Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus

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Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus by: David Quammen

Reviewed by: Rebecca Ruddy

David Quammen’s book, Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus, on the history and spread of Ebola, contained all of the necessary information to offer the reader a well-rounded understanding and grasp of the up-to-date knowledge of the virus that is currently an epidemic in West Africa. The author presents the history of the Ebola outbreaks in a gripping and informative manner by providing the perfect balance between the scientific evidence gathered thus far and the human aspect of this lethal virus. The author openly states that this book is a “partial view of the history and science of Ebola, and a somewhat personal one.” Yet, I believe the book does a commendable job in relaying the necessary and pertinent information on the Ebola outbreaks, while humanizing the virus with personal accounts of various experiences with the virus.

Quammen has previously published a non-fiction novel in 2012 entitled Spillover, a scientific reporting of how deadly human diseases result from spillover from nonhuman animals. Due to the recent Ebola outbreaks and the relevance of his previous book, Quammen gathered the sections of Spillover regarding the Ebola virus and repackaged them into Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus, adding a new introduction and epilogue that touched upon the current epidemic in West Africa. Although I have not read Spillover, this sample of his work entices me to do so.

Interwoven between the scientific research and discoveries, and the detailing of the outbreak locations, is the human side to the history of the Ebola virus disease. The author tells the stories of several victims of the disease and how they contracted it, leading to questions regarding the host of the virus and viral transmission. One particular chapter tells the story of a young scientist in the United States who, while working on an Ebola antibody, accidentally pricked herself with a needle that had been in contact with Ebola infected mice. She was immediately placed in quarantine for 21 days and eventually released without having contracted the virus. Another interesting aspect of the book was when the author discussed one of his journeys to Africa with other researchers. Among the team were two men who had personally witnessed and were affected by one of the Ebola outbreaks. These personal stories truly humanized the virus and put names to the many people that have been affected by this debilitating virus.

Overall, David Quammen’s Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus provided a succinct yet overarching view of the history of the outbreaks, the scientific research, and the personal accounts of the Ebola virus. This book will equip the reader with the background knowledge that will enhance your understanding of the current Ebola epidemic, while also leaving a lasting impression of the countless lives impacted by this virus.