cover image Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

David Quammen. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-1-98216-436-2

Science journalist Quammen (Spillover) recounts in page-turning detail the scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many scientists, the author writes, have seen a covid-like pandemic coming for years, thanks in part to the 2003 SARS outbreak that ended up being something of “a rehearsal,” though one that made “the significance of super-spreaders... painfully clear.” But SARS-CoV-2, aka the virus that causes Covid-19, is different in its makeup, and parts of its genome made “the virus more capable of infecting humans.” As well, Quammen breaks down how viruses jump from animals to humans, explains that “this virus is going to be with us forever” as it continues to adapt, and makes a convincing case that “we should stop thinking about the ‘origin’ of SARS-CoV-2, and proceed by thinking about its origins, plural.” Terms, such as RNA, “variant,” and “herd immunity” are accessibly explained, and the narrative is punctuated with vivid portraits of such scientists as Anthony Fauci; Zhengli Shi, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology; and molecular virologist Michael Worobey, who tracked the virus’s evolution. This is a must-read for anyone looking to get a better handle on the pandemic so far. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Oct.)