Five reviews on the science behind the study of viruses and viral diseases.

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Booss, John. To catch a virus, by John Booss and Marilyn J. August. ASM Press, 2013. 364p ISBN 1555815073 pbk, $39.95; ISBN 9781555815073 pbk, $39.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2013

To Catch a Virus by Booss (Yale Univ.) and August (formerly, Aviron/MedImmune) is a thorough history of the development of diagnostic virology. Each chapter focuses on a particular group of viruses or a particular research technique as the basis for a discussion of an aspect of virology. The readable text successfully describes how advances in laboratory techniques aided in scientific understanding of particular viruses and how study of a particular virus was key in the development of an important laboratory technique. Examples include a description of how advances in microscopy and an understanding of the rabies virus went hand in hand, and how the ability to propagate polio virus in cultured cells and advancement in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of polio are linked. A strong point of the book is its rich descriptions of the people involved in the advancement of virology. Photographs of viruses and virologists add to an engaging story. The well-referenced narrative will likely be accessible to the nonvirologist. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic and general readers. —M. S. Kainz, Ripon College

Cordingley, Michael G. Viruses: agents of evolutionary invention. Harvard, 2017. 373p bibl index ISBN 9780674972087, $49.95; ISBN 9780674978638 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2017

Viruses describes interactions between viruses and their hosts, with emphasis on how these interactions evolve as viruses spread within and among hosts. Cordingley, president and founder of Revolution Pharma Consulting and senior scientific advisor at Antiva Biosciences, evaluates the “virosphere” and discusses individual case studies in which viruses play a central part. These include the role of viruses in the evolution of pathogenic bacteria, cold virus diversity, flu evolution and pandemics, herpes virus biology, HIV, emerging viral diseases, and the use of viruses in therapeutic technologies. Cordingley repeatedly returns to a virus-host coevolutionary model to explain the changes in viral host range and virulence. The writing is generally good; sections on influenza, HIV, Ebola, and the role of viruses in host genome evolution are excellent. Despite attempts to make the text accessible to lay readers, the majority of the writing is for those well-versed in virology, molecular genetics, and immunology. There are two significant deficits. Cordingley has the tendency to describe evolutionary phenomena in teleological terms, and the book lacks figures that would make the more intricate discussions less opaque. Despite these problems, Viruses offers a good view of the dynamic interaction between viruses and their hosts. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals. —R. M. Denome, MCPHS University

Spinney, Laura. Pale rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it changed the world. PublicAffairs, 2017. 332p index ISBN 9781610397674, $28.00; ISBN 9781610397681 ebook, $15.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE July 2018

An epidemic, wrote historian Charles Rosenberg, unfolds as a pageant. The 1918–20 influenza pandemic was an array of pageants, great and small, rolling across humanity. This “greatest massacre of the twentieth century,” which caused perhaps 100 million deaths, was a visitation played out in myriad social, religious, political, and ethnic contexts, seemingly capricious and cruelly lethal to young adults. Its public and private trajectories were obscured and fueled by the dislocations of global conflict. Spinney, a journalist, skillfully organizes vast source material, moving seamlessly between the global and the local. She examines the impotence of mainstream medicine (armed with an ineffective vaccine), the grace and courage of missionaries and humanitarians, the often blundering efforts of overwhelmed public officials, and the self-serving dictates of armies and imperialists. Speculation about an alternate post-epidemic 20th-century generational human history, a glimpse into the mysterious post-influenza encephalitis lethargica, and accounts of the nascent field of virology are of particular interest. The book closes with a note on the modern science of trans-species influenza and alarms for the future. A bibliography, in addition to the existing chapter notes, would have enhanced the book’s usefulness. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Undergraduates and general readers. —S. W. Moss, independent scholar

Van der Groen, Guido. On the trail of Ebola: my life as a virus hunter, tr. by Mark Swanepoel. Lannoo, 2016. 285p bibl ISBN 9789401436861 pbk, $24.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2017

Instead of chapters, Van der Groen, emeritus professor of virology and former head of the microbiology department of the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, presents a chronological account that is divided into segments of variable length by dates ranging from 1972 to 2015. This provides a pathway that documents the author’s first encounter with a virus in a laboratory environment, which then began a lifetime pursuit and thorough study of the Ebola virus. Written in a narrative style, the work details the author’s research and the research by others, which led to the discovery and characterization of the virus. The story is fascinating and is truly a “page-turner”—but the work should be read carefully, because of the scope of its detail. At times, the text is lightened by the author’s use of imagery (e.g., references to the Ebola virus as the author’s “mistress” or a “spaghetti” virus). The translation of the original Belgian text appears flawless. Biographer Christine Caals and science journalist Marc Geenen helped Van der Groen construct this work. The text includes a very extensive glossary and references to a companion website. Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates and above; faculty and professionals. —R. S. Kowalczyk, University of Michigan

Webster, Robert G. Flu hunter: unlocking the secrets of a virus. Otago University Press, 2018. 222p bibl index ISBN 9781988531311 pbk, $35.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE May 2019

Webster, a renowned virologist who devoted his career to studying influenza pandemics, has written a compelling and accessible account of the influenza virus. Flu Hunter guides the reader through the mechanisms of the virus and describes its unique genome reassortment, which allows it to evolve every season. The narrative takes us from the Great Barrier Reef to Canada, Delaware Bay, and China to demonstrate how scientists discovered influenza strains in birds and how strains can move from one species to another. Throughout the story, Webster emphasizes the international efforts of scientists who collaborated on important discoveries. Central to the story is the flu of 1918; Webster discusses how tissue samples were gathered from influenza victims buried in the permafrost and the valuable information obtained from them. Compelling as well is Webster’s commentary on the societal and historical ramifications of influenza—from its spread during WW I to the more recent H1N1 pandemic of 2009 and the H5N1 migration though poultry farms of China. Based on the outbreak of several influenza pandemics in history, Flu Hunter reveals that another pandemic could happen at any time. An excellent read for anyone interested in influenza history. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers. —M. C. Pavao, Worcester State University