Sonia Shah. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. New York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2016. $26.00. pp. 271. Hardcover. ISBN 978‐0‐374‐12288‐1.

Published date01 March 2018
AuthorJoshua R. Hutton
Date01 March 2018
Book Review
Sonia Shah. Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond. New
York: Sarah Crichton Books, 2016. $26.00. pp. 271. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-374-
Given the prominence of pandemics in national media, and the devastation
reaped by SARS, inf‌luenza, Ebola, Zika, cholera, and myriad other pathogens,
Pandemic is a timely foray into the dynamics and history of epidemic disease. The
book’s main theme is effectively a singular outline of a hypothetical future
outbreak, colored by historical narratives; scientif‌ic research; and the author’s
personal experiences in mainland China, India, Haiti, and even her own home in
the Unites States.
Pandemic is organized rather like its namesake and subject matter: in sequence
from the emergence of pathogens and their leap from animals to humans, the
transmission of disease across the globe, the effect of crowding, urbanization, and
dirt, the social and political factors which impede outbreak response, the rise of
epidemiological surveillance and biomedical countermeasures, and f‌inal chapters
envisaging a future pandemic and imagining a response to it. The book’s central
argument is that pandemics past, present, and future all have commonalities
which make them understandable from both a contemporary and historical lens;
studying present, and future epidemics by understanding the past.
What shines through in this book is the great care and detail given to
personal experiences that permeate each chapter’s central argument. One vignette
that stands out is an in-depth and horrifying account of cholera’s pathogenesis;
“Within hours ... shrivelled victims’ faces, wrinkling skin and hollowing cheeks,
drying up tear ducts. Fluid blood turned tarry ... Muscles, deprived of oxygen,
shuddered so violently that they sometimes tore” (p. 41). Shah also tells how
MRSA infected her and her son, and how after undergoing multiple treatments
which failed to rid her body of persistent f‌lare ups, the MRSA colonization
eventually normalized and fell into a healthy equilibrium with her body.
Additionally, Pandemic argues that epidemics are an inherently human
phenomenon; from the natural environment destruction and overcrowding that
promote zoonotic crossover, to industrialization’s promotion of international
World Medical & Health Policy, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2018
doi: 10.1002/wmh3.254
#2018 Policy Studies Organization

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