Deadly Invaders by Denise Grady
In Deadly Invaders: Virus Outbreaks Around the World, from Marburg Fever to Avian Flu, New York Times science writer Denise Grady uses her own experiences covering an outbreak of Marburg Fever in Angola to explore the impact of virus outbreaks on the modern world. This framework allows Grady to discuss various aspects of medicine, epidemiology, and public health in ways I was not expecting in a book for teens, namely (for my inner anthropologist) how culture and state of the art medical care can clash. How do you track and quarantine infected people if doctors and native populations are ignorant of each other’s practices? How do you compromise when burying a body according to traditional funerary practices means mourners may become infected with the very virus doctors are trying to eradicate?
Despite the title, most of the book focuses on Marburg virus and the efforts of doctors to end the outbreak. Short overviews of contemporary outbreaks of other viruses such as AIDS, SARS, and West Nile are included, but these are only three to four pages long. Still, it does allow Grady to discuss various causes of outbreaks and how the modern world, for all its vaccinations and medical advances, is contributing to these outbreaks.
Grady’s firsthand experience in Angola gives the book an immediacy I found engaging. She writes clearly, the layout of the text is clear and easy to read, and there are lots of color graphics (including a very helpful map of Africa, because we know how great Americans are at geography) that help to keep the book moving at a fast pace. And thankfully, there are no pictures of sores or anything really gross or icky.
That said, I do have several criticisms of the book, the biggest being: I know this is a New York Times book and all, but do all the references in the “Further Reading” section have to be NYT articles, with the exception of The Hot Zone and Virus Hunter? I also wish there was more information about viruses in general. I learned more about several different specific viruses than I did about viruses as a whole. The final overviews of different viruses include a “Virus Family” heading, but what exactly does this mean? How are viruses grouped in different families, and why is this significant enough to be highlighted, but then not significant enough to be explained?
So, a recommendation? Hmm, it’s a well-written, easy to read book that would certainly be of interest to the general reader or a teen interested specifically in the 2005 Marburg Fever outbreak or medical anthropology and the more sociocultural aspects of virus outbreaks. But if you’re looking for information on the science behind viruses, you probably want to look for another book.