peteg's blog - noise - books - 2016 03 21 SoniaShah TheFever

Sonia Shah: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years.

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Kindle. I found this via a don't-read-it review of Shah's new Pandemic. (Reviewer Laurie Garret is a fellow science/health journalist and has similarly done the TED circuit.) Abigail Zuger's review tells you all you need to know; in summary it's good, and from here down I'm just picking nits.

Malaria apparently has a complex yet robust lifecycle that has resisted all sorts of efforts at eradication. This suggests it is worth looking at from a systems point-of-view. Shah canvasses only some of this in a single chapter, and even graphic-phobic me would have benefited from a diagram. I would also have liked to hear more about how the disease plays out in humans, for my main fear of it is the possibility of permanent brain damage.

Much of the latter parts of the book are straightforward rants against celebrity helicoptering (e.g. Bono doing a George W. Bush-style victory declaration) and cyclical funding for science (go tell the Australians). Her reasoning becomes unhinged at times; take this, for instance from the final chapter:

The entire economy, it is said, would have to break down in order for malaria to resettle in developed nations such as the United States. And yet mosquito-borne West Nile virus and Japanese encephalitis have spread unchecked. In 2002, California had a single case of West Nile virus; in 2003, there were three, according to the Centers for Disease Control. By 2004, there were 779 cases nationwide; in 2005, 873. In 2008, there were more than 1,300. The economy survives, despite it.

Malaria is probably not sexy right now.

This book somewhat reminded me of Pisani's, but does not exhibit the latter's hands-on insider knowledge. Shah notes the potential synergies between HIV and malaria.