Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Outbreaks and Epidemics

For obvious reasons, I’ve spent some time this year reading books regarding the outbreak of disease and it’s consequences. It would surprise me if more people hadn’t, especially given the circumstance we’ve found ourselves in. Back in January, I read Spillover by David Quammen which really set the wheels in motion. I came across Outbreaks and Epidemics by Meera Senthilingam whilst shopping on the high street one day, and thought I’d give it a shot. After reading Spillover, my expectations were high and Outbreaks and Epidemics delivered. One of the reasons behind this is that Senthilingam covers a different area to Spillover. Quammen spends a lot of time in Spillover exploring where new diseases come from and why this is important. Senthilingam however investigates how humankind has spent time developing was to battle infections and what this means for the future of disease. I therefore find the two books complimentary to one another, especially in light of the recent emergence of COVID-19.

Outbreaks and Epidemics was released in early 2020, which means that it does cover some aspects of COVID-19, but not all of them for obvious reasons (I wonder how long it will be until there is a popular science book out there about COVID). There are a number of diseases that have been around for a long time, and a few that are very recent. Each of these has it’s own story and have been combatted in a myriad of ways. We’ve only successfully eradicated one disease to date, smallpox. However, there are some others out there such a polio and leprosy which aren’t far off, although they still have their challenges. Given it’s timing, I though Outbreaks and Epidemics would be focussed mainly on COVID-19, but this isn’t the case. I found this both a little frustrating (I guess we didn’t know too much back in March 2020) and quite relieving as I feel I’d need to psyche myself up something like that. If you’d like to know more about the history of some of the other deadly diseases from measles to HIV, then this is the book for you. Whilst I also highly recommend Spillover, this looks at things from more of the human angle as well as being highly accessible to the reader.

It’s unfortunate that the book isn’t longer and that there isn’t much information regarding COVID-19, although there is plenty of information on SARS and MERS, so I don’t think it was rushed. I think it is a case of bad timing of the pandemic which meant that as Senthilingam was writing a book on epidemics, it had to be included. I’d hate for that to happen, to be writing a book about a topic, just for something new and unknown to emerge at a global scale as COVID-19 did.

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