(4 stars) Crisis in the Red Zone: The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks to Come by Richard Preston
My best friend and I were obsessed with The Hot Zone in high school. I wrote a damn book report on it at one point. The combination of the horror of the disease and the power of the science fighting it struck a chord with us (more so with her maybe — she’s a scientist now!) and we continued reading books along this same vein. So when I saw that Preston had released another non-fiction book about Ebola — triggered by the outbreak which eventually came to Dallas, which is where I live — I knew I had to read it.
“Ebola virus moves from one person to the next by following the deepest and most personal ties of love, care, and duty that join people to one another and most clearly define us as human. The virus exploits the best parts of human nature as a means of travel from one person to the next. In this sense the virus is a true monster.”
It did not disappoint. Preston once again gives the reader a comprehensive scientific rundown of the disease, and then tells us of the stories of those affected by it. Frighteningly, in the decades since The Hot Zone was released, we don’t know that much more about Ebola. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — a possible cure was tested on some of the final victims of this last outbreak. I found this part most interesting of all — Preston talks about its development and how it works, but also goes into how hard it was to create and then distribute to those who needed it. This reminded me a lot of the book I read about macrophages earlier this year (Salt In My Soul and The Perfect Predator). Even if science has perfected a cure, it may not be accessible to those who need it.
(4 stars) Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
On a much less serious note, mortician Caitlin Doughty is back with another non-fiction tell-all about death. This reminded me a lot of Mary Roach’s Stiff (although not quite as well-written, but Roach sets a high bar). Most of the information Doughty shares is from her own personal experience though. So while with Roach we get to watch her discover gross stuff along with us, with Doughty we get more behind the scenes information (still gross).
“We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!”
Unlike it Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which is more of a memoir about working in the business, this book aims to really answer your questions. Doughty has a web series and apparently holds lectures, and has gathered here some commonly asked questions (some of them are pretty weird, but I guess so is death). A LOT of the questions have to do with what you can do with a body after death, and damn, there are a LOT of rules!
“I will argue with you all day long that it isn’t legal in any state in the United States to reduce a human head to a skull.”
The girl is nothing if not enthusiastic. And I love people who love talking about their jobs.