OUTBREAKS AND EPIDEMICS

BATTLING INFECTION FROM MEASLES TO CORONAVIRUS

A book that couldn’t be more timely, providing an accessible introduction to epidemiology.

For those panicked or puzzled by the current pandemic, a handy look at the evolution of infectious diseases and their cures.

Coronaviruses have been with us for a very long time, but the one that first captured the world’s attention emerged only two decades ago, when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome spread out of Hong Kong to 32 countries, eventually killing some 810 people over its five-month run. That seems a trifle against what global health journalis Senthilingam calls “a viral relative that would wreak greater havoc across the planet”: the current outbreak of COVID-19. Although the government of China has not been entirely transparent about the outbreak, it appears at this writing that SARS prepared health workers to quarantine and isolate whole cities to keep the disease from spreading, and the number of new cases there has begun to decline. Outside China, of course, COVID-19 has become a pandemic, “the word that invokes fear in almost everyone,” since pandemics are new diseases that require novel responses. It is no comfort to know that COVID-19 is but one of a roster of “emerging diseases” monitored lest they, too, become pandemics, including Ebola and Marburg viral diseases, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, and even a “Disease X”—“meaning a completely new, previously unseen infectious disease, such as COVID–19 at the time of its emergence.” Though some have likened COVID-19 to the flu, there are few commonalities other than the fact that some populations—e.g., the immune-suppressed or the elderly—are more susceptible to being killed by both than other populations, as was witnessed in 2017-2018 with a flu that killed 61,000 people in the U.S. alone, leading Senthilingam to note that “it’s fair to say the harm caused by influenza is far greater than people realize.”

A book that couldn’t be more timely, providing an accessible introduction to epidemiology.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-78578-563-4

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Icon Books

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2020

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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

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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