In the time that I have been involved in medical science, few books that I have read have managed to get the science of infectious disease and epidemics right. (I was a lab assistant at age 16, so I’m talking about the last 20 years.) When I was in college, the movie Outbreak came out and greatly disappointed me. Sure, it was all good fun, but I’m the kind of person who looks at the minor details of the movie and maybe over-analyzes them too much. Outbreak was based on The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. The Hot Zone was a lot better at the finer details of what it takes to bring an epidemic — in this case a “zoonotic” or outbreak in animals that could “spill over” into the human population — under control using epidemiology, biology, and military capabilities. It wasn’t until I read Virus Hunter by CJ Peters that I got a much better idea of what it takes to respond to outbreaks of very scary diseases that are capable of wiping out the globe.
In fact, it was partly because of my correspondence with Dr. Peters that I decided to look into the Master of Public Health in Epidemiology program at GW. (Other influences came from the physicians I worked with at the lab, friends who said I had a knack for puzzles, and my own interest in infectious diseases.) Dr. Peters’ narrative of chasing Ebola from Reston, Virginia, to caves in Africa are amazing. If you want to get the real story of what it means to chase deadly pathogens and keep them under control, read Virus Hunter. If you want that same story romanticized and dramatized, read The Hot Zone. And if you want the same story to be turned into a mockery of real life, watch Outbreak.
I wouldn’t be attracted to a movie about an epidemic until Contagion. That movie hit all the right points on what would happen if a dangerous pathogen would come around to infect us and we had absolutely no defenses against it. (Like, zero defenses. No vaccines. No immunity. No drugs. Nothing.) Contagion does in a couple of hours what Outbreak would probably never do if it was a trilogy. From the initial response to the worldwide efforts to contain a zoonotic disease that has turned into a pandemic are all very accurate. I should know… I worked at the health department through the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic.
If you would like any of the books below, leave a comment and mention which one you want. I’ll see your email and contact you. If more than one person wants the same book, I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winner. More books coming soon.
Next Thursday, I’ll be mediating a discussion at school between a group of scholarship recipients and Dr. Dorothy Roberts. Dr. Roberts is the author of a book on race called “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century“. Her major thesis in the book is that there is no such thing as “race” as we know it in the United States right now. There is no “Black” and “White” and “Hispanic” and “Asian” and such. She uses history and science to explain how race came into being as more of a social construct — a way of splitting people apart and keeping the undesirables away — than anything that is real. In short, race should not be treated as a biological trait.
As an epidemiologist and medical technologist, I’m very much aware of the different risks associated with being in different races. For example, Blacks in the United States are more likely to represent people with high blood pressure. In fact, the recommendation on sodium (salt) intake is different for Blacks than for Whites:
You know those horror movies where the bad guy never seems to die? Where the monstrous villain is struck down only to come back to life and continue to hunt down its victims? Tom Young‘s “The Mullah’s Storm” uses this very same formula to keep you reading (or listening) to the story until its very end. You don’t want to stop and not know what is going to happen next to Major Parson and Master Sergeant Gold.
Trust me, you’ll keep turning the pages or sitting in your car to listen to the next chapter. Continue reading →
I will be the first one to confess to you that winter takes a toll on me like no other season. The dark, cold, short days really get to me. The cold takes the energy out of me more than anything. As the days shorten through fall and into winter, I can take the diminished sunlight as long as the weather holds up. I can take rain and wind in the summer. I cannot take snow, wind, and cold temperatures in the winter. I really can’t.
So I bought myself some running inspiration to take me through the winter. I am always inspired by others’ stories of overcoming odds or meeting challenges head on. My plan is to read these every day during winter and then motivate myself to get out and run with the dog despite the weather. We’ll see how it goes.