Spillover vs. Ebola: Which David Quammen Book Should You Buy?

ebola

A few months ago, Africa’s Ebola epidemic was the worst in history and infected physicians were being moved to America for treatment. My Facebook feed was filled with trending topics and endless questions about Ebola, and I wrote a post recommending David Quammen‘s enlightening Spillover as the important book of the day.

Spillover focuses on zoonotic diseases, those which make the jump from animals to humans in events called spillovers, thus the title. Ebola is one of these, as are Rabies and Lyme Disease. In Spillover, Quammen clearly weaves an in-depth narrative through rough African terrain, seeking the history of the Ebola virus in small villages and sick apes.

Now, as Ebola has made it to America in a less controlled setting, David Quammen has released a second book, called Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus. It is explained as “extracted from Spillover by David Quammen, updated and with additional material.”

So, which should you buy? If you’ve already read Spillover, is Ebola worth buying for the additional information?

The short answer is: no. If you’ve read Spillover, don’t spend your money on Ebola. You’ve already read it. It is more than 80% of the exact same material, edited slightly so as to not be in discord with current events. If you haven’t read anything yet, however, Ebola has all the information you need on this history of and basic information surrounding Ebola, without all the other zoonotic disease information of Spillover.

Ebola contains a new introduction and epilogue that are, as rapidly as things are changing, now out of date. The epilogue does contain a brief history of outbreaks in Africa (Quammen traces them back to December 2013, in the Guéckédou prefecture of Southern Guinea), but it doesn’t contain any information about the events in Dallas. The summaries here are nothing like the research done examining previous outbreaks, and Quammen makes it clear in a disclaimer that he hasn’t traveled to the areas experiencing the epidemics currently.

If you want to learn about the Ebola virus and diving into Spillover‘s nearly 600 page, detailed history of zoonotic diseases doesn’t sound appealing, then Ebola is the perfect book for you. It is the ideal book for the non-reader and the person in a rush, as Spillover‘s very long chapters have been broken up into very brief chapters. All the necessary information is there, in digestible bites, in a brief 128 pages.

Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com

If you aren’t at all bookish and CNN’s “We’re all going to die” style of journalism has you holed up in your home with a gas mask, there are some other great resources out there as well.

On Twitter:

David Quammen, author of Spillover and Ebola.

Vincent Racaniello, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University.

Paul Duprex, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Director of Cell and Tissue Imaging, National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratory Institute at Boston University.

Elsewhere Online:

  • Kim Yi Dionne has her own great list of people to follow, on Twitter and elsewhere, at the blog Haba Na Haba. She also explains that in some African countries, Twitter may not be as heavily used as Facebook.
  • This Week in Virology has some great science-based articles.
  • Science Magazine, in light of the epidemic, has made a special collection available to the public for free. This includes many of the research studies Quammen refers to in his books.
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