Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus, by David Quammen, (W. W. Norton & Company), 128 pages, released October 20, 2014
David Quammen is one of the best prose stylists writing today. He can make the complicated clear, he can lead readers into abstract issues through the strength of his narratives, and his natural curiosity means that he’ll almost always ask (and answer) those questions that were hovering at the edge of your mind.
In 2012, Quammen received well-earned praise for Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Given human encroachment on nearly every corner this planet, it’s no surprise that some of the newest and deadliest human diseases are zoonoses, diseases transferred from animals to humans.
One of these zoonoses is Ebola. A few years ago, awareness of Ebola was probably limited to the scientists studying it, the doctors attempting to treat it, its victims, and enthusiastic readers of popular science writing. Today Ebola is a worrisome presence on the edges of many people’s minds, given the current outbreak in several African nations, which have led to a handful of cases being treated within the U.S.
In this climate, a book about Ebola by a writer of Quammen’s caliber is quite welcome. Ebola, however, isn’t quite a new book. It’s an updated republication of the material on Ebola originally published in Spillover. Quammen has added an introduction and epilogue that contextualize the recent epidemic within the disease’s history. Unfortunately, this book went to press before Ebola moved from Africa into the U.S., so while it’s highly informative, most readers will have a host of questions this book doesn’t answer.
If you read Spillover, you’ve already encountered most of the information in Ebola. If, however, you missed Spillover when it came out—or were overwhelmed by its near six hundred-page length—you’re in for some fascinating reading in this reworked, shorter text.