National Book Award Finalist
The story of the worldwide scientific quest to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Breathless is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a “forever virus,” destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.
Based on interviews with nearly one hundred scientists, including leading virologists in China and around the world, Quammen explains that:
-Infectious disease experts saw this pandemic coming
-Some scientists, for more than two decades, warned that “the next big one” would be caused by a changeable new virus—very possibly a coronavirus—but such warnings were ignored for political or economic reasons
-The precise origins of this virus may not be known for years, but some clues are compelling, and some suppositions can be dismissed
-And much more.
Breathless takes you inside the frantic international effort to understand and control SARS-CoV-2 as if we were peering over the shoulders of the brilliant scientists who led the chase.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
As a scientist tells renowned science writer David Quammen in this compelling overview of the COVID-19 pandemic, “A disease anywhere is a disease everywhere.” Quammen interviews a real who’s who of the infectious disease community to tell the story of how scientists first identified the virus and then built up a worldwide effort to curb its impact. Quammen has a talent for avoiding technical jargon, explaining hard science with colorful metaphors like his comparison between the spread of the coronavirus and a time-lapse video of a flower blooming. Knowing what scientists are learning from the pandemic we’ve just experienced might help you feel better about the future.
Science journalist Quammen (Spillover) recounts in page-turning detail the scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many scientists, the author writes, have seen a covid-like pandemic coming for years, thanks in part to the 2003 SARS outbreak that ended up being something of "a rehearsal," though one that made "the significance of super-spreaders... painfully clear." But SARS-CoV-2, aka the virus that causes Covid-19, is different in its makeup, and parts of its genome made "the virus more capable of infecting humans." As well, Quammen breaks down how viruses jump from animals to humans, explains that "this virus is going to be with us forever" as it continues to adapt, and makes a convincing case that "we should stop thinking about the ‘origin' of SARS-CoV-2, and proceed by thinking about its origins, plural." Terms, such as RNA, "variant," and "herd immunity" are accessibly explained, and the narrative is punctuated with vivid portraits of such scientists as Anthony Fauci; Zhengli Shi, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology; and molecular virologist Michael Worobey, who tracked the virus's evolution. This is a must-read for anyone looking to get a better handle on the pandemic so far.)