By now you’ve likely read the report that Richard Preston’s best selling book The Hot Zone; the Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus is to be made into a major motion picture by director Ridley Scott. Ordinarily, given the fact that the disease is now front page news in the industrialized world, I would simply chalk such a development up as to be expected. However, as I was not particularly impressed by the book – nor apparently are others far more learned on the subject than myself – I thought I would take the opportunity to recommend a few books addressing the subject that did greatly impress me when I first read them and that I continue to think are well worth reading.
The first of these is Laurie Garrett’s magnificent The Coming Plague; Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. A lengthy, very detailed, and admittedly quite complex exploration into the virology, epidemiology, politics, and sociology surrounding the emerging diseases (including ebola) known to science in the 1990’s, The Coming Plague is the book that originally piqued my interest in the subject of virology – as it did for many researchers I have since met who likewise cite it as their own “spark” book. Superbly written but, to be sure, by no means a “light read,” it well repays with interest all the effort put into reading it.
Then there is David Quammen‘s Spillover; Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. I reviewed Spillover for The Oregonian when it was first published back in 2012. Focusing on zoonotic diseases – in which group ebola is included – Spillover unfolds in the lively and conversational style for which Mr. Quammen has become so rightly well-known and respected. Despite its rather unfortunate cover, the book eschews the gratuitously grizzly descriptions that too often accompany this subject when it is presented for a general audience in favor of a more measured – but by no means less gripping – communication of the realities of the diseases it covers.
Finally, Mr. Quammen appears to have a new book just published in October 2014 titled Ebola; the Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus. I have not yet seen a copy of this book but according to the publisher’s website, it is “[e]xtracted from Spillover by David Quammen, updated and with additional material.” As Spillover runs to nearly 600 pages and this new book is indicated to be 128, W.W. Norton & Company and Mr. Quammen choosing to extract the straight-forward and very well presented information provided about ebola in Spillover, update and expand upon it, and bring it out in a smaller (thus to many time-pressed readers much more accessible) book may indeed by just the thing needed to help an understandably skittish public overcome the twenty-four hour news cycle hyperbole and truly come to understand just what this disease is as well as what it isn’t.