"The Coming Plague" is 620 pages of densely-packed text on humanity's war against its deadliest enemies. Throughout the twentieth century and into the new millenium, we've given our microscopic enemies glorious new opportunities to exploit us, whether it be through war, slash-and-burn agriculture, or stagnant water in an air-conditioning system. Laurie Garrett has written a fascinating and frightening account of some of the battles we almost won (measles and polio) and some where we appear to be in full retreat (AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis). Her book is especially compulsive reading when she describes the individual skirmishes in the war, e.g. a journey into the African bush to identify and treat a disease that was killing 80% of its victims, or the discovery that cholera vibrio could live inside of algae and didn't require person-to-person transmission. Even if you live in the middle of the Canadian tundra and have sworn off eating mollusks for the rest of your life, this book hammers home the fact that you're still not safe from what used to be called 'Third World diseases'. Even as I write this review, there is a woman in an isolation chamber of a hospital in Hampton, Ontario who is gravely ill with an unknown hemorrhagic fever. The doctors don't think its Ebola Fever, but they're not sure what it is, or whether any of the other passengers on the plane from Nigeria to Canada could also have been infected. You can conclude (as I did) from "The Coming Plague" that many of us who expected to die from age-related conditions such as heart failure or cancer, may now well perish from infection. This book manages to combine the heroics of "Men against Death", the grim prophecy of "Silent Spring", and descriptions of several hair-raising, near-tragedies akin to the "Hot Zone". I highly recommend it.
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