cover image The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure

The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure

Dan Werb. Crown, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-23923-0

Epidemiologist Werb (City of Omens) takes a page-turning and unsettling look at the history of coronaviruses. Working to “put boundaries on our anxiety” by placing Covid-19 in its scientific and historical context, he writes that coronaviruses are nothing new, but before 2003, were only known to cause mild colds. That changed with that year’s SARS epidemic, which claimed hundreds of lives. Werb covers the scientists who studied coronaviruses in obscurity with minimal funding—Ralph Baric, for example, devoted himself to analyzing the potential adaptability of coronaviruses in the 1980s and found that they could evolve to thrive in a new species very rapidly. The implications of that finding, Werb notes, are reflected in the current state of affairs, when the ever-increasing “encroachment of humans into the habitats of animals that harbor coronaviruses” explains why “the first two decades of the twenty-first century have seen more novel human pathogens emerge than across the entire twentieth century.” Werb describes doctors working toward an outlook that views animal, human, and environmental health as interconnected, and the light he sheds on scientists whose work has gone largely under the radar makes for a moving account. This is a unique and valuable addition to the expanding body of work on Covid-19. (Mar.)