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Where Are All the Bird Flu Books?

 

Some writers get lucky. John Barry spent seven years writing The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, about the 1918 pandemic. At times, he says, he got so frustrated with the project that he felt like quitting. It was published last year, and, soon after, the world started talking about a new flu pandemic. When President George Bush went on vacation in August he announced that Barry’s book was one of those he was taking to read. Sales are buoyant.

 

Publishers are quick to spot trends and to rush out books to meet them. So it would be normal to expect a flood of new bird flu books. Where are they?

 

My guess is that this is such a fast-moving story – new developments appear almost daily, as this blog and others attest – that publishers fear any book will quickly be out-of-date.

 

So far, the only book for the general public seems to be The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu by Mike Davis. It got a scathing review at Tech Central Station (under the headline, “One Flu from the Cuckoo’s Nest”).

 

Rather like the flu virus itself, the political views of Davis piggyback on the mass information taken from the press and scientific literature, rendering the whole dangerous. He's no scientist and his introduction to the basic mechanics of flu is clumsy and confused, with many undefined and unexplained technical terms thrown out without explanation or context….

 

The pharmaceutical industry in particular earns his sweeping condemnation, apart from a bizarre paean to the Cuban state's efforts in this area, which have not included any contribution to flu research, and which mostly involve pirating patented drugs made elsewhere….Going on a speculative tangent on the science of the flu, he proposes that increased urbanization may make the disease deadlier, contradicting the historical evidence that urban dwellers had more resistance to the 1918 pandemic flu reported by Barry's “The Great Influenza.”

 

Many of the gaps in the narrative and inaccuracies which are legion in the book might simply be due to the lag between its writing and publication; none of the sources is dated later than early in 2005, leaving out important developments since then.

 

Two specialised publications at Amazon are Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready?: Workshop Summary ­from the Board on Global Health - part of the National Academy of Sciences – and 21st Century Complete Medical Guide to Avian Influenza, Pandemic Risks, Bird Flu Outbreaks, which is a CD-ROM packed with government data.

 

But that’s about it. Want to learn what’s happening with bird flu? I suggest you'll need to stick to the internet.

   

Martin Roth

November 14th, 2005