Who needs Stephen King when there are such real-life horrors as those described in Dr. Frank Ryan's new book, Virus X to keep sleep at bay? Such exotic killers as Ebola and Necrotizing Fasciitis rub elbows with more familiar, if no less potentially lethal, diseases like tuberculosis as Dr. Ryan constructs a well-researched and well-written study that reads more like a thriller than a science book. The heroes are the doctors, nurses, and patients on the frontlines of plague as well as the researchers at laboratories such as the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia; the enemies are the myriad new viruses and virulent new strains of old viruses that are emerging in ever greater numbers as this century wears to a close.
Dr. Ryan's answer for why so many plagues are ravaging the world these days is simple but chilling: a huge explosion in population (6 billion people alive today versus 1.5 billion a century ago) and the resulting destruction of habitats has brought human beings into contact with aggressive viruses that once lived beyond our reach; our global transportation systems spread them. Virus X is not the first book to raise these issues, but it's a comprehensive one, making for gripping, frightening reading.
From Publishers Weekly
The first half of Ryan's second book (after The Forgotten Plague, 1993) is a riveting nonfiction medical thriller packed with information. Ryan, a British physician, details the methodologies and personalities behind the investigations into some of the world's most deadly viral epidemics, including hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, Ebola fever and AIDS. The book's final nine chapters, however, are far less successful. In them, Ryan attempts to explain the ecological reasons for deadly outbreaks of plagues?but it quickly becomes apparent that he is not an ecologist. Not only does he subscribe to the outdated view of natural selection being red in tooth and claw, he fails to distinguish between process and outcome, referring to both natural selection and symbiosis as "natural laws" when, in fact, the latter comes about through the former. Additionally, he ventures over the poetic edge with such sentences as, "viruses have, through the empirics of evolution, become unwitting knights of nature, armed by evolution for furious genomic attack against her transgressors." The disappointing latter half of the book tarnishes but doesn't completely overshadow the earlier quality and excitement of what might have been another Hot Zone but isn't. Illustrations not seen by PW.
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