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The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age Hardcover – October 11, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"[A] quietly terrifying book. . . . It’s hard not to feel a bit feverish at times while reading."--The Boston Globe

"One of the world’s foremost virus hunters."--Financial Times

"Wolfe makes a convincing case for the [viral pandemic] threat. . . . Sometimes the scariest thrillers are those that could play out in real life."--Science News

"An excellent piece of scientific gothic, rich in descriptions of the threat we face from emerging viruses and how we might prevent them from becoming pandemic. . . . This enjoyable, well researched and thought-provoking book shows that [Wolfe] has a clear vision of how pandemics occur in human populations."--Nature

"[An] engrossing and fast-paced chronicle of medical exploration and discovery."—Publishers Weekly

"Startling in its revelations of just how vulnerable we are to infectious outbreaks."--Book Page

"Wolfe’s message is both compelling and timely… Wolfe graphically illustrates how viruses can hitchhike their way from benign passenger to poison, from lone gunman to mass murderer. Luckily he and his international microbiologist cohorts are hot onto ways not only to track viral outbreaks and head them off but also convert them into human helpers—vaccines."—Booklist

"Highly recommend for all readers. This important book should be read by anyone wanting to stay informed on how global medical issues affect us all."—Library Journal

"From a well-traveled virologist, an eloquent argument for why we need better ways to predict and thus prevent major disease outbreaks… Wolfe’s wide experience confronting killer diseases in Africa and Asia makes for important, graphic reading and underscores his passion for prevention."—Kirkus Reviews

"By turns terrifying and comforting, The Viral Storm is a clear, riveting account of the threat of undiscovered viruses. They lurk in the blood of primates killed for bush meat, poised to hitchhike on global travelers, reaching major cities and blood supplies before there's even time to name them. Nathan Wolfe is saving the world from near-inevitable pandemic. That he had time to write a kick-ass book on top of all that makes me want to smack him."—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars

"Nathan Wolfe brilliantly explores the threat of pandemics, how they occur and why we should care. This book offers a warning—but also hope—to us all. The next pandemic is coming. How we deal with it is up to us. This is must reading for anyone who cares about their health, the health of their families and civilization as we know it."—Jeff Skoll, first President of eBay, Founder and Chairman of Participant Media, and Founder and Chairman, Skoll Global Threats Fund"Nathan Wolfe is a charismatic rising star of the medical world."—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse

"This is an astonishingly lucid book on an important topic. Deeply researched, yet effortlessly recounted, Wolfe's mix of biology, history, medicine, and first-hand experience is potent and irresistible. This is a book that you cannot put down. In the tradition of Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague, Wolfe's work will change the way we imagine and patrol human epidemics."—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies


About the Author

Nathan Wolfe is the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University and Director of Global Viral Forecasting, a pandemic early warning system which monitors the spillover of novel infectious agents from animals into humans. Wolfe has been published in or profiled by Nature, Science, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Economist, Wired, Discover, Scientific American, NPR, Popular Science, Seed, and Forbes. Wolfe was the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship in 1997 and was awarded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) International Research Scientist Development Award in 1999 and the prestigious NIH Director's Pioneer Award in 2005.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (October 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805091947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805091946
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #112,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
More of a Nathan Wolfe Autobiography / Primate Evolution book than anything else. Not to say that it isn't interesting in it's own right (and Dr. Wolfe has certainly had an amazing career), but this is far from what I expected based on the summaries. He also seems to focus on other infectious agents as much as viruses and more on how to monitor them than their history or pandemic potential. While reading the first 100 pages or so I was pretty sure I picked up a book about primate behavior instead of viruses. That's a bit much for a book of less than 250 pages total.

I personally didn't find it very engaging but it's not bad book by any means. Just don't be mislead by the title.
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I know enough about my fascination with viruses to know, as a non-scientist, my curiosity about them has more to do with philosophy than medicine but that may well be yet another reason for biologists (for just one group) to be equally ensnared by their subject.

The Virus, for its opportunism in the extreme (parasitical is too meager a description) and because its very nature is controversial (is it Life or isn't it? I agree with his footnote on the bottom of pg.8) can appear to be such a vast topic that no one author can be expected to resolve or ask or even comprehend all the questions. Wolfe, in his first 35 pages, does at least try - and it remains my favorite section of the book - his amazement with these microscopic life(?)forms is so engaging that if you didn't have a respect for them before you will have afterwards. And, if the next 300 or so pages that come after it were just "so-so" for me that is not the fault of Wolfe, he has a wide readership to appeal to and just because I am not particularly interested in bureaucracies, who got what grant to do what and where does not mean that these aren't valid sections for millions of others.

But those first 35 pages, yes, they are heady indeed, Wolfe is delightful in both his recognition of just what makes these viruses so shocking and where we fit in their world (ie."our bodies are their habitats," p.27), and his conclusion in the first chapter, (Viral Planet) says it all: the viral world is the "new world," the last frontier of undiscovered life on our planet."

Perhaps it is the Lewis Thomas phenomena, a flashpoint where scientist and non-scientist can co-exist in a mutual relationship of shared passion, be it horror or admiration, or both?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Look I very much wanted to love this book. For a physician, this area is fascinating and current and Nathan Wolfe interviewed is a wonder to behold for popularizing these fascinating ideas. In print though, he is far too self referential about his admittedly brilliant career. He has certainly had the good fortune to hit upon a topic and approach that will get grant/government/investor money in perpetuity. But after your gold plated academic credentials are made clear on the back page, keep yourself out of it and credit your mentors and collaborators more than yourself. Champion the ideas not yourself. The ideas are compelling, his potential solutions creative but utterly awash in ego. There can be a fine line between cutting edge brilliance and huckster self-promotion and this book sits on that razor's edge. When you pass from scientist to rock star celebrity your credibility can plummet cf Carl Sagan. These are marvelous ideas and research....
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Format: Hardcover
This book reads more like the cover letter of an insecure person applying for a job. It seemed like Nathan's primary concern is that you know how elite the institutions are where he has worked, and that he label every single person in his field as his colleague. I've never seen so much name-dropping in a science book. He also glosses over really interesting topics in a single paragraph. There is very little scientific information in this book. Nathan even admits that he's obsessed with how diseases can jump from wild animals to hunters. It's an important topic, but he beats it to death just because it makes for dramatic imagery.

I learned about this book and Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer through Radio Lab. I recommend anything and everything Carl Zimmer has written and to skip The Viral Storm. The tiny amount that you'll learn about viruses in The Viral Storm you'll read about in Parasite Rex but in so much greater detail, plus fascinating stories about many other parasites. I've bought copies of Parasite Rex to give away to people but I wouldn't recommend The Viral Storm to anyone.
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This book and author have great potential. The topic is interesting, the author clearly a leader in the field and well-connected into what is happening currently in the area of virus and viral research. I ordered it after hearing an interview on NPR, where he was articulate and very interesting.

There are some significant weaknesses in this book:
* it is repetitive. Like Jared Diamond's second book, it repeats key themes in several chapters...an intelligent audience does not need to be hit over the head repeatedly that the change in accessibility (roads and travel) have also enabled viruses to travel faster and further. I suspect the editor dumbed the book down, based on how articulate the author seemed to be on the radio, or someone ghostwrote the book for him. Unfortunate.
* The author touches on some interesting subjects and does not complete the analysis, such as when he indicates he is going to provide a definitive review of the AIDS spread and then after he touches on how it jumped species and how access to roads in Africa enabled the spread (plus brief mention of mens camps) does not even touch on the spread in the US and Europe and how cultural changes and norms contributed. It feels as though he shies away from anything that could be controversial or political in the aspect of sexual preference and behavior.
* he uses sensationalistic photos and stories that do not contribute to the theme or science, for example when he tells the story of some unethical monkey research and shows a picture of a snake that had been caughts as a result of eating the monkey. It does not contribute in any meaningful way to the story and seems more sensationalistic.
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