I debated whether or not to review this one, since it’s non-fiction instead of a narrative. Ultimately, I decided that it deserved a write-up because it’s an interesting and well-written book, which is really more than I can say for a lot of the other stuff I’ve reviewed up to now. So hey, why not. Let’s take a bite out of Rabid by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy.
An engrossing, lively history of a fearsome and misunderstood virus that binds man and dog. The most fatal virus known to science, rabies — a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans — kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart four thousand years of the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. 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 and often wildly entertaining look at one of humankind’s oldest and most fearsome foes.
…Except not really. “Spoilers” don’t really apply to a work of non-fiction. But I’ve kind of established a format for these reviews, and I don’t want to break precedent.
Rabid is informative, always a plus in non-fiction meant to educate and inform, but it’s also very well-written and entertaining. The importance of this cannot be overstated: I’ve picked up books about theoretically very interesting topics, only to put them back down in a hurry because they were boring as a tax return form or, worse, saturated with an overbearing aura of smugness; the author pausing every few pages to tell you how very clever he is and what grand new insights he has to offer. My efforts to read The Structure of Evolutionary Theory by Stephen Jay Gould hit a will when he devoted an entire chapter to explaining his metaphor of evolutionary theory as a three-pronged piece of coral and how oh so much better and more appropriate it is than any other visualization; and as for Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, I may have to give that an entire review of its own.
Rabid wisely keeps the focus on rabies itself, and the cultural impact the disease has had on humanity over the thousands of years that it has afflicted humanity. Rabies is particularly interesting in this regard because it was known even in the ancient world; unlike more modern afflictions, it has had time to become deeply ingrained in legend, culture, and even language (ever heard the phrase “hair of the dog that bit you”?) It’s a fascinating topic with plenty of material for discussion. The book does sometimes wander a bit far from its central topic at times, going on long tangents about mythical dogs, swine flu, and monster movies, but it always manages to find its way back to present more interesting facts.
It doesn’t have the cohesive narrative or dramatic sensationalism of Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, but it is nonetheless a very interesting and informative book on the topic. For those interested in learning more about the subject of rabies, I certainly recommend it.
Final Rating: 4/5