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What's the book?

Nathan Wolfe is the world’s most prominent ‘virus hunter’ – a sort of Indiana Jones of the world of virology who travels from dense African jungles to state of the art, climate-controlled laboratories in hot pursuit of the world’s most-deadly viruses. His mission: to understand how they jump from animals to humans, and if it’s possible to kill them before they wipe us out. The bad news? A global pandemic has never been a greater threat to us than it is right now. But don't panic yet.

The story of the virus is the story of the ever-increasing intimacy between animals and humans. It started some eight million years ago when the common ancestor we share with chimpanzees developed a taste for monkey meat. In short DNA mixed, and alien monkey-viruses mutated. By the early 20th century, boosted by the domestication of livestock, they had jumped to humans.

Now, there are many dozens of dangerous new viruses that have passed from animals to humans (called zoonoses), from Ebola to bird flu, SARS to HIV. And thanks to cars, boats, planes and trains, the whole world has become a single microbial incubator, says Wolfe: ‘This radically mobile world gives infectious agents ... a truly global stage on which to act.'

But despite all this, Wolfe remains an optimist. He presents a surprisingly upbeat tone when it comes to how far we have come in understanding viruses and the weapons we’ve developed to defeat them. Technology, he says, is the key, as we close in on the ultimate objective of a ‘global immune system’ for forecasting and preventing pandemics.

Why talk about it now?

In just a couple of months, the coronavirus outbreak has snowballed from a handful of cases to more than 40,000 (at the time of writing), reaching four continents and sparking an all-out battle to stop the spread across China and beyond. The Viral Storm is the perfect companion to anyone who wants to better understand what this means, and what we’re up against. 

 

Footnote

Between April 2001 and August 2002, a period that included the 9/11 attacks, 8,000 people died at the hands of terrorists around the world. Between April 2009 and August 2012, the virus H5N1 (avian flu) killed 18,000 people. Furthermore, in just two months in 2020, coronavirus has killed more than 1,000. Wolfe argues: shouldn't we be spending at least as much on preventing pandemics as we do on tackling terrorism?

  • The Viral Storm

  • In The Viral Storm award-winning biologist Nathan Wolfe - known as 'the Indiana Jones of virus hunters' for his work in jungles and rain forests across the world - shows the threat of a global pandemic is greater than we have ever imagined.

    The Viral Storm examines how viruses like HIV, swine flu, and bird flu have almost wiped us out in the past - and may do so in the future. It explores why modern life makes us so vulnerable to global pandemics, and what new technologies can do to prevent them. Wolfe's provocative vision may leave you feeling distinctly uncomfortable - but it will reveal exactly what it is we are up against.

    Nathan Wolfe is the Lorry I. Lokey Visiting Professor in Human Biology at Stanford University and Director of Global Viral Forecasting, a pandemic early warning system which monitors the spillover of novel infectious agents from animals into humans. Wolfe has been published in or profiled by Nature, Science, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Economist, Forbes and many others. Wolfe was the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship in 1997 and was awarded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) International Research Scientist Development Award in 1999 and the prestigious NIH Director's Pioneer Award in 2005.

    Reviews:

    'An excellent piece of scientific gothic, rich in descriptions of the threat we face from emerging viruses' Nature

    'Part autobiography, part warning ... enthralling' BBC Focus

    'Quietly terrifying ... It's hard not to feel a bit feverish at times while reading' Boston Globe

    'Wolfe has an important story to tell and as a virologist at the forefront of pandemic forecasting, he is the perfect person to tell it. He explains the science clearly and never stoops to sensationalism - the evidence of our increasing vulnerability to pandemics speaks for itself' Guardian

    'The plague-ridden future imagined by this authoritative, measured, yet gripping book is extremely alarming' Sunday Times

    'Nathan Wolfe is saving the world from near-inevitable pandemic ... a kick-ass book' Mary Roach, author of Stiff

    'The world's most prominent virus hunter' New Yorker

    'A good place to start preparing for what might come' New Humanist

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