Ebola: A Natural and Human History

Recommendation: Don’t bother

Where to read: At 2am when unable to sleep

Read with: A glass of this shit or similar, in honour of camp provisions

In brief: It’s interesting, but you’d be much better off reading Spillover or The Coming Plague

Published during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, this slim volume is effectively just an extract from his 2012 book Spillover and I don’t get the impression much was added in the interim. Although Ebola is a relatively recent publication with more up-to-date science and expanded timeline, I’d go with The Coming Plague for an in-depth account and a gripping narrative or Spillover if you like Quammen’s style (though I haven’t read it so take my hunch with a grain of salt). 

I think part of my impatience with it is that Quammen foregrounds his own experiences investigating Ebola rather than the experiences of victims or doctors or the disease itself. As Virginia Woolf once observed, you become a little tired of the omnipresent “I”. 

The really interesting part of the book is that it highlights the virus’ devastating effect on gorilla and chimp populations. I’ve seen this discussed elsewhere in the context of examining how spillovers occur – one sick chimp scavenged for the bushmeat trade can turn into a lot of dead people – but Quammen’s work suggests that the effect on ape populations is worth considering in its own right.

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