A maddened creature, frothing at the mouth, lunges at an innocent victim—and with a bite, transforms its prey into another raving monster. It’s a scenario that underlies our darkest tales of supernatural horror, but its power derives from a very real virus, a deadly scourge known to mankind from our earliest days. In this fascinating exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years in the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies.
The most fatal virus known to science, rabies kills nearly 100 percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. A disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans, rabies has served as a symbol of savage madness and inhuman possession throughout history. Today, its history can help shed light on the wave of emerging diseases—from AIDS to SARS to avian flu—with origins in animal populations.
From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh, fascinating, and often wildly entertaining look at one of mankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.
Bill Wasik is a senior editor at Wired magazine and was previously a senior editor at Harper’s, where he wrote on culture, media, and politics. He is the editor of the anthology Submersion Journalism and has also written for Oxford American, Slate, Salon, and McSweeney’s.
©2012 Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy (P)2012 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"[An] ambitious and smart history of the virus…. The authors track how science tried to tame the scourge, with its ravaging neurological effects. Yet the rare tales of modern survivors only underscore that, despite the existence of treatment through a series of injections, we're at a stalemate in conquering rabies." (Publishers Weekly)
"[Wasik and Murphy] place the world's deadliest virus in its historical and cultural context with a scientifically sound and compelling history that begins in ancient Mesopotamia and ends in twenty-first-century Bali…Readable, fascinating, informative, and occasionally gruesome, this is highly recommended for anyone interested in medical history or the cultural history of disease." (Library Journal)
interested in history, science, and pulp fiction
I have told many people about this fabulous book, and the response is always raised eyebrows, and a surprised grimace. "Rabies? Really?!" Yes, really! (You may also have grown up hearing about "a series of painful shots in the stomach," which was my parents' way of getting me to stop adopting neighborhood squirrels.)
This is among the best of books of its genre - it takes one purported focus, and spirals out to create an interdisciplinary gem. It begins in prehistory, goes from India to Europe to the US to Bali, and synthesizes cultural, historical, and scientific information. The case histories are painstakingly researched (scouring source material to find detailed 400 year-old anecdotes of children getting bitten by various animals, for example). The effect is a kind of sub-plot into cultural views on animals, wild and tame, pets and livestock more generally, and the domesticated dog in particular.
I was intrigued by the authors' research into literature, artwork, and cultural tropes like werewolves and vampires, ancient Egyptian sculpture, and Hollywood movies. The authors do not shy away from ideas and therapies that are still unsettled (like the "Milwaukee protocol," which is induced coma treatment). Rather, they thoroughly present several perspectives, so I felt I was brought up to date but not propagandized.
So much more than a single-subject book. Very capable narrator, as well.
Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy's "Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus" (2012) was an unexpected convergence of my reading loves. "Rabid" combines biological science, history, mystery and science.
I expected a thorough discussion of Louis Pasteur, who discovered the virus that causes rabies (after first having to realize it was not a bacteria) and developed a treatment and a vaccine. That's there, in full detail, including the careful scientific protocol Pasteur used; the missteps; the scientific jealousies; and the vaccine skeptics that thrive even today. There's a discussion of the Milwaukee protocol of induced coma to treat rabies now, for people who don't realize they have been infected until it's too late to undergo the modified Pasteur treatment used today. That's the second half of the book.
The first half is devoted to the history of rabies. I didn't expect such a thorough survey and literary analysis of rabies in fiction. There are the obvious: Stephen King's "Cujo" (1981) and Fred Gipson's "Old Yeller" (1956), and the 1957 Walt Disney movie. The subtle literary origins are even more intriguing. Wasik and Murphy argue that Charlotte Bronte's "The Professor" (1857), Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" (1954) and Seth Grahame-Smith's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2009) all owe their origins to rabies outbreaks. I am not sure that I agree, but it is an intriguing position: do some of the vampire legends of the last two millennia arise from rabies? The discussion of rabies in Zora Neale Hurston's "There Eyes Were Watching God" (1937) was so poignant I would have stopped reading "Rabid" and pulled out my text copy of Hurston's book if I hadn't been driving.
Johnny Heller's narration was good, although almost a little too chipper for the topic.
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The authors provide a complete history of the rabies virus from the earliest recorded history right up to 2012. The information is well researched and the performance is very good.
The book is divided into chapters that each tackle a facet of the disease--history, virology, culture. They thoroughly cover all aspects of the disease without going too far astray on any one topic. This allows them to embelish certain stories and biographies but then return to the central theme of the book.
There is much to learn and the text does not get overly technical. The reader has a nice voice and keeps the narration moving along.
An easy listen which will engage anyone interested in infectious diseases or rabies in particular.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
Writer Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy tell the medical and cultural history of Rabies. It is told as if we are all sitting around having a conversation, a delightful way of telling a story. They cover from ancient myths of Greece, Rome and Egypt to the science of Louis Pasteur. They also cover the basic science of the disease. What I found the most interesting is how science today, is now using the "bullet" shape of the virus depleted of the rabies and now loaded with medication for treatment of other neurological infections to enable the medication to cross the blood/brain barrier. It is amazing they were able to pack so much information into the 8 hours. Found the story about the rabies out break in Central Park in NYC fascinating. Trapping and immunizing the raccoons to prevent the disease from spreading, that is hard work. The authors told both the veterinary and human medical history of the disease. The need to enforce rabies immunization and controlling out breaks is vital to our urbanized world. Johnny Heller did a great job narrating the story. If you are interested in science history or culture you will enjoy this book.
Couldn't put this book down. The story was well-researched and the structure clear and easy to follow. They're right, this story is not for the queasy. ( and if you're tempted to look up the youtube videos mentioned, which of course I did, right away, resist the temptation). I learned a lot and will remember this book for a long time. Have already recommended it to lots of friends.
The story ventures as much into vampires and werewolves as rabies early on. Picks up a bit towards the 2nd half but overall felt like it had a lot of filler.
The narration was distractingly bad. It sounded as if the narrator was doing a half-hearted "Unsolved Mysteries" impression and noticeably distracted from the text.
College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.
A tour de force through the cultural, psychological and medical influence of one of the most fearful and misunderstood viral diseases that humankind has ever known, a disorder that attacks not the blood or the body tissues, but slowly and implacably stalks the brain, sometimes in days, sometimes in month...and sometimes even years, long after the healing of the original wound and the immediate memory of the bite or scratch that caused it. Wasik and Murphy invoke a chilling literary style in writing this remarkably compelling and informative book. Best medical history since The Demon Under The Microscope. Exceedingly well done.
A great description of the importance of rabies in human history and culture, as it was the first infectious disease to have the mechanism of transmission understood. I had no idea that rabies had caused such a deep impression in human culture as described (sometimes to extensively, in my opinion). Overall a great book about disease, if you don't mind its specificity.
Tangential, eclectic, avid listener... favorite book is the one currently in ear.
For me about half of the book was enjoyable... the parts here and there that actually dealt with rabies were wonderful. However, the extensive "Cultural History" portions where even the vaguest possibility of literature being associated to rabies was explored drove me nuts... and be warned the literature review will cover from medieval times to modern Zombie movies. Wish they weren't so intermingled, but one is forced to listen to all to hear the good parts.
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