Posted by: Green Knight | May 26, 2013

Creepy Crawlies (reading list, cont’d.)

Many of us like scary stuff. For spooky films, I prefer cerebral ones to gratuitous gore-splattering crap. “The Changeling” with George C. Scott is a favorite; quite Hitchcockian. Others like true crime stuff, something I look at from time to time. But for something chilling and all too real, books on viruses, bacteria, protists, and prions are where I spend my reading time.

Many remember Richard Preston’s 1994 “The Hot Zone.” Great stuff, but he’s been accused of overdramatizing the effects of Ebola. Interestingly, his younger brother Richard is an online friend of mine. He writes, with Lincoln Child, the marvelous “Agent Pendergast” crime thriller series.

I’ve already mentioned David Quammen’s excellent 2012 book “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” I was only halfway through its 587 pages at the time, and it’s one that was hard to put down, from start to finish. Here are a couple of others I also recommend:

“Level 4: Virus Hunters of the CDC,” by Joseph B. McCormick, M.D., and Susan Fisher-Hoch, M.D., 1996, updated with new material 1999. This work focuses mainly on hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola, Lassa, and others, but also covers malaria, polio, and other afflictions. It’s a fascinating history of how the CDC works, and the international (and internal) politics that come into play. Some of the stories about trying to cross a border in Central Africa, or having no working radio out in the bush, or supply problems, are almost as scary as the diseases.

Having worked for government, I also recognized the bureaucratic politics, turf battles, infighting, funding competition, and ego-tripping within the agency. When I was a waste management inspector, part of my job, along with hazardous waste and good old garden-variety regular solid waste, was infectious waste, so this sort of reading material strikes a chord with me. Interestingly, though McCormick and Fisher-Hoch had over 20 years’ field and lab experience, Quammer’s book doesn’t mention them in the text; “Level 4” does appear in the bibliography, however.

Carl Zimmer has a great one called “Parasite Rex,” from 2000. That one focuses more on animal parasites like worms, protozoans, insects, and so on. Makes you never want to visit the tropics unless you’re in an air-conditioned bubble! He’s got a more recent one, “A Planet of Viruses,” 2011, which I haven’t read yet, but plan to.

I’m also about to start “Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation,” 2013, by fellow Society of Environmental Journalists member Dan Fagin, all about toxic chemicals and cancer in a New Jersey town. I saw him interviewed on PBS the other week, and was suitably impressed. (MOON-suitably impressed?)

Anyhoo, check ’em out. Page-turners. all.

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