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The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years Hardcover – July 6, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This fascinating, mordant pop-sci account tells us why malaria is one of the world™s greatest scourges, killing a million people every year and debilitating another 300 million, and why we have remained complacent about it. Journalist Shah (The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs in the World™s Poorest Patients) shows how the Plasmodium parasite, entering through a mosquito™s bite and feasting on human red blood cells, has altered human history by destroying armies, undermining empires, and driving changes in our very genome. We™ve learned to fight back with antimalarial drugs and insecticides, but malaria™s adaptability and its buzzing vector, Shah notes, give it the upper hand. Shah provides an intricate and lucid rundown of the biology and ecology of malaria, but her most original insights concern the ways in which human society accommodates and abets the parasite. (The impoverished denizens of Africa™s malaria belt, she observes, would sometimes rather use the pesticide-laced bed nets sent by Western aid groups to catch fish.) Shah™s is an absorbing account of human ingenuity and progress, and of their heartbreaking limitations. 16 pages of b&w illus.
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From Booklist

Investigative journalist Shah maintains her signature pattern (Crude, 2004; The Body Hunters, 2006) here, exposing both the seemly and not-so-seemly aspects of the subject under review. As Shah demonstrates, when it comes to taming, never mind eradicating, malaria, the disease is cannily able to keep the ball in humankind's court. Notwithstanding, people in tropical climes who live with its ubiquitous presence have over time come to uneasy terms with the fever. That is not to say they would not benefit from a cure. Indeed, their need is most critical. It's just that when Western nontropical humans are exposed to malaria, they suffer its worst effects, then tackle the problem in largely ineffectual ways. And it is not for want of money (think Bill and Melinda Gates). But Shah takes no prisoners, blasting everyone, including the World Health Organization. Even Harvard's state-of-the art Malaria Initiative takes it on the chin for eschewing unglamorous but effectual grunt work in favor of “lavishly funded . . . economy building technology.” Malaria may rule humankind, but Shah rules the in-depth investigative report. --Donna Chavez
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books; First Edition edition (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374230013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374230012
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,987 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sonia Shah is a science journalist and prize-winning author. Her writing on science, politics, and human rights has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Scientific American and elsewhere. Her work has been featured on RadioLab, Fresh Air, and TED, where her talk, "Three Reasons We Still Haven't Gotten Rid of Malaria" has been viewed by over 900,000 people around the world. Her 2010 book, The Fever, which was called a "tour-de-force history of malaria" (New York Times), "rollicking" (Time), and "brilliant" (Wall Street Journal) was long-listed for the Royal Society's Winton Prize. Her new book, Pandemic: Tracking Contagions from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, is forthcoming from Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux in February 2016.

Her prize-winning 2006 drug industry exposé, The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients (New Press), has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a tautly argued study...a trenchant exposé...meticulously researched and packed with documentary evidence," and as "important [and] powerful" by The New England Journal of Medicine. The book, which international bestselling novelist and The Constant Gardener author John Le Carré called "an act of courage," has enjoyed wide international distribution, including French, Japanese, and Italian editions. The Library Journal named it one of the best consumer health books of 2006.

Shah was born in 1969 in New York City to Indian immigrants. Growing up, she shuttled between the northeastern United States where her parents practiced medicine and Mumbai and Bangalore, India, where her extended working-class family lived, developing a life-long interest in inequality between and within societies. She holds a BA in journalism, philosophy, and neuroscience from Oberlin College, and lives with molecular ecologist Mark Bulmer and their two sons Zakir and Kush.

Photo by Joyce Ravid.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

57 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Wingy on September 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was excited when I saw the title of this book (one of my biggest problems with Guns, Germs, and Steel was how little focus Jared Diamond gave to the effects of malaria on societal development), but the more I read this book the more frustrated I become. Almost every page has at least one minor error, and many pages contain blatant errors regarding the fundamental biology that any competent editor should have discovered. My favorite howler: "Then again, 10 percent of the parasite's five thousand proteins retain their algaelike chemistry and remnant chloroplasts." A chloroplast is an organelle (large, complicated structure) in plant cells; to say that a protein contains "remnant chloroplasts" is utterly nonsensical.

The greatest misunderstanding comes from her "story of the evolution of malaria" in which P. falciparum (the most deadly of the 4 major plasmodium species) is presented as the latest evolutionary trick in a long line of a heavily-personified malaria species. If we take Ms. Shah's account, P. vivax emerged first, was defeated by the Duffy antigen in the African population and thereby forced into Europe to find new populations to destroy (such hyperbole is distressingly common in this book). Humans "invading the rain forest" (habitat destruction often results in contact with novel infectious diseases, but in this book serves as a trope in which habitat destruction inevitably leads to outbreaks of falciparum malaria and is a not so subtle way of pushing a particular viewpoint on her readership). In fact, P. falciparum has plagued humans since we split from the chimpanzee lineage, so it hardly qualifies as "new" - Ms. Shah implies that it has only been around for the last 4,000 years.
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51 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Sceptique500 on September 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Vivid" and "compelling" gushes E. Kolbert on the back jacket; "Fascinating... elegant... superbly well researched...poignant and important" intones N. Munk; "extremely well researched... gripping. Highly recommended" concludes malariologist B. Knols. With such lavish praise, this is a book to read: malaria after all IS a thoroughly fascinating subject.

Well, to me all adjectives sound in a way true, but as ironic commentary to a poorly written book. It's a shame, for Ms Shah's personality, as it shimmers through the text, is engaging. She is enthusiastic about her subject, and had certainly gone to great lengths to read up the material - alas, she appears overwhelmed by the task of synthesis, and she has been given thoroughly bad advice about how to approach her readership.

Not trusting readers with complex matters Ms Shah foregoes a proper description of the parasites and their life cycle. Visual aids are eschewed. The spread of P. vivax and P. falciparum across the world has had a major impact on history - yet no map facilitates our understanding on the main thrusts. Readers are easily bored, she surmises, so words are qualified for effect: huts are dank, highlands are rugged, dreams are sad, ships are fine, particularly when it is a "flotilla of ships" (pg. 51) and natives... must be "local natives" (pg. 50). Anthropomorphic images are plentiful: "... malarial parasites munching on the hemoglobin" (pg. 44); parasites "rely on strategies..." (pg. 28); "malaria parasites teem with purpose inside the veins of the house sparrows" (pg. 19). Hyperbole is a stock of trade: "Once, the powerful men in the House of Parliament quaked in their boots at the thought of the mosquito's wrath" (pg. 172). And of course: "...
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful By EJ on July 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Malaria is not something most of us think about in-depth unless traveling to an area where the disease is common. However, this incredible book makes an excellent argument for why we should. The author manages to magically transform volumes of scientific information into a riveting tale that just about anyone will enjoy.

Ms. Shah traces the very complex history of malaria from the beginning of human/mosquito interaction, and covers a range of related topics including the routes of infection and transmission; why certain areas and populations are more susceptible to malaria; the role of war, technology, and industry in sparking the disease; and why the efforts to control or at least contain it have not been universally successful. The book is meticulously sourced (at least 30% of the text consists of the references listed at the end of the book and footnoted within each chapter), but is not dry in the least.

The book reads like fiction, and it's too bad that it's not. The author leaves the reader with a very well-developed sense that the merest change in environmental conditions can leave us all susceptible to the next wave of malaria. I recommend this book strongly to just about anyone, but particularly for those who are interested in medical history and public health.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jessica E. Sims on October 10, 2010
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This was a great read... So insightful. It's the perfect book for people who love non-fiction, but may feel a bit overwhelmed by a book like Guns Germs and Steel. That is not to say that Diamond and those types doesn't have a place. However, someone who would never take a text book on vacation for personal reading, but still likes an informative educational book that is well written and light enough to keep your attention throughout may find 'The Fever' to be a good fit. It is definitely deep enough to educate and make you feel like you've learned and stretched your knowledge base. Even more so if you are a fan of medical history, or even just history in general.
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