BOOKS ABOUT INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC, by Joseph B. McCormick and Sue Fisher-Hoch, both physicians, tells many stories of treating high-morbidity, high-mortality diseases in developing countries. It is an interesting book that continues several stories that have been emerging over the past five years -- emerging viruses, of course, but also bacterial resistance, safe handling of infectious material, the dangers of used needles, and, of course, the environmental conditions that predispose humans to contract disease. This page offers short reviews of books that treat some of these larger medical and healthcare topics. Short book reviews and links to sites with documents that treat primarily Ebola may be found at Ebola - Books and Links. A longer review of Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC appears in the August 2, 1996, edition of The Net Net.
Also, please see Books About Medicine and Science.
The Coming Plague
A Field Guide to Germs
Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues
Plagues and Peoples
The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, by Laurie Garrett
This intelligent and voluminous book combines discussions of the conditions that allow disease to arise with some just plain excellent medical reporting. From the optimism of the antibiotic age to the mindless terror of viruses with 90% fatality rates, and from revenge effects of long-use tampons to the creation of drug-resistant pathogens, Laurie Garrett places the focus of her discussion on medical ecology. She is interested in demonstrating how the changing patterns of disease have gone hand in hand with the changing patterns of human activity, and she offers interesting discussion of the political dimensions of her stories as well.
A Field Guide to Germs, by Wayne Biddle
Henry Holt and Company
This delightful little book offers quick looks at "top-ranked" pathogens of our time, illustrated with documents relating to disease, mostly public education information or warnings. Biddle precedes his snapshots of pathogens with an introduction in which he expresses regret about the artificial distance medicine has encouraged between doctors and patients, as well as some of the social aspects that have stigmatized sufferers from disease or have denied them care. Biddle's writing is polished and engaging, and his book is just what he wants it to be: a smattering of facts about germs that is sure both to interest the reader and to help demystify disease.
Yellow Fever, Black Goddess: The Coevolution of People and Plagues, by Christopher Wills
Helix Books, Addison Wesley Publishing Co.
Wills uses plague, cholera, typhoid, typhus, malaria, syphilis, and AIDS in examples that show a progression of evolutionary strategies used by disease. As social conditions change to make humans more and less vulnerable in various ways -- from proximity to nutrition to hygiene -- different diseases have arisen to take advantage of opportunities or have receded in the face of opportunities lost. This is extremely interesting stuff, simultaneously showing the vulnerability of diseases, so easily thwarted by the skin or the stomach acids, and their adaptability, as when they tuck themselves into recesses of the body out of easy reach of the immune system (typhoid in the gall bladder), or when they evolve to trick or blind the immune system more directly (HIV). Complete review in The Net Net's April 14th issue.
Plagues and Peoples, by William H. McNeill
Anchor Books, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell
This book, originally published in 1977, is a useful and fascinating history of epidemic disease in the world. A sort of civilian counterpart to Hans Zinsser's Rats, Lice and History, Plagues and Peoples seeks to go even a bit further: Rather than simply choose large-scale historical events in which disease made a difference, McNeill seeks to demonstrate how disease and the spread of disease has been an integral part of human affairs. This is, quite simply, an excellent book, and everyone interested in epidemic disease or history should read it.