June 17, 2012

Review - Rabid (Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy)

An engrossing and lively history of the fearsome and mythologized virus. In the tradition of The Emperor of All Maladies and The Great Influenza, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica Murphy chart the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies. In the absence of vaccination— as was true for thousands of years, until the late nineteenth century—the rabies virus caused brain infections with a nearly 100 percent fatality rate, both in animals and humans, and the suffering it inflicted became the stuff of legend.
The transmission of the virus—often from rabid dog to man—reawakened a primal fear of wild animals, and the illness’s violent symptoms spoke directly to mankind’s fear of the beast within. The cultural response was to create fictional embodiments of those anxieties—ravenous wolfmen, bloodsucking vampires, and armies of mindless zombies.
From the myth of Actaeon to Saint Hubert, from the laboratories of the heroic and pioneering Louis Pasteur to a journalistic investigation into the madness that has gripped modern Bali, Rabid is a fresh, fascinating, and often wildly entertaining look at one of the world’s most misunderstood viruses.

Many a virus has left its fatal mark on us throughout history, but none is as deeply steeped in legend as the most fatal of them all, the rabies virus. In Rabid Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy present an all-encompassing survey on the topic - from the early days to mythology, from literature to the latest in medicine. 
At first glance you might get the impression that the focus in the book is heavily on the medical aspect, yet the authors offer a multifaceted depiction, delving into various areas on which rabies has left an impact throughout history. Filled with lots of facts it is mostly the intriguing background knowledge which made this book such an enjoyable read for me. Needless to say, my favorite part was the one dealing with how the disease found its way into literature, where aspects, or rather symptoms and beliefs about it, helped form creatures such as vampires, werewolves and even zombies. 
Admittedly this has been the only book I ever read on this subject, so I'm not sure whether those who are familiar with it would find it lacking in some regard. However, to me, it proved to be just the right amount of information about the virus which is, after so many centuries, still at large. ... as are the creatures it has inspired in many a horror movie.
In short: Everything you ever wanted to know about rabies packed into an entertaining and absorbing read!

4/5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the NetGalley book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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