REVIEW: Deadliest Enemy by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker

In brief: There are many bugs out to cause harm. This book looks at those that have caused big problems for humans, from malaria to influenza.

The good: Very interesting and well explained.

The not-so-good: The scenario predicted…well, it came true.

Why I chose it: I like to be armed with information.

Year: 2017 (new preface 2020)

Pages: 341

Publisher: Hachette

Rating: 9 out of 10

Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was looking for non-fiction that would help me to further understand pandemics. I saw this book but thought that there would be no chance in finding it on the shelves and ordering would take months. So I was very pleasantly surprised to see this on the shelf of my local, with an updated preface on COVID-19. Of course, it’s not up to the minute data given that our knowledge on COVID-19 grows and changes every day but it’s comforting to read. Why? Because this team pretty much predicted a pandemic and the scenario they run through is very eerily similar to what the world is experiencing now.

So why didn’t people and governments prepare?

That’s the overall theme of Deadliest Enemy – preparation is the key. Having adequate stocks of equipment and treatments if available. While the predicted pandemic here was influenza, there is a lot we can learn from this book and our current situation. Pandemics of various diseases aren’t new, and will continue to occur. What we can do is prepare our response. In this very readable book, Osterholm describes his career in epidemiology and the common and uncommon infectious diseases that occur. It starts with the early signs of what was to be known as HIV/AIDS – a medical mystery that had many baffled. How best to fight the unknown? To discover more? Epidemiologists are medical detectives, looking for signs and trends anywhere (right down to tampon absorbency in cases of toxic shock syndrome). The book is easy to understand and read, with chapters devoted to various diseases. There are the common pathogens like influenza, the uncommon but well known (Zika, Ebola) and the scary (SARS, MERS). The book also discusses bioterrorism, antimicrobial resistance and vaccines. Complex terms and situations are explained well. My only annoyance is that there is no bibliography included in the book so I could look at some of the original articles. But I also recognise that most people are not nerds like me.

This is probably one of the best, most approachable books about public health as it demonstrates the link between those working in the field and the average person. Osterholm knows his stuff and his people (Dr Anthony Fauci gets several mentions) and is passionate in discussing it. It’s not scary nor fear-mongering but downright fascinating.

One thought on “REVIEW: Deadliest Enemy by Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker

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  1. I’m impressed that you read this during the pandemic. I turned to lighter reads. You probably made better choices than I did!

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