Fields' Virology is a crucial resource for the virology community, and for physicians and medical students who treat infectious diseases. Fields' remains the most trusted text book on human medical virology, and it had not been updated since the last edition was published in 2007. Modern biology moves fast. The advent of new technologies, such as massively parallel nucleic acid sequencing, not to mention discoveries in related fields such as molecular & cell biology and immunology, which have both led to and been cross-pollenated by progress in virology, have resulted in huge advances. Not to mention that virologists carrying o "classical" approaches from the 1990's have also made some illuminating findings since 2007. As such, six years is an eternity, so the 6th Edition was eagerly anticipated, and long overdue. The book comes in two volumes and covers basic science of viral replication, the clinical aspects of how viruses cause disease, and the epidemiology to explain how these pathogens spread through populations. The first volume includes chapters with general information on topics such as the history of virology, vaccines, antiviral drugs, the innate immune system, how viruses enter cells, and so on. In the later part of the first volume and all of the second, the specific biology of the major families of viruses that cause disease in humans are covered.
This book must be reviewed on at least three fronts, and a fourth aspect that should be addressed is the Kindle / Google Play e-book version:
1) How good a job did the publisher do getting the product out as advertised?
2) How did the Editors-in-Chief perform their job of "herding cats" in terms of choosing appropriate authors and holding them to high standards?
3) How did the authors do in writing their chapters?
4) Kindle/ Google Play version
1) Let's first acknowledge that the publisher, Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, are padding their bank accounts with this volume, at over $380 a copy, plus another $350 for online access on Kindle or other e-readers. The research to make the discoveries possible was funded by U.S. taxpayers, and the people who wrote the chapters are paid by universities and by Federal research grants. So the U.S. public paid for this book.. And the publisher wants you to pay again. I'm firmly in favor of capitalism, but this is a bit ridiculous. I hope that PLoS takes over Fields Virology or produces a parallel and superior work.
As for execution: Puzzlingly, the Editors-in-Chief and/or publisher opted to leave out many cited references, which are said to be available online in an "e-book" that readers can supposedly access via LWW.com. However, when I entered my "single user" access code from the inside of the cover, and clicked the link to access the full web references, the LWW website took me to a replica of the same pages of abridged references seen in the printed copy. The result is that chapter authors cited published research that we readers cannot identify. This is just bizarre. Plus, there seems no rhyme or reason why certain references made the cut to be included in print while others disappeared into the vapor of an online reference list that was never to be. -- in some chapters older references are left out, but other include references from the 1960s and presumably leave out more recent papers. This book came out in July and here we are in November, and the promise of an online unabridged reference list remains to be fulfilled.
2) The Editors-in-Chief, Knipe and Howley, had a very difficult job to do, and deserve much respect for their preeminent standing in their respective fields, which are herpes simplex virus and papillomaviruses. Probably for convenience, Knipe and Howley leaned heavily on other scientists at Harvard, which is where they are based, when it might have been appropriate to include a greater number authors at other institutes, or even in other countries. (While the U.S. is still home to plenty, many top virologists are also based the UK, Germany, Netherlands). Based on the deficiencies I identify with at least one chapter I allude to below, I think that in the future the Editors-in-Chielf ought to send out chapters for anonymous, or hell, non-anonymous peer review by a panel of other experts in the field to prevent certain authors from abusing their assignment to write a chapter for Fields Virology to carry out a very selective coverage of the field that highlights their own work at the expense of accuracy, breadth and just plain truth.
3) Many chapters deserve an award for clarity and brilliance of presentation, and most appear to be very well written. However, I can attest that at least one chapter on an important virus was written by an expert in the field who allowed his personal vendettas against other prominent scientists to stand in the way of his ability to write a comprehensive and honest assessment of the science. In areas of the field where this person's work is not necessarily the strongest or most influential, it appears that this author has nonetheless cited their own papers in lower ranking journals and left out more influential studies that provided key discoveries. This is a shame and disservice to readers and students of Virology. I hold the Editors-in-Chief as well as co-authors of the chapter, who are other prominent scientists in the field, for allowing this chapter with such glaring omissions to make it into print. Hence, why I hope the Editors-in-Chielf will examine the merits of sending out chapters for peer review prior to publishing the next version.
4) I was excited to see that one could pay to have access on computers, e-readers and tablets via Amazon Kindle or Google Play. It would be great to not have to lug around a 13.2 lbs two volume set between my home and office when I want to read up to prepare a lecture or catch up on clinical aspects of a given virus. However, what stopped me in my tracks was the fact that the tables show up in like 10 point low resolution font and cannot be stretched out or zoomed in on. What a travesty. And hey, if one pays $300 for a heavy, two volume book like this one, the publisher ought to include free access to on the e-reader platform of your choice. Guess what, they are too greedy and do not. So you choose, beautiful, readable tables in print, or flawed e-reader version only. Note: you can access the print version grants readers access to full version, but this not a very useable or pleasant way to interact with the content.
In summary, it is hard to dismiss this resource, because as flawed as it may be, there probably is no real substitute. That said, as a virologist myself, who has met and interacted with several of the contributors, including one of the Editors-in-Chief, the work is a partial let down. I hope that we will not have to wait six years for the next edition and that the weaknesses of the current edition (including the references/citiation fiasco) will be remedied. I'll leave it up to shoppers to decide whether the book is worth $300 or more to them. For many, it may be. For all its deficiencies, there are some real gems in there. Nonetheless, the problems with this book make the case for why many people, including myself, feel that the excessively for-profit publishing of publicly funded science needs to come to an end. I think the PLoS Pathogens model would work much better to re-invent a far superior version of this resource.