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Breathless: Book summary and reviews of Breathless by David Quammen

Breathless

The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus

by David Quammen

Breathless by David Quammen X
Breathless by David Quammen
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About this book

Book Summary

The story of the worldwide scientific quest to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Breathless is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a "forever virus," destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.

Based on interviews with nearly one hundred scientists, including leading virologists in China and around the world, Quammen explains that:

  • Infectious disease experts saw this pandemic coming
  • Some scientists, for more than two decades, warned that "the next big one" would be caused by a changeable new virus—very possibly a coronavirus—but such warnings were ignored for political or economic reasons
  • The precise origins of this virus may not be known for years, but some clues are compelling, and some suppositions can be dismissed
  • And much more.

Breathless takes you inside the frantic international effort to understand and control SARS-CoV-2 as if we were peering over the shoulders of the brilliant scientists who led the chase.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Science journalist Quammen (Spillover) recounts in page-turning detail the scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic...Terms such as RNA, 'variant,' and 'herd immunity' are accessibly explained, and the narrative is punctuated with vivid portraits of such scientists as Anthony Fauci; Zhengli Shi, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology; and molecular virologist Michael Worobey, who tracked the virus's evolution. This is a must-read for anyone looking to get a better handle on the pandemic so far." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"An authoritative new history of Covid-19 and its predecessors...Skirting the mostly dismal politics displayed by national leaders, the author constructs a masterful account of viral evolution culminating in Covid-19...Unsettling global health news brilliantly delivered by an expert." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A masterful scientific detective story...Quammen delivers a demanding and essential book about COVID-19." - Booklist (starred review)

This information about Breathless was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

David Quammen

David Quammen's sixteen previous books include The Tangled Tree, The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Premio Letterario Merck, in Rome. He has written for the New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, the Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines, and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion, and with two Russian wolfhounds, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python.

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