cover image China Syndrome: The Killer Virus That Crashed the Middle Kingdom

China Syndrome: The Killer Virus That Crashed the Middle Kingdom

Karl Taro Greenfeld, . . HarperCollins, $25.95 (442pp) ISBN 978-0-06-058722-2

Greenfeld's ground zero perspective on SARS—he was editing Time Asia when the first rumors of a virulent disease sweeping mainland Chinese hospitals hit his desk—brings reportorial immediacy to this chronicle of how epidemiologists realized that the cases of "atypical pneumonia" scattered throughout Asia were the initial wave of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a new strain of avian flu. Greenfeld's portraits present multiple angles on the story, such as a young man who falls sick after emigrating to the big city and a doctor who bravely volunteers to treat patients despite the huge risk of infection. The author also describes his own reactions while trying to keep his family and magazine staff safe in Hong Kong amid growing panic, and muses on how congested urban areas provide a perfect breeding ground for viruses. But he repeatedly returns to the most egregious factor in the disease's spread: the silence from (and outright suppression of information by) the Chinese government during the earliest stages of the epidemic. SARS could have been much worse, he warns, and we almost certainly will see its like again—and for all the heroic struggles to contain the danger, his final prognosis is not a happy one. (Apr.)