Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Reviews and Suggestions

I wanted to cover a few books that I have read and liked. Obviously this isn't an all inclusive list and I will try to add to it when I read something good and "sciencey".

The Hot Zone - Richard Preston: This book has taken a bit of a beating over the past few weeks by certain members of the science community. While I understand that it takes literary freedoms, this really shouldn't be interpreted as a true historical account. Preston is an Ebola expert like Michael Crichton was a dinosaur expert. I don't know what good it does to get upset at Preston's book. He is an author, not a scientist, and I have heard extremely well-respected scientists saying much more ignorant, stupid, and dangerous things than Preston. If an Ebola outbreak happens to bump the sales of his book, and CNN and Fox have him on to interview him, why would he turn it down?

I am far more upset at the people who read this book and interpret it as some supremely accurate historical account. I feel like the ven diagram of those who believe Preston's book is scientifically accurate and those who believe professional wrestling is real has a lot of overlap.

Beating Back the Devil - Maryn McKenna: This book is basically about the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the CDC and provides a very thorough description of life as an EIS officer. At this point in time I have applied to the EIS 3-4 times (I lost track). Naturally, I love this book.

The Coming Plague - Laurie Garrett: This book is the most detailed book on major outbreaks I have read. Meticulous and amazing. There is so much information in this book you would have to read it 20 times to get everything out of it. A must read for any one interested in public health.

Inside the Outbreaks - Mark Pendergrast: Another book about a select few EIS investigations and the EIS program in general. I love this book, and it is fairly recently released.

Arrowsmith - Sinclair Lewis: An inspiration. Anyone interested in public health or medicine, research or clinical should read this book. Fictional, but speaks volumes to the career choices, ups and down, and is still relevant today. Lewis won the Pulitzer and really was the first to address medicine and medical education in the 20th century and he predicted many issues and successes of medicine and research. I've only read it once, but it is on my own personal list of books to read this year.

Biography of a Germ - Arno Karlen: This book is a little more "cute" kind of an interesting read of the biography of a germ. I liked it, it was mostly scientifically accurate. Something different from the more realistic or heavier stuff on this list.

Virus Hunters - C.J. Peters: C.J. Peters is an icon. This book as well as "Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC" tell first person accounts of Ebola hunting in Africa. Both are CDC legends and C.J. Peters also mentions his time at USAMRIID. Both are biographical in nature, campfire tales and read as such.

Level 4 Virus Hunters of the CDC - Joseph McCormick: See above. And I will make one more note. I actually have met Joseph McCormick and he signed this book for me. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a talk he gave at NDSU while I was in undergrad there. I double majored in biotechnology and microbiology and this was the point where the public health side of me took a majority and it hasn't swung back to biotech since (although it is still close, maybe 60/40 split)

And the Band Played On - Randy Shilts: Do you remember when AIDS was called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID)? This is an absolute masterpiece of literary work by Shilts detailing the AIDS epidemic from political, social, and medical angles. As always, the book is better than the movie (although the cast is amazing; Alan Alda, Phil Collins, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, Ian McKellen, Lily Tomlin, BD Wong etc.)

Concerning the Origin of Malignant Tumors - Theodor Boveri: Classic. It's like reading the Odyssey. It might be a bit of a slog, but you can be the one guy at the party that can say he has read it.

The Plague - Albert Camus: Existentialist or absurdist, whatever he categorized himself as, it's an interesting read. If only to make you look a little differently at things in the world.

Books I have not Read, but will in the Future

The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age - Nathan Wolfe

Spillover: Animal Infectious and the Next Human Pandemic - David Quammen

A Planet of Viruses - Carl Zimmer

  • I have a PhD in microbiology and immunology, and I am currently a clinical/public health laboratorian.
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