Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
Not that many readers will need reminding, but you really, really don’t want rabies.
Not that many readers will need reminding, but you really, really don’t want rabies, said Aaron Rothstein in The Wall Street Journal. It usually begins with a bite from a vicious, foaming beast. Across days, perhaps years, tiny organisms travel through your nervous system, swelling the brain. Vomiting and seizures ensue, often accompanied by a fear of water, paranoia, and a tendency to spit in your hands and throw the saliva at your caretakers. For males, there are involuntary orgasms, sometimes 30 a day. Next comes paralysis, then death. Intrigued? Terrified? Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy stir a range of strong emotions in their “fascinating” cultural history of the “tiny yet vicious culprit” that’s been infecting dogs, bats, raccoons, and humans for millennia.
Rabies probably doesn’t rank high on your most-feared-viruses meter, said Steven Winn in the San Francisco Chronicle. Yet Wasik, an editor at Wired, and Murphy, a veterinarian, “mount a persuasively argued case for the importance of rabies as both a daunting public health issue, past and present, and a persistent source of deep-rooted terror.” Though rabies has mostly been contained in the Western world, more than 50,000 people still die of the disease every year. Reading the authors’ horrifying accounts, it’ll come as no surprisethat rabies has beena source of dark myths since Homer’s time. We’ve been terrorized by not only the disease but its carriers, letting our imaginations turn rabid bats and dogs into vampires and werewolves.
Note that those horror-movie creatures resemble infected humans who’ve been “dragged back to their animal pasts,” said Jesse Singal in The Boston Globe. Part of what makes rabies so compelling as a subject is how it “dances the line between human and beast, both in its epidemiological trajectory and in its symptoms.” Louis Pasteur’s dramatic (and successful) search for a vaccine figures prominently in this “very readable” book. By the time you’re done, you might consider that breakthrough his greatest achievement.