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Publisher's Summary

From the author of The Fever, a wide-ranging inquiry into the origins of pandemics

Interweaving history, original reportage, and personal narrative, Pandemic explores the origin of epidemics, drawing parallels between the story of cholera - one of history's most disruptive and deadly pathogens - and the new pathogens that stalk humankind today, from Ebola and avian influenza to drug-resistant superbugs.

More than 300 infectious diseases have emerged or reemerged in new territory during the past 50 years, and 90 percent of epidemiologists expect that one of them will cause a disruptive, deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations.

To reveal how that might happen, Sonia Shah tracks each stage of cholera's dramatic journey from harmless microbe to world-changing pandemic, from its 1817 emergence in the South Asian hinterlands to its rapid dispersal across the 19th-century world and its latest beachhead in Haiti. She reports on the pathogens following in cholera's footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers emerging from China's wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, the slums of Port-au-Prince, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.

By delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world's deadliest diseases, Pandemic reveals what the next epidemic might look like - and what we can do to prevent it.

©2016 Sonia Shah (P)2016 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Pandemic

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Interesting but not engaging

I find predators fascinating. Especially those predators that eat us from the inside, which is the topic of this book. I had hoped for more of what I got when I read David Quammen’s excellent book “Spillover” which focuses on microorganisms that jump from one species to humans. Such zoonoses tend to be especially difficult to eradicate because even if we manage to eliminate the disease in humans, it can jump over again from the reservoir. This book, unfortunately, did not reach the same level as Spillover, far from it actually. It was informative, but I never felt very excited when I picked up the book. It was more like listening to a mediocre university teacher. It felt a bit flat and encyclopedic, and it lacked a clear narrative.

The book describes some past and present pandemics, including HIV, SARS, Ebola and influenza. However, the author keeps returning to is Cholera. Why is Cholera interesting you may ask? Because it is a pandemic that has gone endemic, meaning it is constantly present in the human population and health organisations have, to some extent, stopped trying to eradicate it. This is despite the fact that, without medication (clean water), there is a 50/50 chance of being killed by Cholera. This puts Cholera on par with Ebola. Indeed, the message that the author tries to convey is that when we think of future pandemics we should think Cholera, not Ebola. The big killers in the world today are the pandemics that go “under the radar” - like Cholera but also influenza. I think that this was a valid and important point, and there is already one clear candidate for what might be the future Cholera, namely MRSA (bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics).

So all in all, there is definitively some interesting information in this book, and it does reach some interesting conclusions. But unfortunately, the book is not well organized, and the writing is not very engaging. Simply put, there are better alternatives.

12 people found this helpful

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  • DP
  • 03-12-16

Very interesting and informative

I binge-listened to this book, because I couldn't stop. I had heard the author interviewed on NPR and was interested. The story is very informative, but entertaining.

8 people found this helpful

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Performed as if the author was reading a child's bedtime story

I liked neither the material nor the performance of this book. The author read the book as if she was reading a bedtime story to a child. As for the story itself, she wore her politics on her sleeve depicting big banks, globalization, etc. as the big bad Wolves while we pour piggies suffer. She does not seem to realize that without capitalism and the technological breakthroughs that it incubates, our lives would be quite miserable.

6 people found this helpful

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Informative

The content of the book was very informative and had some great history and information about the various diseases mentioned.

What I did not like was the way it was written. It took me only a few minutes into the forward to realize she was not a biologist and it was only because I had another hour to drive that I continued the book.

It did not seem like she had a specific audience in mind while writing and it seemed like she tried to make up for lack of understanding some aspects by using large words.

All in all, the information won me over. I am a Biologist and loved learning the historic and political backgrounds to the outbreaks. It was very difficult to get past the language. A "romantic fever" for example was hard to digest.

6 people found this helpful

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Lots of Mistakes

There are some interesting anecdotes sprinkled within here that I hadn't heard before, but overall, this book doesn't really offer much. There are some things that are just wrong, and there are a lot of instances of her misunderstanding or misrepresenting facts. Unless you have the basis of knowledge that allows you to immediately recognize these moments, I'd avoid this book all together. In fact, I would just say avoid this book all together in general. It does not deliver on any promises, and there are better written books out there that are better organized, written by people who actually get stuff right.

3 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

You will probably enjoy "Spillover" more

I am in the middle of reading Spillover and am enjoying it much more than this book. Pandemic is more current for certain, but David Quammen, the Author of Spillover, is by far more scientifically literate. Shah spends an awful lot of time focused on paradigm shifts in science. She even seems to have a really good grasp of Thomas Kuhn's arguments; and yet, she failed to realize the science she researched for this book has been pushed out by the very methods Kuhn elucidated in book, in fact the very methods she, herself, wrote about in this very book. She seems to lack critical thinking skills when it comes to psychology studies, never questioning the methods. If someone said it was true, she seemed to not only accept it, despite glaring flaws in the methods for those studies, but used the bad studies to argue her opinion. The old way of viewing evolution, the selfish gene as driver of all evolution, is on its way out the door. Yet, she clings tightly to that paradigm. She is enamored with the good genes/sexy sons hypothesis, selfish gene dogma, David Buss style evolutionary psych (which amounts to "just-so-stories). Her lack of adopting a progressive paradigm, considering her progressive subject matter was disappointing at best. I also didn't relate to her personal experience with the virus she and her son share. That detracted from the story for me.

Even with the negatives, the subject matter is trilling. What she lacks in scientific understanding, she really makes up for with her history of various viruses. Absolutely fantastic.

If you are only going to read one book about pandemics, let it be Spillover. But, if you are willing to read more than one book, because of the history she provides, this is definitely worthwhile.

15 people found this helpful

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Author mispronounces words...

I liked the book and learned a lot but it's poorly produced. The author's narration is not great and she frequently mispronounces words. It sounds like she recorded it with no professional guidance, which is a shame.

2 people found this helpful

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Spoiled by poor narration, sketchy analysis

The author does her own narration, which is the first challenge for listeners. Ms. Shah pronounces at least two dozen words incorrectly—some of them repeated many times—and reads with the grating tone of a sassy child. If you can get by the narration, you'll find that she provides a lot of interesting history about pandemics, with particular focus on cholera as a prototype, much of which is likely accurate. Unfortunately, however, she fails to provide appropriate historical context (especially in terms of the state-of-the-art of medicine) and is quick to condemn without presenting reasonable evidence. This undermines the reader's confidence in her analysis and, ultimately, the facts she chooses to present. Take her history as being painted with a broad brush, check facts and get the nuances before discussing with friends, and ignore her analysis. If you are motivated by the current pandemic to listen to something topical, I would suggest John Barry's The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, which is about the Spanish Flu pandemic, or perhaps something recommended by one of the other reviewers.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Pandemics, but Mostly Cholera

The author attempts to address modern communicable disease outbreaks through the lens of Cholera. She traces the history of Cholera from its emergence in Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta in the late 18th century, through 19th century London and New York, to the recent outbreak in Haiti. She stops along the way to explore tangents where recent disease outbreaks (mainly SARS/MERS, Ebola, and the authors own experience with MRSA) dove-tail into her story.

Her story is interesting, but seems more focused (perhaps given the Cholera-centric framework of the narrative) on critiquing modern, industrial, capitalist, technological society and it's role in inadvertently promoting the spread of disease. To me this seems a stilted and highly-selective interpretation of medical history. Her most cogent criticism of modern medicine(/society) is thinking that our successes against communicable disease are in some way final.

The narrator of the book is not engaging. The narration is dry, nearly monotone, and without the least enthusiasm for the topic.

1 person found this helpful

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Informative and Interesting

This book is good for understanding outbreaks through the eyes of those working in that field. Some history, such as cholera outbreaks, are also included.