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The book reads like a perfect multicourse meal, attractively presented and served with the right amount of clinically correct, surprisingly up-to-date information on dozens of conditions. Drexler's Dorothy Parker-like bon mots and asides are the perfect sauces to compliment the feast. ... Secret Agents is a most delightful read, and, like other very special treats, it should be read slowly, savored, and remembered.
Being a newly published author normally makes you a coveted guest at your friends' dinner parties, at least for a week or two. Writers, after all, can unreel tales of their topic when the conversation gets slow.
The trouble is, my new book -- Secret Agents: The Menace of Emerging Infections -- is about the many and diverse infectious horrors that modern life has handed us. What's worse, I am all too willing to inform my dining companions about the disease-causing bacteria and viruses lurking in our homes, workplaces, backyards, children's day care centers, even perhaps in the very food that is now being passed around the table.
My monologue usually begins when I arrive and notice the salad being finalized for display. "Have you washed the lettuce?" I blurt out. "If not, we may be at risk for E. coli O157:H7." If some smart-aleck snorts in disbelief, and tells me that E. coli is found only in raw hamburger, I'll list the dozen or so recent outbreaks in carrots, apples, coleslaw, unpasteurized juices, and, yes, lettuce.
Once we are settled in at the table, I am often moved to comment upon the pathogenic properties of poultry. "Ever notice that it's hard to buy a chicken these days without Salmonella or Campylobacter?" Of course, I don't mean to cast gloom on the occasion, so I'll add a helpful consumer precaution. "Always cook your bird until the juices run clear," I say, tipping the serving platter to demonstrate my point.
At this point, the guests may lapse into silence. I sense an opening for a new subject. "How many of you leave your kids in day care?" After this informal poll, I'll breezily mention that these facilities are "microbial cesspools" -- that phrase always gets people's attention -- teeming with Shigella, Streptococcus, and who knows what else.
"That's why we have antibiotics," someone might say. Of course, I quickly correct this careless delusion. "Actually," I'll respond, "we're using too many antibiotics in this country. Bacteria are becoming resistant to everything we throw at them. If we keep this up, we'll be back in the Dark Ages of medicine."
Now the plates are being cleared for dessert. Inwardly, I'm hoping that the final course does not consist of fresh raspberries from Guatemala -- surely everyone remembers the Cyclospora epidemic from a few years back? To banish that from my mind, I'll turn to current events. "If you were a bioterrorist, which weapon would you deploy: anthrax, smallpox, or plague?" My dining companions stare at me helplessly. Since I don't want them to feel embarrassed for not knowing how to answer, I describe the strategic pros and cons of each.
By now, the mood is unmistakably subdued. But I consider it a teachable moment. "Emerging infections are evolution in action," I'll explain. "Never underestimate an adversary that has a 3.5 billion year head start."
Someone tosses down a fork in exasperation. "Can't you talk about anything besides your book?"
My mind casts about for fresh conversational tidbits. "Have you heard," I ask, "the latest theories on global warming?" (Madeline Drexler)
Posted May 18, 2006
This book is really good. There's case study after case study, and it's extremely fun to try to guess what it is before you get to the diagnosis. It also explains some of the virology and biology aspects, which makes it easy to read even if you don't know anything about either of the latter subjects.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.