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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Sparkly on 10-06-12
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.
46 of 50 people found this review helpful
By Cynthia on 06-09-13
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.
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53 of 61 people found this review helpful