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BREATHLESS

THE SCIENTIFIC RACE TO DEFEAT A DEADLY VIRUS

Unsettling global health news brilliantly delivered by an expert.

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An authoritative new history of Covid-19 and its predecessors.

Prolific, award-winning science writer Quammen bring his story up to 2022, as the pandemic enters its third year with no end in sight. Authors who begin with 2019 events in the Wuhan meat market are fated to end with an anticlimax, but Quammen, casting his net more widely, does not have this problem. In addition to a hair-raising account of the ongoing pandemic, the author delivers an insightful education on public health and an introduction to numerous deadly epidemics over the past 50 years. He also educates readers about the centurylong history of the coronavirus, which produced two nasty epidemics before the current one. Once known as a mundane cause of the common cold, the first “killer coronavirus” emerged from a Chinese food market in 2003, killing about 800 of 8,000 victims across the world before disappearing. SARS-CoV didn’t spread until symptoms developed, so it was not difficult to identify cases, trace contacts, and set effective quarantine guidelines. This was also true of the MERS-CoV epidemic that began in 2012 and killed 76 of 178 people, mostly on the Arabian Peninsula. The current pandemic remains horrendously difficult to control because asymptomatic individuals can still spread the virus. Having delivered this bad news, Quammen chronicles his tours around the world (often via Zoom due to lockdowns), grilling a Greek chorus of nearly 100 scientists and health officials whose extensive biographies fill a 43-page appendix. Skirting the mostly dismal politics displayed by national leaders, the author constructs a masterful account of viral evolution culminating in Covid-19, which has displayed the dazzling ability to circumvent our natural and then technology-enhanced immune system. Perhaps the best news is that killing a host is irrelevant; viruses give priority to multiplying and spreading, so it’s possible that Covid-19 will adapt to our adaptations and grow less virulent. One of the latest variants, Omicron, is a dramatic example.

Unsettling global health news brilliantly delivered by an expert.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-982164-36-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2022

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ELON MUSK

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

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A warts-and-all portrait of the famed techno-entrepreneur—and the warts are nearly beyond counting.

To call Elon Musk (b. 1971) “mercurial” is to undervalue the term; to call him a genius is incorrect. Instead, Musk has a gift for leveraging the genius of others in order to make things work. When they don’t, writes eminent biographer Isaacson, it’s because the notoriously headstrong Musk is so sure of himself that he charges ahead against the advice of others: “He does not like to share power.” In this sharp-edged biography, the author likens Musk to an earlier biographical subject, Steve Jobs. Given Musk’s recent political turn, born of the me-first libertarianism of the very rich, however, Henry Ford also comes to mind. What emerges clearly is that Musk, who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome (“Empathy did not come naturally”), has nurtured several obsessions for years, apart from a passion for the letter X as both a brand and personal name. He firmly believes that “all requirements should be treated as recommendations”; that it is his destiny to make humankind a multi-planetary civilization through innovations in space travel; that government is generally an impediment and that “the thought police are gaining power”; and that “a maniacal sense of urgency” should guide his businesses. That need for speed has led to undeniable successes in beating schedules and competitors, but it has also wrought disaster: One of the most telling anecdotes in the book concerns Musk’s “demon mode” order to relocate thousands of Twitter servers from Sacramento to Portland at breakneck speed, which trashed big parts of the system for months. To judge by Isaacson’s account, that may have been by design, for Musk’s idea of creative destruction seems to mean mostly chaos.

Alternately admiring and critical, unvarnished, and a closely detailed account of a troubled innovator.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9781982181284

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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