• by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy
  • Narrated by Johnny Heller
  • 8 hrs and 8 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

A maddened creature, frothing at the mouth, lunges at an innocent victim—and with a bite, transforms its prey into another raving monster. It’s a scenario that underlies our darkest tales of supernatural horror, but its power derives from a very real virus, a deadly scourge known to mankind from our earliest days. In this fascinating exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years in the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies.
The most fatal virus known to science, rabies kills nearly 100 percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. A disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans, rabies has served as a symbol of savage madness and inhuman possession throughout history. Today, its history can help shed light on the wave of emerging diseases—from AIDS to SARS to avian flu—with origins in animal populations.
From Greek myths to zombie flicks, from the laboratory heroics of Louis Pasteur to the contemporary search for a lifesaving treatment, Rabid is a fresh, fascinating, and often wildly entertaining look at one of mankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.
Bill Wasik is a senior editor at Wired magazine and was previously a senior editor at Harper’s, where he wrote on culture, media, and politics. He is the editor of the anthology Submersion Journalism and has also written for Oxford American, Slate, Salon, and McSweeney’s.


What the Critics Say

"[An] ambitious and smart history of the virus…. The authors track how science tried to tame the scourge, with its ravaging neurological effects. Yet the rare tales of modern survivors only underscore that, despite the existence of treatment through a series of injections, we're at a stalemate in conquering rabies." (Publishers Weekly)
"[Wasik and Murphy] place the world's deadliest virus in its historical and cultural context with a scientifically sound and compelling history that begins in ancient Mesopotamia and ends in twenty-first-century Bali…Readable, fascinating, informative, and occasionally gruesome, this is highly recommended for anyone interested in medical history or the cultural history of disease." (Library Journal)


See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Unexpected and Intriguing

Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy's "Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus" (2012) was an unexpected convergence of my reading loves. "Rabid" combines biological science, history, mystery and science.

I expected a thorough discussion of Louis Pasteur, who discovered the virus that causes rabies (after first having to realize it was not a bacteria) and developed a treatment and a vaccine. That's there, in full detail, including the careful scientific protocol Pasteur used; the missteps; the scientific jealousies; and the vaccine skeptics that thrive even today. There's a discussion of the Milwaukee protocol of induced coma to treat rabies now, for people who don't realize they have been infected until it's too late to undergo the modified Pasteur treatment used today. That's the second half of the book.

The first half is devoted to the history of rabies. I didn't expect such a thorough survey and literary analysis of rabies in fiction. There are the obvious: Stephen King's "Cujo" (1981) and Fred Gipson's "Old Yeller" (1956), and the 1957 Walt Disney movie. The subtle literary origins are even more intriguing. Wasik and Murphy argue that Charlotte Bronte's "The Professor" (1857), Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" (1954) and Seth Grahame-Smith's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (2009) all owe their origins to rabies outbreaks. I am not sure that I agree, but it is an intriguing position: do some of the vampire legends of the last two millennia arise from rabies? The discussion of rabies in Zora Neale Hurston's "There Eyes Were Watching God" (1937) was so poignant I would have stopped reading "Rabid" and pulled out my text copy of Hurston's book if I hadn't been driving.

Johnny Heller's narration was good, although almost a little too chipper for the topic.

[If this review helped, please let me know by clicking 'helpful'. Thanks!]
Read full review

- Cynthia "Always moving. Always listening. Always learning. "After all this time?" "Always.""

My favorite science read this year.

I have told many people about this fabulous book, and the response is always raised eyebrows, and a surprised grimace. "Rabies? Really?!" Yes, really! (You may also have grown up hearing about "a series of painful shots in the stomach," which was my parents' way of getting me to stop adopting neighborhood squirrels.)

This is among the best of books of its genre - it takes one purported focus, and spirals out to create an interdisciplinary gem. It begins in prehistory, goes from India to Europe to the US to Bali, and synthesizes cultural, historical, and scientific information. The case histories are painstakingly researched (scouring source material to find detailed 400 year-old anecdotes of children getting bitten by various animals, for example). The effect is a kind of sub-plot into cultural views on animals, wild and tame, pets and livestock more generally, and the domesticated dog in particular.

I was intrigued by the authors' research into literature, artwork, and cultural tropes like werewolves and vampires, ancient Egyptian sculpture, and Hollywood movies. The authors do not shy away from ideas and therapies that are still unsettled (like the "Milwaukee protocol," which is induced coma treatment). Rather, they thoroughly present several perspectives, so I felt I was brought up to date but not propagandized. 

So much more than a single-subject book. Very capable narrator, as well.
Read full review

- Sparkly "interested in history, science, and pulp fiction"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-19-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.