The Virologist’s Bookshelf – Part 1

In this new series of blog posts on Virology Highlights, the Editor-in-Chief of Virology, Michael Emerman, recommends reading material for virologists and others interested in viruses and their impacts. These are not textbooks or reference books, but rather books chosen for their descriptions of the roles of viruses and viral disease in the broader contexts of human health, society and history. There will be two or three recommend books per post.

In this first post, I’ll start with some recent books and an old favorite.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic – David Quammen
ISBN: 0393346617
Publication Date: 2013

SpilloverSpillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic is the book to read to re-convince yourself why virology is so important, and the one to urge family and friends to read. The author recounts the origins of outbreaks of Hendra, Nipah, SARS-CoV, Ebola/Marburg, and HIV. There are also some non-viral pathogens, but you can excuse him for that since they fit the theme of infectious agents transmitted from reservoirs in other animals to humans. Although many of the stories here will be familiar to practicing virologists, the author has interviewed many key players and actually visited many of the places around the world implicated in each outbreak. This gives the book the feeling of listening in on the really interesting stuff that virologists might recount at the bar after conference session has ended for the evening; for example in the SARS section, the author visits the farms where exotic animals are raised for the “wild flower” food trade, and in the Ebola/Marburg chapter he has interviewed those who have entered Python Cave.

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus – Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
ISBN: 0670023736
Publication Date: 2013

RabidIf you like vampire and werewolf stories, you will enjoy the premise of Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus. The premise explored here is that many of the “transformed monster” icons through history are a reflection of the fear and reality of how rabies causes behavioral and physical changes in its victims. The authors try to stretch this idea for a little too long, but don’t stop reading since the chapter on Louis Pasteur is well worth it. In addition, the chapter about the rabies epidemic on the island of Bali presents a modern example of introduction of a new virus to a previously virus-free island population, and why vaccination works better than culling of the reservoir.

The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story – Richard Preston
ISBN: 0385479565
Publication Date: 1999

TheHotZoneThe Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story is the book that started the scary virus genre in the first place. Ebola enters the US through a shipment of monkeys to a suburb of Washington DC where it proceeds to kill nearly all the monkeys, but luckily, none of the people. Okay, so a lot of it turned out to be exaggerated, but still, many of you might have decided to enter the field of virology after reading it. Plus, the book is better than any of the movies based on it.


Do you have any favorites that should go on the Virologist’s Bookshelf? Feel free to submit them in a comment!

2 thoughts on “The Virologist’s Bookshelf – Part 1

  1. Yes, “The Great Influenza” is a good one. I’ll be covering that in Part 2 which should be posted in a week or so.

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