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  • The Viral Storm - Austin College

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age

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I scanned my bookshelf before I wrote this review. Carl Zimmer's "Parasite Rex: Inside the Bizarre World of Nature's Most Dangerous Creatures" (2001), has a top shelf place that belies it's origins: I "borrowed" it from a JPL scientist who was more interested in his own biceps than the universe. Dr Nicholas P. Money's "Mr. Bloomfield's Orchard: The mysterious world of mushrooms, molds and mycologists" (2002) and "Carpet Monsters and Killer Spores: A Natural History of Toxic Mold" (2004) have truly honored places - Dr. Money loves mold like I love my kids, and he's got that dry, Monty Python wit to go with it.

Nathan Wolfe PhD's "The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age" (2012) was a natural fit. if it weren't for the current Ebola outbreak making everyone interested in pandemics, I would wondered just how well Audible knew me. Wolfe isn't as amusing as Money, but I don't think Wolfe aims to be, and I don't think Money can play the serious guy, no matter how deadly on point he is.

Wolfe discusses HIV/AIDS at length. As a virus, it's intriguing and horrifying. It's mutable and recombinant - but it's transmitted by intimate contact and blood, so it's a relatively contained epidemic. So is HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that causes genital warts in some variations - and cervical cancer in others.

Wolfe presciently addresses the current Ebola outbreak two years before it happened. Some might say that Wolfe was making a lucky guess in "The Viral Storm," but Wolfe wasn't guessing. He knew what was coming, period; and he got the who, what, where and why pretty much right, too. Well, Wolfe didn't have actual names for the "who" but he got the professions/jobs/work of those who first contracted Ebola right, and he definitely has the "how" down. Ebola will burn itself out eventually - it's an inefficient transmitter but lethal, burning through its hosts fairly quickly and killing more than half of those it infects. The question is how many will it kill this time?

What makes Wolfe's book truly scary is the cleverness of the viruses. HIV/AIDS hid its hosts, and it took years to develop a diagnostic test. At the beginning of the epidemic, an HIV+ person could unknowingly infect those he or she loved, not discovering the illness for years. And Ebola - it doesn't just kill, it takes the loved ones who care for the infected, too. Viruses are small, with very little genetic material - and some can combine with other viruses to make a lethal new microbe. It's as if viruses are sentient and bent on taking over the world.

It's a fascinating, challenging, and so very frightening listen.

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You can tell that The Viral Storm is the culmination of a lifetime of study. And although Nathan Wolfe clearly has the ability to talk over your head, he rarely uses it. The book is obviously well researched and I felt it was entertaining without talking down to the audience. Although I would have liked to hear more about fringe viruses and possible disaster scenarios, he does a very good job explaining a couple of possible pandemic agents (with great information on HIV, Influenza, and a number of viruses you may never have heard of) and outlining how they might spread throughout the populous.

I have to say that this book is not a thrill ride though. It's more like watching a documentary than seeing a blockbuster. You will come away with a better understanding of diseases, how they spread, and possible systems to prevent pandemics (one part I though he devoted maybe too much time on). But it will not leave you on the edge of your seat.

Don't get me wrong though. I really enjoyed this audio book. If you are genuinely interested in viruses and their prevention I could not recommend this book more. But if you are looking more for

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