Spillover, by David Quammen – a recommended read

By Ed Yong | October 1, 2012 11:00 am

David Quammen, a giant of natural history writing, has a new book out today called Spillover. It details the fascinating and frightening world of diseases that spread to humans from other animals, also known as zoonoses. Here’s the description:

David Quammen’s Spillover is a work of science reporting, history, and adventuresome travel, tracking this subject around the world.  For five years, Quammen shadowed scientists into the field-a rooftop in Bangladesh, a forest in the Congo, a Chinese rat farm, a suburban woodland in Duchess County, New York-and through their high-biosecurity laboratories.  He interviewed survivors and gathered stories of the dead.  He found surprises in the latest research, alarm among public health officials, and deep concern in the eyes of researchers.  Spillover delivers the science, the history, the mystery, and the human anguish as page-turning drama.

From what innocent creature, in what remote landscape, will the Next Big One emerge?  A rodent in southern China?  A monkey in West Africa?  A bat in Malaysia that happens to roost above a pig farm, from which hogs are exported to Singapore?  In this age of speedy travel between dense human populations, an emerging disease can go global in hours.  But where and how will it start?  Recent outbreaks offer some guidance, and so Quammen traces the origins of Ebola, Marburg, SARS, avian influenza, Lyme disease, and other bizarre cases of spillover, including the grim, unexpected story of how AIDS began from a single Cameroonian chimpanzee.

Spillover asks urgent questions.  Are these events independent misfortunes, or linked?  Are they merely happening to us, or are we somehow causing them?  What can be done?   But it’s more than a work of reportage.  It’s also the tale of a quest, through time and landscape, for a new understanding of how the world works.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. A few weeks ago, I tweeted several reasons why it has earned an easy spot on my shelf of favourite books.  Here they are:

[View the story “9 reasons why you should read Spillover, by David Quammen ” on Storify]


Comments (4)

  1. Ed

    Even without your Balvenie-induced promotion of this book it was on my radar and I can’t wait to read it.

  2. Dave Gill

    I’ve been a Quammen fan since Song of the Dodo. Spillover will find a place on my shelf or my Kindle.

  3. Oh well, now I’ll have to buy this.

  4. John

    I’m not usually a reader of this stuff, but you were so persuasive, Ed, I bought the ebook.

    It makes strange lunchtime reading, but I’m enjoying it.


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