Spillover by David Quammen

cover-david-quammen-spillover-bookBook – What do AIDS, malaria, the Spanish Flu, and Ebola all have in common? Aside from being some of the scariest diseases humanity has to face, they all originated in animals. In Spillover, David Quammen explores how diseases cross over from animals into humans, how researchers figure out where those diseases come from, and what that means for the future of human disease.

That sounds like a combination of boring and terrifying, but really, the book is neither – Quammen’s writing is incredibly clear and easy to follow. He doesn’t assume you know anything about biology, nevermind viral microbiology, and both his own explanations and his conversations with experts make the whole topic seem reasonable and comprehensible. I felt smarter after reading this book. And safer, too – as the conclusion describes, one of the biggest factors in how diseases spread is how infected hosts react to being sick, and as humans, with intelligence and forethought, we can do a lot from preventing the Next Big One from being as big as we fear.

This is a little outdated; published (to great acclaim) in 2012, the most recent epidemic it covers is SARS, missing the most recent Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus. (Although there is a lengthy chapter on Ebola, in which he clarifies that it does not actually liquefy its victims, Richard Preston notwithstanding.) But it’s thorough enough to show light on those situations anyway. Pick this one up now, before next flu season comes around.

Dancing Dogs: Stories by Jon Katz

dancing dogsBook – Ok, so it was the adorable dog on the cover that made me give this book of short stories about human-animal relationships a look. Katz effectively pulls on animal-lover’s heartstrings with these tales portraying the impact four-legged creatures make upon their care-takers lives. Yet, the most thought-provoking stories are from the perspective of the¬†animal. One story, which relates the day of a dog at home while his owner is away, reminds¬† me of what I have often been told when over-personifying my dog, that animals see things differently and that their behaviors should not be interpreted as human. Dancing Dogs: Stories also explores a multitude of ways strongly attached individuals interact with their animals and appreciate their unique needs and talents. For example, Katz currently resides on a farm, and a number of his stories chronicle the unique world of “working dogs” and the bonds that are formed as owners train and work with their dogs.