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China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic Paperback – January 9, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060587237
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060587239
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,329,949 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Greenfeld's ground zero perspective on SARS—he was editing Time Asia when the first rumors of a virulent disease sweeping mainland Chinese hospitals hit his desk—brings reportorial immediacy to this chronicle of how epidemiologists realized that the cases of "atypical pneumonia" scattered throughout Asia were the initial wave of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a new strain of avian flu. Greenfeld's portraits present multiple angles on the story, such as a young man who falls sick after emigrating to the big city and a doctor who bravely volunteers to treat patients despite the huge risk of infection. The author also describes his own reactions while trying to keep his family and magazine staff safe in Hong Kong amid growing panic, and muses on how congested urban areas provide a perfect breeding ground for viruses. But he repeatedly returns to the most egregious factor in the disease's spread: the silence from (and outright suppression of information by) the Chinese government during the earliest stages of the epidemic. SARS could have been much worse, he warns, and we almost certainly will see its like again—and for all the heroic struggles to contain the danger, his final prognosis is not a happy one. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Former Time Asia editor Greenfeld was in China when evidence of a new flu appeared at the end of 2002 in the southern city Shenzhen, which had grown from a few thousand to seven million in 20 years, so fast that every one of the central government's development plans failed for lack of time to implement it.^B As China was enjoying a tremendous economic boom, accompanied by mass urbanization, during what is called the Era of Wild Flavor, Shenzhen was also on a wild ride. And there was perhaps no better example of the Era of Wild Flavor than the wild-animal markets that provided restaurateurs and adventurous diners with virtually every species from land, sea, and air. Greenfeld, whose magazine and Web site were off-limits to the Chinese populace, watched and reported on the spread of a highly infectious disease even as the Chinese government squelched, concealed, denied--and gave it the time and opportunity to escalate into a major pandemic. Greenfeld offers little hope that the Chinese have learned any lesson, for it's back to business-as-usual for Shenzhen's wild-animal trade, and he ponders the nature and purpose of viruses as he paints a rather gloomy picture of what we and the World Health Organization can expect next. Donna Chavez
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of seven books, including the novel Triburbia, the much-acclaimed memoir Boy Alone; NowTrends; China Syndrome; Standard Deviations; and Speed Tribes. Greenfeld's writing has appeared in Harper's, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Short Stories and The PEN/O Henry Prize Stories among other publications. A veteran editor and writer for The Nation, TIME, and Sports Illustrated, Karl has also been a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, GQ, Vogue, Conde Nast Traveler, Playboy, Men's Journal, The Washington Post, Outside, Wired, Details, and Salon. Born in Kobe, Japan, Karl has lived in Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and TRIBECA.

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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A quick and interesting read.
M. Hyman
Karl Taro Greenfeld was the chief editor of Time magazine's Asia bureau, based in Hong Kong, at the time he wrote this book.
Loves to Knit
If you are concerned about avian influenza and the future threat of a pandemic, read this book.
Eric Croddy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 21, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are a growing number of books coming out on the threat that viruses pose to the human population. China Syndrome is one of the latest, and it stands favorably with the best in the genre. It tells the story of the virus itself, the people who were struck down by it, and the people whose task was to track the virus down and stop it before it burned through a big part of human civilization.

Reading China Syndrome was like having a front row seat in watching how a deadly virus can claw a devastating toehold into our lives, leaving us defenseless as there is often nothing we can do about it. You learn about what makes a virus so deadly. But what is even more interesting in this account is the story of how big of a role government can play in either stopping the virus or allowing the virus to continue its destructive path.

In this case, the government was China's. It's amazing to learn of the officials incompetence, self-centeredness, and willful negligence to the Chinese and world populations at large, all to protect their own image. The arrogant incompetence of a few could have easily led to a great human catastrophe. If you are interested in the topic of threatening pandemics, then you surely should put China Syndrome on your must read list.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Steve Koss VINE VOICE on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I admit approaching Karl Greenfeld's CHINA SYNDROME with a certain degree of skepticism, not about the course of SARS or the research to discover its cause and source, but about the atmosphere created in China by the first great epidemic of the 21st Century. Writing from his Time Magazine base in Hong Kong, I wondered whether Mr. Greenfeld could really capture the various levels of uncertainty, disbelief, helplessness, fatalism, paranoia, and outright fear I experienced living and teaching in Suzhou (about 50 miles west of Shanghai) throughout the winter of 2002 and the spring and early summer of 2003.

Having now finished CHINA SYNDROME, I give the author a perfect 10 for his presentation of the scientific research associated with the hunt for the nature of SARS and its causative virus, a 9 for his detailed rendition of the SARS story at its epicenter in Guangdong Province and nearby Hong Kong, and an 8 for his discussion of SARS in Beijing and Shanxi Province. In each of these areas, Mr. Greenfeld does an outstanding job tracing the arc of the disease from Fang Lin, a meat cutter in one of Shenzhen's exotic animal markets and one of the disease's first suspected cases, to the final suspected case a year later, a thirty-two year old television reporter in Guangdong, with 884 dead and nearly 8,500 infected as the epidemic ran its course. Along the way, we meet a wide-ranging cast of characters, including China's most famous physician, Zhong Nanshan, WHO researcher Dr. Carlo Urbani in Vietnam, the family of Anna Kong in Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens residential complex, one of the outbreak's most virulent sites, Dr.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By T. Morken on August 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Having been involved in the SARS epidemic laboratory testing working group at CDC in Atlanta I was very interested in the way this book tells the tale of how it all came about. These things start with rumors, samples come in, testing is done and the results reported. So much for the lab work. Then the medical journals report the epidemiology - nice if you are an epidemilogist, but dry otherwise. We very rarely get a richly detailed account of the whole story. Mr. Greenfield does that here and does a great service in that he shows the real world of infectious disease - which most people don't want to think about. The descriptions are excellent (I will never approach a "wild flavor" restaurant as long as I live!). The tension is kept throughout the book, much as the tension in the lab when the outbreak is happening - round the clock lab work, constant talks with collegues around the world, competition to see who can get it first. It's all there.

The only complaint I have is that he gets many details of the lab work blatently wrong and so I wonder sometimes about the details of other things he presents. This may seem minor, but if he is trying to present an authoritative view, then he has to be reasonably correct in all aspects. If I see many glaring mistakes in the areas I have intimate understanding of, then how can I trust what he says about things I don't know much about?

Even with these concerns over all the book is very good and captures the essence of how an outbreak proceeds and the real human carnage that occurs behind the headlines and dry news copy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By michael24339 on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A periodically terrifying, very accessible story of the rise of SARS, its probable origins in the wildlife markets of Southern China, its march through Asia and then around the world, and the Chinese government's attempts to censor and hide the true severity of the disease. I have both personal and professional interests in the ecological impacts of the wildlife trade, and it was edifying to hear Greenfeld's account of how the rise of China's economy in the 1990s led to an "era of wild flavor," in which exotic animals from around the world were thrown together in horrifying wildlife markets, slaughterhouses, and "wild flavor" restaurants. This proves to be an unbeatable environment in which viruses can mutate from one animal host to another, through the relentless pace of viral evolution, and eventually make the zoönautic leap to infect humans.

Greenfeld, who was a journalist and editor for TIME Asia in Hong Kong at the time, makes heroes out of the epidemiologists and virologists who raced to understand the SARS virus and the brave doctors and nurses who treated patients, risking their own lives, while the Chinese government mercilessly censored the story. He intersperses his own story, as he and his family and the journalists he worked with were fearful of their own safety while trying to understand and cover the story. As Greenfeld observes, SARS has by no means been beaten -- it's not clear why the disease roared through China and Southeast Asia in 2003-2004 and has receded since then, since it's still basically uncurable by the medical technologies there. So there is abundant reason to fear another outbreak.

There are some periodic laugh-out-loud moments in the story, surprisingly.
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