marcusmarcusrc: (Default)
I can't remember who among my livejournal friends recommended this... I was blaming firstfrost, but didn't find it in her archives, nor in the archives of the 2nd most likely candidate, arcanology... but I wanted to thank them. It was a neat book, which I really enjoyed over the last 2 weeks, mostly in metro rides and over breakfast until Tuesday when my life was my own again.

I found the premise really neat, and fairly original. I'm still not sure that I'd totally buy it if I looked too closely at it, but I thought the author did a good job in making it believable enough at first glance that I was easily able to suspend disbelief.

Anyway, thanks, oh livejournal friend of mine.
marcusmarcusrc: (Default)
Infectious diseases are inherently fascinating. I have several friends who really enjoy talking about them - one who worked for the CDC, another who designed a public health board game for PBS ("You are exposed to diptheria. If you have an immunization card, move forward one space. Otherwise, you contract diptheria and expose all other players. All players not immunized move back one space). And they are all over the news. The two gift subscriptions I've been given this year both had articles on H5N1 (Foreign Affairs - not surprising. But when Men's Health has an article, you know it has become a national topic of conversation!). Even my barber wanted to talk to me about the bird flu, which she really hoped she hadn't gotten because she was feeling a little sniffly (I assured her it was highly unlikely).

So, I picked up this free book in my laundry room on smallpox. Overall recommendation: 2.5 stars out of 5. That's 1 stars for inherently interesting material, 1 star for good flow, 0.5 stars for occasional good informational tidbits. Sadly, not enough good meaty science, and way too much hype. The part that hurt the most were the pages and pages about the putative Iraq bioweapons program (this was written in 2002 before the invasion), and the "almost guaranteed fact" that Iraqis were working on weaponizing smallpox (I mean, we haven't proven they weren't, but if we haven't found evidence of it yet, it makes one wonder about the people who were guaranteeing its existence before the invasion). Highlights: occasional lines like "One day, a caterpillar comes along and eats the viral equivalent of a land mine, and melts down, and so it goes for hundreds of millions of years in the happy life of an insect pox". Some of the in depth descriptions of WHO mobilizations during the Eradication were very good (if occasionally overly graphic). I hadn't realized that the USSR had actually pushed for eradication well before the US, and provided much of the vaccine that the WHO used. Of course, Preston then goes on to excoriate the USSR for their work on weaponizing smallpox (naturally, weaponization was a theme in the book, as Preston wanted to hype the clear and present danger of smallpox, probably in the hope of selling more copies). Reading this did make me appreciate again the historic nature of the eradication of smallpox (and perhaps an unduplicatable one, since most other virii have animal reservoirs), and certainly as humans continue to crowd into denser and denser populations we have to expect the evolution (or intelligent design) of more infectious diseases in the future...

In any case, I want to go find a better book on infectious diseases and read more. I hear rumors that Richard Rhodes has written one, and I really enjoyed his Making of the Atom Bomb, so perhaps I'll have to track it down...

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