I picked up this book the other day: reading up on the ongoing West African Ebola Outbreak has become a focus of research and interest of mine lately. My interests in Ebola go back to the granddaddy of all Ebola books: The Hot Zone, by Richard Preston, published back in the mid-90s, and read while I was in Middle or High School. It’s been one of those things that’s sort of been at the back of my mind in the intervening years, with an assumption that at some point (not an IF), it’ll break out into a wider population and cause some real harm. That’s what’s happened for almost a year now over in West Africa.
David Quammen’s book is an interesting review of the history of Ebola, and an excellent alternative to Preston’s book. It’s short – this is actually an excerpt from his 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections And the Next Human Pandemic, where his publishers asked him to take the various chapters on Ebola and update them a bit in light of the ongoing outbreak. The result is a primer of how Ebola interacted with people since it first erupted in Central Africa in 1976. It’s a little opportunistic on the publisher’s part, but it provides some good context for what’s going on in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Quammen takes a less sensational track than Preston did, outlining his own experiences in Africa as they searched for Ebola, as well as a number of earlier outbreaks that occurred in the region. The end result is a good, if very short, overview of the virus.
I’m not entirely sure if separating out the chapters really work for the greater argument, and it’s clear that the greater work here is from his other book, Spillover. The central premise of that book looks at how diseases spill out from an animal reservoir, which is a good question to be asking: not just for this particular outbreak, but for the ones that will come as Africa (and other places around the world) become less isolated and more connected to the global community.