and new outbreaks inevitable, including political corruption and inaction. In doing so, she indirectly places Covid-19 in the context of past epidemics. “In the past, pathogens have ripped through societies,” writes the author, “but even as they left deep imprints and jagged scars on our bodies and societies, we did not change our ways of life to shut them out, even when we could.”

The only issue I have with this book is that it felt repetitive in some places. But even with that in mind it is very interesting to read through, and it does give a great insight into how pandemics are and have been handled, and where the difficulties lie that lead to them. I thoroughly enjoyed this book — the topic is fascinating to me, as someone who works in healthcare. Shah does a brilliant job of showing the reader which of the headlines to fear and which to just be alarmed at, thereby offering a welcome assessment of the reality of the pandemic that has changed our lives.

Thank you Harpercollin India for the advanve copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
Profile Image for smolo_v_a.
33 reviews4 followers
March 21, 2020
Это действительно книга о пандемиях — ни отнять, ни прибавить. О холере, Эболе, многочисленных гриппах и других патоген��х, которые окружают нас и живут с нами бок о бок. О том, что в большинстве эпидемий мы сами же и виноваты.

Соня Шах — журналистка, причем довольно самоотверженная. Исследуя современные смертельные болезни, она полезла в самую гущу (иногда в прямом смысле), в самый рассадник этой заразы, чтобы поделиться собственными наблюдениями. Она не боится сама и не пугает нас, но предостерегает — оглянитесь вокруг! Вот же оно, прямо у вас под носом! Теперь, глядя на свалку мусора её глазами, невольно содрогаешься — вдруг прямо там, среди крыс или голубей, притаилс�� и копит силы крошечный невидимый враг?

Война между нами идёт с переменным успехом. Удивительно, что мы до сих пор не вымерли, удивительно КАК мы до сих пор не вымерли. И немного жутко, потому что, возможно, однажды нам всё-таки не победить.
53 reviews
May 7, 2021
The first three quarters of this book are very four-stars (which to me means good but not unexpected). The last quarter does merit five stars, because it extends the book from just a history of certain pandemics to a broader discussion of their role in civilisation. Specifically, she talks about how paradigm shifts in epidemiology (Thomas Kuhn) continue to play a role today: while once the radically individualising approach of biology was an improvement over Hippocratic nonsense, today it prevents us from seeing the patient as a whole person. Furthermore, she explains how sexual reproduction, ageing, cultural nativism and the perception of beauty are tied into the arms race between pathogens and our microbiomes, an extraordinarily interesting section which I would read just on its own.

In a moment of weakness I would give this five stars. I'm not going to because a) I need to combat peak-end bias and b) I think my ratings in general are too generous

Cover: 4/5
Profile Image for Ayla.
1,011 reviews29 followers
February 26, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Beebee Pomegranate.
86 reviews25 followers
February 6, 2021
Reliable reading that puts pandemics in broad context economically, politically and in a practical sense. I was familiar with most of the content covered, but Shah clearly has a gift for communicating so this was informative and enjoyable.
92 reviews7 followers
March 22, 2020
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. Both books deal with important, complex challenges facing civilization, but are also very readable.

It’s fascinating to learn how many centuries it took for germ theory to develop and then finally displace prevailing beliefs about contagion. Only in 1901, did the German chemist Max von Pettenkofer, a leading proponent of miasmatism, the belief that cholera was spread by poisonous clouds, finally admit defeat and shoot himself. Just a few years before, scientists like Robert Koch and Filippo Pacini, who reported a connection between feces-contaminated water and cholera, were widely denounced by the medical community.

While the book explores cholera in more depth than other infectious diseases, it also covers malaria, MRSA, SARS, Ebola, Lyme, and others. The very first chapter, called The Jump, takes us to a wet market in Guangzhou where the author describes “a thirty-pound turtle in a white plastic bucket…in a puddle of grey water next to cages of ducks, ferrets, snakes and feral cats. Row after row of animals who’d rarely if ever encounter each other in the wild were here, breathing, urinating, defecating and eating next to each other.” That wet markets are a nexus of microbial amplification and mutation was known when the SARS virus – a coronavirus – emerged in 2003, but they survived that epidemic and have now engendered a much more serious one.

Importantly, the book deals with corruption’s role in spreading infectious disease. The author explains how even international public health organizations like WHO have been captured by special interests. After being starved of funding by the major donor nations, they turned to private philanthropies, companies and NGOs for financing. These private entities have prioritized their own agendas, and by 2005, 91% of the voluntary contributions that make up three-quarters of the agency's budget were “earmarked for diseases that account for just 8 percent of global mortality.” Similarly, the FDA has been coopted by the pharmaceutical and livestock industries and does not aggressively police antibiotic use in livestock for growth promotion. The result is a crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

There are tons of other interesting discussions about things like the advantages and disadvantages of sexual reproduction, the role of pathogens on the evolution of distinct cultural groups, the discovery of suicide genes, and Aaron Burr’s role in delivering contaminated water to NYC residents. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Profile Image for Irina Podgurskaya.
146 reviews5 followers
September 6, 2020
Самый бодрый из всех нон-фиков ever, кажется. Книга, написанная в 2015 году, начинается с непоколебимой уверенности авторки в том, что нас вот-вот настигнет новая невиданная хрень, которая (скорее всего) притащится к нам из Китая, что сразу, как вы понимаете, захватывает внимание читателя из 2020-го.

Затем начинается экшн уровня Пиратов Карибского моря - авторка много лет посвятила изучению холеры и путей ее распространения и глава про то, как холера мигрировала из Паназии в Северную Америку достойна экранизации.

Много мелких драматических и комических историй - о том, как сотнями забивали непроданных за день свиней в 2009, когда бушевал h1n1 и о том, как другие учёные не верили Коху и пили на спор фекальные массы, чтобы доказать ему, что холера не распространяется через загрязненную воду (с предсказуемым результатом). И о китайских черных рынках дичи, конечно, откуда пришла атипичная пневмония и, в итоге, наш cov19.

Все, о чем она пишет, довольно неутешительно (вирусы развиваются и умнеют; мы не перестанем летать и ездить, а значит - не перестанем разносить их по всему миру; нам нужно объединяться, чтобы изучать их, а вместо этого правительства сокращают финансирование таких исследований в мирное, не эпидемийное время) - но все равно с осторожным оптимизмом - мы знаем о вирусах и микробах каких-то жалких 200 лет, планомерно работаем с ними лишь последние 100, тогда как они убивают нас тысячелетиями, миллионами лет (!очень классная глава в конце про теорию эволюции, основанную на теории нескольких формирующих среду великих пандемий прошлого) - и если мы успеем не перемереть сейчас, мы, возможно, что-то ещё придумаем.

В общем, отличная книга, ползвезды снимаю лишь за то, что местами это все слишком эмоционально и драматично и я прям физически устала так переживать.
Profile Image for Maria.
39 reviews65 followers
August 19, 2020
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 of disrupting economy (which has always been largely more affected by a longer lasting pandemic than a short but drastic measures) and many more. A must read for anyone who has hard time accepting the current situation and wants to learn how the humanity has dealt with such calamities before.
Profile Image for Mahdi.
24 reviews5 followers
March 26, 2020
"من خلاصه کتاب رو در بلینکیست مطالعه کردم."
نویسنده با نوشتن این کتاب سعی داره هشدار بده که جوامع ما با این روشی که دارند جلو میرند خودشون منجر به پاندمی‌ها(بیماری‌های دنیاگیر) می‌شوند.
سیاستمون، جوامع متراکممون، اقتصادمون همه و همه به شکلی بی‌خیال در مورد این مسائل رشد کردند، و بحث بیماری‌های دنیاگیر رو جدی نگرفتند.
نتیجه این سیاست‌ها، شیوع ویروس کرونای جدیده!
نویسنده به وبا، طاعون، سارس و ابولا اشاره میکنه و در مورد شیوعشون توضیح میده، خیلی عوامل مختلف اثرگذار در شیوع سریع این بیماری‌ها رو شرح میده.
Profile Image for Victor Sonkin.
Author 18 books314 followers
October 14, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Savir  Husain Khan.
49 reviews5 followers
March 28, 2020
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 infected 12 more people, including a flight attendant. The flight attendant then traveled to Singapore before falling ill and checking herself into a hospital. Her physician was due to fly to New York, but he only made it to Frankfurt before succumbing to the disease. Other infected people traveled to Vietnam, Canada, and the United States. Within one day, SARS had spread to five continents.
It's a well-researched book, The Author covered various virus outbreaks that hit the world in the last 100 to 200 years and how the society fought over these viruses.
Profile Image for Elena Granger.
367 reviews5 followers
May 19, 2020
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 living someday in the future.
Stay healthy, safe, at home till we all can get out without being afraid or feeling anxious.
Profile Image for Courtney.
155 reviews7 followers
June 21, 2019
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 "golden child" among authors writing about diseases.

Profile Image for Lynn.
3,220 reviews57 followers
September 8, 2020
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 much more vulnerable. The availability of healthcare to all is an important factor as is government involvement in healthcare. Private healthcare only aids individuals as customers. So much to do.
Profile Image for Aditya Dabas.
15 reviews19 followers
May 26, 2020
How do people keep getting away with publishing books that could barely be a two thousand word essay?
Profile Image for Michael Gerald.
383 reviews45 followers
June 1, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Zora.
1,279 reviews52 followers
July 9, 2016
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 behavior, in particular overpopulation and its downstream consequences, and omg it is awful what might happen!

That is my main complaint here, that it seems a little scaremongery. (I began looking differently at the package of pork chops in my freezer as I read this and wondered if I'd ever find the courage to defrost them.) But then the author has MRSA, and I don't, so perhaps this explains our different levels of alarm. So far my incurable diseases aren't quite that gross.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 534 reviews

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