A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus

Book - 2012
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Charts the history, science, and cultural mythology of rabies, documenting how before its vaccine the disease caused fatal brain infections and sparked the creations of monsters, including werewolves, vampires and zombies.
Publisher: New York : Viking, 2012.
ISBN: 9780670023738
Branch Call Number: 614.563 WASIK
Characteristics: x, 275 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Additional Contributors: Murphy, Monica


From Library Staff

Rabies is surely one of the world's most frightening diseases. The authors argue that fear of this zoonotic virus is the foundation of our myths about zombies and vampires.

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Mar 12, 2019

Interesting facts

Aug 26, 2018

This was a Common Reading List for Washington State University or the University of Washington for all incoming freshman. Quite an interesting read. And the various rabbit trails that the writers take are also quite interesting (Werewolves, Vampires, Hydrophobia, etc.).


Oct 11, 2017

This is turning out to be one tough book to read. Getting to page fifty has been a slug. How will the next fifty be? We'll see.
No, we won't see. Dry, dry, dry. Still not interesting. There's a quote on the back cover: "thrilling, smart, and devilishly entertaining".
I beg to differ. Not in my opinion.
Dry as the Sahara.

Mar 26, 2017

I found the chapters on the origins of the rabies vaccine and the disease itself fascinating. Where it lost me a little bit was when it veered off onto the topics of vampires and zombies.

Vilka Sep 16, 2013

Had some good content on the nature of rabies and people's changing perceptions and reactions to it over the centuries, plus a detailed description of the process of developing a rabies vaccine. However, it went off on some fairly long tangents about vampires, werewolves and zombies--and then, for awhile, on Romantic-age authors--that ended up losing the connection between these legends and the rabies virus. Interesting stuff, but have to sift through the tangents.

Mar 28, 2013

An annoying hodgepodge of some good writing (start at the second para of pg 116 for the heroic career of Louis Pasteur) after a whack-load of badly organized science talk. We get a couple good stories again, but the promised topic, rabies through the ages and its effect on humans, is chopped up and tossed in amidst too many diversions. Don’t publishers hire editors anymore? Having said all that, one does learn the weird symptoms of 'hydrophobia', and no one - in a million years - could have made up such a bizarre disease.

Nov 15, 2012

Fascinating read. Really enjoyed learining about rabies. Had never thought about this virus in the ways Wasik portrayed. Recommend.

nftaussig Aug 14, 2012

Bill Wasik, a journalist, and Monica Murphy, a veterinarian with a background in public health trace the history of rabies and discuss how it has influenced our culture. They approach the history in chronological order, tracing its appearance in the historical record, discussing what was known about rabies and the attempts to treat the disease. They also consider how rabies may have influenced legends about vampires, werewolves, and zombies. The early chapters illustrate how little was known about the disease before Louis Pasteur proposed the germ theory of disease and why the disease inspired such fear. The authors give a detailed account of how Pasteur and his assistant, Emile Roux, devised a vaccine for rabies, one of the first accomplishments of evidence-based medicine. Since rabies is a zoonosis, that is, a disease transmitted to humans from animals, the authors briefly discuss the threat posed by other zoonoses - something that is done better in books such as Michael B. A. Oldstone's Viruses, Plagues, and History. More interesting is the authors' discussion of the rare cases in which humans have survived rabies, a disease long thought to have a 100% mortality rate in cases in which the disease has penetrated the brain. The authors conclude by examining recent outbreaks, considering the factors that make the disease difficult to eradicate.

Library_Dragon Aug 13, 2012

Very readable and quick overview of the cultural, historical, and biological aspects of a truly horrible disease.

Jul 28, 2012

An awesome book. Not at all stuffy, this book will engage you with a look at rabies throughout history.


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nftaussig Aug 13, 2012

nftaussig thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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nftaussig Aug 13, 2012

Bill Wasik, a journalist, and Monica Murphy, a veterinarian with a background in public health, trace the history of rabies from ancient Mesopotamia to modern times. They provide an overview of the symptoms of its disease; discuss where it appears in the historical record; demonstrate how poorly the disease was understood until the French scientist Louis Pasteur introduced the germ theory of disease; consider how rabies may have influenced legends about vampires, werewolves, and zombies; discuss how Pasteur and scientists in his laboratory, notably Emile Roux, figured out how to create a vaccination for rabies; consider the threat posed by other zoonoses (diseases, like rabies, that are transmitted to humans by animals); discuss the extremely rare cases in which humans have survived rabies - a disease long thought to have a 100% mortality rate once it reaches the brain; examine a recent outbreak in Bali, focusing on what made it difficult to control; examine what a recent outbreak among racoons in New York and its presence in bats tells us about the difficulty of eradicating the disease.


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