cover image Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond

Sonia Shah. FSG/Crichton, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-12288-1

In this absorbing, complex, and ominous look at the dangers posed by pathogens in our daily lives, science journalist Shah (The Fever) cautions that there are no easy solutions. Of particular note is the challenge of tracking those pathogens that remain uncontained and which could overtake humans in a pandemic. As an example, Shah tracks the waterborne Vibrio cholerae bacterium from its home in the southwest Indian Ocean as it radiated from China and India to Paris in 1832, and then sailed to the U.S. with emigrants from cholera-plagued Europe heading to the eastern coast of North America—at the time there were 5,800 reported cases and nearly 3,000 deaths in New York City alone. Shah then meticulously dissects the conditions that made cholera’s transmission so effective and new outbreaks inevitable, including filthy water, overcrowding, political corruption and inaction, scapegoating, and even the expedited expansion of the human population by the harnessing of fossil fuels. “For most of our history, we’ve been unaware of pathogens’ role in our lives,” Shah writes, adding that most of the challenges still lay ahead. Shah’s warning is certainly troubling, and this important medical and social history is worthy of attention—and action. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (Mar.)