Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic

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Overview

The emergence of strange new diseases is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse. In this age of speedy travel, it threatens a worldwide pandemic. We hear news reports of Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and something called Hendra killing horses and people in Australia—but those reports miss the big truth that such phenomena are part of a single pattern. The bugs that transmit these diseases share one thing: they originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover. David Quammen tracks this subject around the world. He recounts adventures in the field—netting bats in China, trapping monkeys in Bangladesh, stalking gorillas in the Congo—with the world’s leading disease scientists. In Spillover Quammen takes the reader along on this astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge, and he asks the terrifying question: What might the next big one be?
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Reports of a new outbreak of Ebola in Uganda this summer reignited speculation about when and where the next great human pandemic would hit. As the media continues to bristle with stories about AIDS, SARS, and now Hendra, science and nature author David Quammen (The Song of the Dodo; Natural Acts) arrives fresh from a globe-trotting tour of possible points of "spillover" animal-to-human disease transmissions. His Spillover zeroes in on those hotspots, explaining what specialist scientists can tell us about the dynamics and probability of such terrifying pandemics. An eye-opening expose already being compared to classics such as Rats, Lice, and History. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book. (P.S. The book contains powerful new conclusions about the origins of AIDS that contradict those of Hot Zone and other books.)

The New York Times
…powerful and discomfiting…Mr. Quammen…is not just among our best science writers but among our best writers, period…For those of us who don't have a future in biology, Mr. Quammen is a patient explainer and a winning observer. His gallows humor is superb.
—Dwight Garner
The New York Times Book Review
…describes…the unfolding convergence between veterinary science and human medicine, and how veterinary-minded medical experts discover and track diseases that spread across species. Spillover is less public health warning than ecological affirmation: these crossovers force us to uphold "the old Darwinian truth (the darkest of his truths, well known and persistently forgotten) that humanity is a kind of animal"—with a shared fate on the planet…A vivid and erudite nature writer, Quammen is even better as a cheeky and incisive chronicler of the scientific method…even when his writing is not entirely germane, it's almost always fun and morbidly entertaining.
—Sonia Shah
The Washington Post
…highly engaging…His accounts make for colorful reading. Though they can meander at times, at their best they are arresting and unnerving. And Quammen intersperses judicious helpings of science and epidemiology, enough to leaven the narrative without bogging it down.
—Alan Sipress
New York Magazine
David Quammen might be my favorite living science writer: amiable, erudite, understated, incredibly funny, profoundly humane. The best of his books, The Song of the Dodo, renders the relatively arcane field of island biogeography as gripping as a thriller. That bodes well for his new book, whose subject really is thriller-worthy: how deadly diseases (AIDS, SARS, Ebola) make the leap from animals to humans, and how, where, and when the next pandemic might emerge.— Kathryn Schulz
The New York Times
That [Quammen] hasn’t won a nonfiction National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize is an embarrassment.— Dwight Garner
Nature
David Quammen [is] one of that rare breed of science journalists who blend exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling.— Nathan Wolfe
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
“That [Quammen] hasn’t won a nonfiction National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize is an embarrassment.”
Nature - Nathan Wolfe
“David Quammen [is] one of that rare breed of science journalists who blend exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling.”
New York Magazine - Kathryn Schulz
“David Quammen might be my favorite living science writer: amiable, erudite, understated, incredibly funny, profoundly humane. The best of his books, The Song of the Dodo, renders the relatively arcane field of island biogeography as gripping as a thriller. That bodes well for his new book, whose subject really is thriller-worthy: how deadly diseases (AIDS, SARS, Ebola) make the leap from animals to humans, and how, where, and when the next pandemic might emerge.”
Library Journal
Zoonoses, most simply described as diseases transmitted from animals to humans, include exotic horrors like Ebola and far more common ailments such as influenza, HIV, and Lyme disease. Vividly describing the work of field biologists and laboratory scientists, Quammen (The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution) takes readers on a series of journeys, including tracking gorillas in the jungles of Gabon and catching bats on the roof of a Bangladeshi warehouse. The researchers he interviews note that as human populations continue to grow, they will inevitably move into habitats with unfamiliar, dangerous microorganisms, and as international travel becomes more popular and more efficient, those microorganisms can be transmitted faster and farther than ever before. VERDICT For a shorter, more humorous consideration of some of the same issues (and diseases), consider The Chickens Fight Back: Pandemic Panics and Deadly Diseases That Jump from Animals to Humans by David Waltner-Toews. Quammen's is a compelling and quietly alarming book; recommended for readers interested in biology, medicine, or veterinary science. [See Prepub Alert, 4/16/12.]—Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono
Kirkus Reviews
Nature writer and intrepid traveler Quammen (The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, 2006, etc.) sums up in one absorbing volume what we know about some of the world's scariest scourges: Ebola, AIDS, pandemic influenza--and what we can do to thwart the "NBO," the Next Big One. The author discusses zoonoses, infectious diseases that originate in animals and spread to humans. The technical term is "spillover." It's likely that all infections began as spillovers. Some, like Ebola and lesser-known viral diseases (Nipah, Hendra, Marburg), are highly transmissible and virulent, but so far have been limited to sporadic outbreaks. They persist because they are endemic in a reservoir population through a process of mutual adaptation. Finding that reservoir holds the key to control and prevention and gives Quammen's accounts the thrill of the chase and the derring-do of field research in rain forests and jungles and even teeming Asian cities where monkeys run wild. The author chronicles his travels around the world, including a stop in a bat cave in Uganda with scientists who found evidence that bats were the source of Marburg and other zoonoses, but not AIDS. Quammen's AIDS narrative traces the origin of HIV to chimpanzee-human transmission around 1908, probably through blood-borne transmission involved in the killing of the animal for food. Over the decades, with changing sexual mores, an ever-increasing world population and global travel, the stage was set for a takeoff. Quammen concludes with a timely discussion of bird flu, which has yet to achieve human-to-human transmission but, thanks to the rapid mutation rate and gene exchanges typical of RNA viruses, could be the NBO. You can't predict, say the experts; what you can do is be alert, establish worldwide field stations to monitor and test and take precautions. A wonderful, eye-opening account of humans versus disease that deserves to share the shelf with such classics as Microbe Hunters and Rats, Lice and History.
Dwight Garner - The New York Times
“That [Quammen] hasn’t won a nonfiction National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize is an embarrassment…Timely and terrifying. Mr. Quammen, a gifted science writer, combines physical and intellectual adventure. He also adds a powerful measure of moral witness: ecological destruction is greatly to blame for our current peril.”
Nathan Wolfe - Nature
“David Quammen [is] one of that rare breed of science journalists who blend exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling.”
Georges Simenon - Wired
“Riveting, terrifying, and inspiring.”
Georges Simenon
“Riveting, terrifying, and inspiring.”
Kathryn Schulz - New York Magazine
“David Quammen might be my favorite living science writer: amiable, erudite, understated, incredibly funny, profoundly humane. The best of his books, The Song of the Dodo, renders the relatively arcane field of island biogeography as gripping as a thriller. That bodes well for his new book, whose subject really is thriller-worthy: how deadly diseases (AIDS, SARS, Ebola) make the leap from animals to humans, and how, where, and when the next pandemic might emerge.”
Wired - Georges Simenon
“Riveting, terrifying, and inspiring.”
Walter Isaacson
“This is a frightening and fascinating masterpiece of science reporting that reads like a detective story. David Quammen takes us on a quest to understand AIDS, Ebola, and other diseases that share a frightening commonality: they all jumped from wild animals to humans. By explaining this growing trend, Quammen not only provides a warning about the diseases we will face in the future, he also causes us to reflect on our place as humans in the earth's ecosystem.”
Booklist
“Starred review. An essential work.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Spillover is] David Quammen’s absorbing, lively and, yes, occasionally gory trek through the animal origins of emerging human diseases.”
Seattle Times
“As page turning as Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone…[Quammen is] one of the best science writers.”
Philadelphia Tribune
“[Spillover] delivers news from the front lines of public health. It makes clear that animal diseases are inseparable from us because we are inseparable from the natural world.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393066807
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/1/2012
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 161,773
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.56 (d)

Meet the Author

David Quammen is the author of The Song of the Dodo, among other books. He has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters and is the recipient of a John Burroughs Medal and the National Magazine Award. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 28, 2012

    Wonderful book

    This is a great book. I'm a microbiology geek but haven't been around the subject for years. Spillover doesn't dummy-down the facts like so many other books. Quammen describes the facts clearly yet doesn't bog down on the details, e.g., differences between DNA and RNA viruses and why its important to know those differences. I found it amazingly informative and entertaining. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon during a couple of the ebola outbreaks. Reading about those outbreaks from a scientist/CDC persepective was especially interesting. Non-scientist will love this book if they have any interest in diseases and how they spread.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2012

    A Little Dry

    While this book was well written and imparted a lot of good information - especially on the origins of HIV/AIDS - some of it was a bit on the dense scientific side... that said, the author's pointing out HOW diseases cross the species barrier was scary and things got really interesting when he brought us along on his journeys to some of Africa's hot spots for a first hand look.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 19, 2012

    Excellent reading

    Even though I am not a scientist, I read extensively about biology, genetics, microbiology, etc. This book may be a little over your head if you are a complete stanger to the world of microbiology, but if you have a patient and curious mind, you will find a wonderful and scary world of germs. The writing is not hard. The content is hard. Incredible research. I've learned so much from this book. I would like to read more books by this author.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Great Book! Must read! As long as you can understand (and withst

    Great Book! Must read! As long as you can understand (and withstand) the dry scientific language throughout. Should have an interest in microbiology/infectious disease/

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted November 4, 2012

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    Posted December 24, 2012

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