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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 3 April 2013
I was worried that this book would be scaremongering, overly-dramatic, and patronising. I needn't have feared! It tells the stories of spillover cases, explains the science behind them and explores the possibilities going forward. It is fast-paced and exciting whilst retaining a human element; i.e. deaths are talked of respectfully. It goes fairly deeply (for a layperson) into the science but manages to hold your hand enough that you can keep up and enjoy the ride.

Best non-fiction book I've read possibly ever.
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on 9 March 2017
David Quammen writes interesting books. This one is no exception.
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on 12 August 2017
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 December 2012
A rich mix of well-researched scientific evidence and gripping stories of medical/scientific detection that at times seem like a fast-paced novel. Only very occasionally did I feel that the speculative personalization of how a virus jumped from animals to humans was over-done. Fascinating in a macabre way but left me apprehensive about the next catastrophic pandemic.
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on 3 November 2012
Viruses, that conjure dread, jumping species from animal to man and highly infectious from man to man - that is a Spillover or zoonosis. Virulent, often lethal most recent and of limited spread - Marburg (1967), Lassa Fever (1969), Ibola (1971), Avian Flu (1997), Hendra (1994), SARS (2003), West Nile (1999), Swine Flu (2009) . But some are the Big Ones - Spanish Flu killed 20 million in 1918, HIV accounts for 30 million dead and 34 million infected.

Why are they happening now? Where do they come from? How do they jump species? What conditions lead to their spread?

This is not an alarmist, "end of civilisation as we know it" book. It is informed and balanced but compulsive reading like several detective stories in one. It is rich in the personalities and circumstances of how the epidemics occurred, the stories of the people affected and the race to identify the "reservoir " hosts and the carriers. It is first hand and colourful. David Quammen meets the veterinarians, doctors and nurses who are treating , and often infected by, the dying patients. He goes out with the ecologists and the scientists to search for the reservoir species in the Congolese and Malaysian tropical forests, in the Chinese wild food markets, in the Tanzanian savannah. They take samples for antibody and virus testing from bats , white tailed deer, civet cars, monkeys and chimpanzees - not an easy task. He visits the epidemiologists, virologists. geneticists who wrestle with analysis and interpretation.

David Quammen is very positive and complimentary of the organisations and people involved. The work of the well equipped squads sent out from the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Centre in Atlanta, USA and that of the medics, scientists, and government authorities in Chinese, Asian, African and Australian countries is interpreted in a very positive and constructive light.

The common thread in the detection of each epidemic is partly medical and partly ecological. The virosphere encompasses a realm of organisms that dwarf every other group. Many are probably undiscovered. Many stay dependent but benign in their host species. They may kill some monkeys or birds or bats but we do not notice. The viruses, especially those whose genomes consist of RNA rather than DNA leaving them more prone to mutation, are highly and rapidly adaptive. The disruption to the natural ecosystems at a cataclysmic rate due to man's activities seems to be more and more unloosening the microbes from their natural ecosystem into the wider world. Increasing human population density, new bugs, greater interconnectivity with modern transport systems and new sophisticated medical detection systems are part of the explanation for the increase in epidemics.

David Quammen is convinced that the Next Big One will come and kill millions. Read the book to find out his prophecies - it is worth the read.
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"If your husband catches an ebolavirus, give him food and water and love and maybe prayers but keep your distance, wait patiently, hope for the best ‒ and, if he dies ... better to step back, blow a kiss, and burn the hut." ‒ from SPILLOVER, advice for the wife (to perhaps stock up on matches)

"The door fell, trapping Schwarzenegger plus six others, and all hell broke loose." ‒ from SPILLOVER, trapping macaques in Bangladesh to take epidemiology samples

Who can forget The Hot Zone by Richard Preston published in 1994 and billed as "a terrifying true story" of hemorrhagic fevers? I haven't, and so was immediately drawn to SPILLOVER by David Quammen, subtitled "Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic." I mean, who could resist the photo of the warm and cuddly baboon on the jacket's front (of the U.S. edition)? Besides, we have three cats and I've always suspected the wretched creatures harbor something nasty that'll do us in.

The Next Big One (NBO), in this case, is the next zoonotic pandemic that will wipe out millions of humans. Not if, but when. Sort of like the species-ending asteroid just over the event horizon but sure to hit Earth sometime in the future.

I must admit first-off that SPILLOVER wasn't as riveting as I'd hoped and expected. That said, it contained a plethora of instructive and interesting nuggets, like a cookie filled chock-a-block with chocolate chips (but still not a solid bar of Cadbury Dark). The thing is, the author thrashes about in the jungle of zoonotic disease agents (Hendra, Nipah, Ebola, Marburg, Borrelia, Rickettsia, Plasmodium, SARS-CoV) before ‒ on page 385 already ‒ focusing on the one that he'd apparently intended to showcase all along, HIV-1 group M. The previous three-hundred eighty-four pages are spent necessarily instructing the reader ‒ using real-life outbreaks ‒ on such terms as "infectivity", "transmission", "virulence", and "lethality" and the Herculean efforts that are often required to identify the animal reservoir of a particular agent. Indeed, Quammen makes sure to point out that the reservoir for Ebola has yet to be discovered. (Perhaps it's Fluffy.)

Then, once the author takes up the currently spreading HIV-1 pandemic and discusses the brilliant detective work that has allowed scientists to identify the place (southeastern Cameroon) and approximate time (prior to 1908) that the virus made its leap from an animal to its first human host, he hallucinates (for many pages) a possible scenario whereby a subsequently infected human, his unnamed "Voyager" ‒ a river fisherman, transported the virus out of the jungle interior to a large urban center. Really? In a narrative work of popular science, this seemed to smack too much and unnecessarily of a novel's creative license.

Finally, in SPILLOVER's last twenty-five pages, Quammen asks the experts the ultimate question: What is the Next Big One likely to be? (At this point in the overall discussion, his consideration of the various influenza strains is scarily relevant.) Although there can be no definitive answer to the question, it involves a basic assumption, the thread of which runs through the entire book. It will come about because Homo sapiens is encroaching upon the environments inhabited by the world's other species, and it's not nice to poke Mother Nature in the eye with a stick.

"We shake the trees, figuratively and literally, and things fall out."

Or, said more elegantly:

"Ecological circumstance provides opportunity for spillover. Evolution seizes opportunity, explores possibilities, and helps convert spillovers to pandemics."

P.S. 10-14-14: Ebola is apparently on the march. I await its first appearance in Los Angeles with no reason to think it won't arrive sooner or later. I think it not likely to parallel the Black Death experienced by England in 1348-49, but still ...
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on 9 December 2012
Zoonotic diseases have been with humanity since time immemorial. However, the recognition of the phenomenon and investigation of the same is a part of modern medical and entomological history. The emphasis on Congo Haemorrhagic Fever in the title and also in some parts of the book should not mislead readers to think that this is something very much part of the millenial angst. Malaria is a zoonotic disease. The plague is a zoonotic disease. Dengue is a zoonotic disease. Japanese encephalitis is also one such. David Quammen has distilled a bunch of facts and presented them in an extremely readable fashion that ultimately argues for a much better understanding of the man-animal ecosystem.
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on 15 February 2016
This is a book about zoonoses and their origins, but it is also part mystery, part horror and all true. In lesser hands this could have been a dull, heavy slog and battle but Quammen is a delight. He writes fact with the flair and ease of fiction making it really enjoyable, it often feels like you are racing through an epic thriller of a novel. He really brings his subject alive and engages the reader from the opening pages, telling the facts and background with an infectious passion and zest. His playful and colourful use of language is at times delightful and hilarious.

He not only makes his subject accessible but also makes it thoroughly fascinating, waxing lyrical about reservoir and amplifier hosts and the creatures’ great and small that do the hosting. This is a highly engaging, refreshingly funny and unpretentious account that will have your fingers burning from chasing up those Latin words and place names on your search engine. On the downside at 520 pages long, it is a bit lengthy and can lose some of its potency and immediacy at times. An ideal accompaniment to this book is Nathan Wolfe’s fine “The Viral Storm” which covers some of the similar ground in an equally readable way.
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on 23 August 2014
This is a truly brilliant book. The recent Ebola outbreak motivated me to read The Hot Zone to improve my understanding of this disease and that in turn motivated me to read more about viral infections and especially their transfer from animal to human populations. Spillover really does tell the layman all you need to know about zoonosis.

It demonstrates clearly the interconnection of all life on earth and how our damaging impact upon the environment can have some very grave consequences for us.

David Quammen's style of writing makes this book a compulsive read, you literally can't put it down. This is no dry academic study but a personal investigation into a fascinating subject.
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on 14 September 2016
I really enjoyed reading Spillover. Quammen draws on a vast wealth of experience to put together each chapter of the book. This is apparent in his simplified, logical reasoning as well as his in depth descriptions of personal experiences. He creates suspense with every paragraph making the book something of a (semi)non-fiction page-turner. Each epidemic that he explores is communicated comprehensively and the reader feels as though they were the EIS officers investigating the outbreaks themselves – at one point I was sure I could smell the disinfectant used to clean the PPE used in the (multiple) Ebola outbreaks.

I do have some criticism of this book however. Occasionally, the creation of suspense left me feeling the chapters were written by a student trying to reach the word limit. These section really dragged and I found myself losing interest in the book. Secondly, there are some sections which I find completely irrelevant. There is a several page long section in the HIV-related section depicting the story of a boy travelling with stolen ivory down river and bringing HIV with him. Whilst this was mildly entertaining, I didn’t see the relevance when the story is undoubtedly totally fictitious. After this, I began to question how much of the book was fabricated for audience enjoyment rather than accurately portraying the information.

Overall this was a very enjoyable book to read and despite a few, occasional qualms with the author’s content selection I would recommend it to others.
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