Wolfe makes clear that most bugs are harmless; some are even helpful. But his wide experience confronting killer diseases in...

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THE VIRAL STORM

THE DAWN OF A NEW PANDEMIC AGE

From a well-traveled virologist, an eloquent argument for why we need better ways to predict and thus prevent major disease outbreaks.

Wolfe, the CEO of Global Viral Forecasting, begins by describing the ubiquity of microbes, the most abundant biomass on earth. Viruses in particular can inhabit any cell type, making them the most diverse and flexible of organisms, frequently mutating and able to exchange genes with kin. Our ape ancestors picked up viruses from insect bites and from the animals they hunted, giving them a rich microbial repertoire. That would diminish, not only because the grasslands were less fertile ground, but because the pioneer groups were small. This evolutionary “bottleneck” resulted in the loss of some pathogens (the bugs either killed their hosts or the survivors became immune, leaving no one to infect). The advent of cooking would further reduce the repertoire. But then came animal domestication and farming, upping the repertoire as people in settled communities became targets for new microbe sources. Fast-forward to today’s hugely interconnected urbanized world and, you have the ingredients for a pandemic: a worldwide outbreak of disease spread from human to human. That happened with HIV, the result of two monkey viruses that combined in a chimpanzee, which was later eaten by hunters. It hasn’t happened yet with bird flu (no human to human spread), but it could. To forestall epidemic disasters, improved surveillance systems are under way, including Wolfe’s company, which is using the latest technologies to identify new disease bugs and track cases using rapid communication links. Most importantly, the company is establishing “sentinel” outposts at remote jungle sites where people still consume bushmeat or in other ways may be “the canaries in the coal mine.”

Wolfe makes clear that most bugs are harmless; some are even helpful. But his wide experience confronting killer diseases in Africa and Asia makes for important, graphic reading and underscores his passion for prevention.

Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9194-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

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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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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