So for my European bingo spot, I’m going to review a science book about humanity’s tangles with viruses that eventually builds to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Virus. La guerra de los mil millones de años‘ (‘Virus. The war of a billion years’) is a bit of a curiosity for me: this book about viruses, diseases, and pandemics, which was written with a Spanish perspective in mind, was completed during the very first few months of the pandemic. The authors state in the introduction that the writing for the book was winding up in August 2020. I was living in Barcelona during this particular period in time—that’s a historical snapshot, right there!
Juan José Gómez Cadenas is a professor of physics in San Sebastián, Spain, while Juan Botas, formerly from Madrid, is currently a professor of Molecular and Human Genetics here in Houston. Apparently, they had not formally collaborated before sitting down to write this rather informative and entertaining book, but I’m rather glad they did. As I mentioned previously, I was living in Spain when the pandemic hit (I actually nabbed a copy of this book on my way out during the latter part of the outbreak), and I found it rather fascinating to read a book on this subject that wasn’t just written during the midst of the pandemic but also (lightly) centres itself on that country’s particular experience.
‘Virus’ is split up into three main sections. In the first, ‘El Enemigo,’ we learn about the nature of viruses, their weird, almost omnipresent nature, and the sort of almost liminal existence that they occupy between life and non-life. The writing here is more colloquial than I’ve been used to previously, and the authors make ample use of metaphors: a virus’s minimalistic nature is compared to that of a machine with no flash memory or CPU, and parallels are drawn between their ‘undead’ state and vampires. They are also flat out called ‘okupas’ for invading the spaces of others. But personally? If I was able to read Virus without rushing to look up words too often, I can only assume that everyone else will view the writing as being very accessible.
In the second section, ‘Diez Siglos de Contenta,’ we get into our many centuries war against viruses, with ample time spent on many of our greatest opponents, such as smallpox. We also spends time on humanity’s ever developing toolkit against these diseases, touching on subjects such as Koch’s postulates, Salk’s work on the development of vaccines, and Carlos Juan Finlay’s pioneering work on the spread of yellow fever. (An interesting life, this guy.) There was also some rather hairy writing about Ebola, which is one of the scarier viral diseases you can encounter.
The third part of the book is titled ‘El Virus de Moda’ and its here the authors dig into the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s here where we can obviously see this book as a snapshot in history: this section was very clearly written during a time when there were still so many unknowns. Vaccines are discussed, but none are mentioned by name (I think the company Moderna, for example, started pinging on my radar in early July, so not very long before the writing for this book was completed.) This section also brings back a lot of memories from the early pandemic concerning the evolution of the outbreak across different countries (Lol-sob at the comparisons between Europe and the US), and about the effectiveness of the varying restrictions that were put in place. I’m sure this will continue to fascinate me whenever I turn back to it, years from now even. (And while I’m not great at reading the tone in things written in languages other than English, even I noticed the hint of exasperation from the authors in some segments here… bloody Covid-Partys)
I, for one, really enjoyed reading the fruits of this collaboration, albeit very slowly. I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in either viruses or weird little historical snapshots from an almost unreal time in our recent history.
For my passport, this is clearly a book from a different country. So stamp there.
And for cbr15bingo, this is Europe, as stated above.
(And yes, dear God, I am so behind everything this year)