Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2022 by Literary Hub
A leading microbiologist tackles the scientific and sociopolitical impact of viruses in eleven striking essays.
Invisible in the food we eat, the people we kiss, and inside our own bodies, viruses flourish—with the power to shape not only our health, but our social, political, and economic systems. Drawing on his expertise in microbiology, Joseph Osmundson brings readers under the microscope to understand the structure and mechanics of viruses and to examine how viruses like HIV and COVID-19 have redefined daily life.
Osmundson’s buoyant prose builds on the work of the activists and thinkers at the forefront of the HIV/AIDS crisis and critical scholars like José Esteban Munoz to navigate the intricacies of risk reduction, draw parallels between queer theory and hard science, and define what it really means to “go viral.” This dazzling multidisciplinary collection offers novel insights on illness, sex, and collective responsibility. Virology is a critical warning, a necessary reflection, and a call for a better future.
Microbiologist Osmundson (Capsid) probes the relationship between humans and viruses in this superb essay collection. "On Replication" reminds that, while "there are 250 million viruses in every 0.001 liter of ocean water," they can't replicate on their own. In "On War," Osmundson questions the use of martial rhetoric to describe outbreaks: "Wars are won through mass death. A virus will never be dominated," he suggests, recommending an approach to quarantine and social distancing that's based on care and community. "On Going Viral" is a sharp look at "viral" content online, in which Osmundson makes a case that "most viruses do nothing. How boring, how painfully banal." "On Endings" is a moving reflection on the HIV epidemic, in which Osmundson considers how "queer people provide a model... for living rightly in a wrong world." Indeed, throughout, he cannily interweaves queer theory and science: "Queer childhood is waiting for the possibility to be—to make—one's full self. Quarantine is putting the full possibility of social relations—one way to make oneself with others—on hold out of respect for the desire of living beings to keep on living," he writes in "On Risk." Original and bubbling with curiosity, this is a masterful achievement.