In brief: An illustrated book about many infectious diseases and those who discovered them, and made ground-breaking changes.
The good: A succinct insight into some of the figures behind the big breakthroughs.
The not-so-good: Not terribly in depth…and a few typos.
Why I chose it: I like infectious diseases and I liked the way this book covered summarised topics.
Publisher: Welbeck Publishing
Setting: All over the world
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
If there is anything remotely good to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the number of medical non-fiction books that have been reprinted, amended and written. Contagion is a very easily accessible book that starts with the spectrum of infectious disease and how it occurs from microbe to cell via resistance and natural selection. It then counts down notable epidemics, pandemics and infectious diseases throughout the ages, right through to COVID-19. Notably, it also details pioneers in the field of infectious disease, from Pasteur to Nightingale right through to Warren and Marshall. As with many of these books, there is some information on COVID-19, but as the book was published in 2020, it’s old news. This definitely isn’t anyone’s fault, but it just goes to show how much progress we’ve made in learning about COVID-19 since then.
There are 33 chapters covered in Contagion, which does sound daunting but really isn’t. Each chapter is approximately four pages, supplemented with diagrams, graphs and pictures relating to the topic. The short chapters make this book very easy to pick up and read a couple of chapters. It’s also very easy to read a lot at once, or skip through to topics you wish to know more about. The book is aimed at the average person who isn’t a medical professional and successfully avoids jargon. It also clearly presents the disease, its distinguishing features and how it is treated. It’s all very interesting and links together gains in knowledge and techniques as the years creep by. I liked how the book chose to cover infectious diseases that aren’t really discussed in similar books, but where lifechanging research has been done. For example, the story of Barry Marshall and Robin Warren who discovered the bacterial cause of stomach ulcers, H.pylori, has a chapter devoted to their discovery. Even though I know this story well, I still learned some new points. The only part of the book that was a let down for me were several typos where sentences just didn’t make sense. In the Marshall and Warren chapter, Robin Warren changes name to Wright briefly which wasn’t great. I understand there was pressure to get this book out in a timely fashion but it was annoying! Despite that, Contagion is an interesting, easy to read book