My mom bought this book at a thrift store for 25c and gave it to me because she knows how much I love a good disease or two. It’s true, I do. I’m odd that way. Death and disease are two of my favorite subjects!
It’s hard to write about non-fiction, especially science related non-fiction, without turning into some kind of response paper. As far as the science end of things goes: the book is very informative about epidemics and how they start and the challenges that public health officials face when going in to try and clean things up in a country where there are five pairs of latex gloves, total.
From a reader’s standpoint, the book is informative without being so heavy that you need a degree in epidemiology to parse it. The writing flows without getting too dry. That said, it’s not really focused. It’s part public health chronicle, part memoir without being enough of either to really moor it in any one sort of category. The lives of the authors are traced via the diseases they researched, but the book presents both at the same time without ever really stopping to view one through the lens of the other, which I think is a missed opportunity.
As far as books on disease and pestilence go, I’m somewhat of a connoisseur. I’d give this one three plague rats out of a possible five. The best book on disease I’ve ever read was The Speckled Monster which is an account of the development of the smallpox vaccine as told through the eyes of two doctors bearing witness to an epidemic in the late 18th century. Now THAT book takes the time to be a solid biographical account through the lens of an account of the epidemic. It practically reads like a novel. A novel about smallpox. Can’t get better than that.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s The Great Influenza, which errs on the side of being dry. Honestly, the subject matter is fascinating even if you’re not a pestilence fan, but the writing! I nearly fell asleep several times! I can’t say that it was a bad book because it was highly informative, but since I can’t just rub books on my head and have the information seep in, I would appreciate it if someone would occasionally invest some time into also making them readable.
This one fell smack dab in the middle. Not dry, not gripping. Not totally impersonal, but far from a consistent personal narrative. It was well worth the 25c, but I don’t know if I’d pay full price. $5, tops.