Via The New York Times: ‘Ebola,’ a History by David Quammen. Excerpt:
Ebola has come to be described in horror-movie terms as an affliction, in the words of the journalist David Quammen, that “seems to kill like the 10th plague of Egypt in Exodus — the one inflicted by an angel of death.”
With a mortality rate as high as 90 percent, it kills painfully and swiftly, with a seemingly remorseless calculus. There is even an article on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that compares Ebola to the ghastly scourge in “The Masque of the Red Death,” the Edgar Allan Poe story that begins: “The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.”
In “Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus,” Mr. Quammen puts the frightening reality of Ebola — and the heightened language and hyperbole surrounding it — into perspective. This slender book is an expanded extract from his 2012 book “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic,” and it does a nimble job of situating this year’s unnerving events in historical context, going back to the first recorded occurrence of the virus in 1976 and chronicling the scientific and medical efforts to understand it since.
As he did in earlier natural history books like “The Song of the Dodo” and “Monster of God,” Mr. Quammen combines on-the-ground reporting with research and interviews to give the reader a sharp-edge understanding of the subject at hand: what is known, what is not known and what may be in dispute.
His book, like most writing about Ebola, is deeply unsettling, but it’s also sober minded, and in this respect, a standout in the floodlet of Ebola books, many of them quickie scare guides and medical thrillers (with portentous titles like “Ebola: The Final Plague,” “Ebola: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid,” “Ebola: The Preppers Guide to Surviving Ebola,” “The Trojan Virus: An Ebola Bioterrorism Thriller” and “The Ebola Conspiracy”), which seem intended to exploit public fears.
In these pages, Mr. Quammen takes Richard Preston — the author of the 1994 best seller “The Hot Zone” — to task for his melodramatic approach to the subject, writing that readers should not take Mr. Preston’s lurid descriptions of Ebola’s consequences literally — liquefying organs until “people were dissolving in their beds” or causing victims to “weep blood.” (In a recent interview with The New York Times, Mr. Preston said he now wants to update his book and make “the clinical picture of the virus more clear and accurate.”)