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Rabid: A Cultural History of the…

Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Bill Wasik, Monica Murphy

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2431747,405 (3.63)30
Title:Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus
Authors:Bill Wasik
Other authors:Monica Murphy
Info:Viking Adult (2012), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 240 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:non-fiction, science, history, own, audio

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Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
I don't know if rabies really is "the world's most diabolical virus" or not, but it's got to be a very strong contender. Certainly it's a disease I've always found horrifically fascinating, with its unusual means of making its way through the body, its essentially 100% fatality rate, its effect of modifying animal behavior to help itself spread, and its position high, high up on the list of awful ways to die.

I might have liked a little bit more science in this "cultural history" of rabies, but the chapters that do delve into the medical science of the disease are excellent, especially the one that explores, in detail, Louis Pasteur's development of the rabies vaccine. Other sections are much more focused on the cultural part, and sometimes drift a bit from the focus on rabies into such topics as other diseases that pass to humans from animals, humanity's mixed attitudes towards dogs, and the way that rabies may have inspired (and definitely resonates with) fiction and folklore about humans who become bestial, including werewolves, vampires, and zombies. It's mostly pretty interesting rambling, though, so overall I found it well worth the read. ( )
2 vote bragan | Aug 27, 2014 |
Interesting review of the role that a deadly disease has played in human history. The authors trace awareness of rabies from diagnoses and ineffective treatments of the Greek and Roman fathers of medicine through the groundbreaking work done by Louis Pasteur. Pasteur's vaccine treatment, unfortunately, was only effective if received prior to infection or at least prior to the onset of the symptoms that could arise weeks or even months after the infection occurred. They go on to discuss innovative treatments that have occasionally worked when administered after the symptoms appear.
Wasik and Murphy place rabies in the context of various zoonotic diseases. They also tie rabies into the werewolf and vampire myths that permeate so many cultures. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Jul 3, 2014 |
I didn't really know much about Pasteur's process in developing a vaccine for rabies so I found it fascinating. Other parts in the book were very interesting to read as well, but I think that the authors ultimately didn't have enough material for a full book so they delved into some weak areas (vampires and werewolves for example) to try to flesh-out the page count. I think that was a disservice to the other info they presented which was really worth the read. ( )
  Sean191 | Jul 2, 2014 |
Rabies is an oft-overlooked virus in the western world. Though it has haunted generations of people in movies such as Old Yellar and Cujo, it has become a mythical monster of a sort, something that frightens us in fiction but doesn't actually exist in the real world. This, of course, is a great misconception. Rabies still kills thousands of people every year, and even today it has nearly a 100 percent kill rate. Though a person can be vaccinated shortly after bitten by a rabid animal, even modern science can't save someone once symptoms have set in. To date only a scant few have managed to survive the virus, many of which have suffered debilitating neural damage. It's a pretty scary disease, and it's still commonly found in bats.

Rabid is well-written for the most part, but I have one major issue with it. The authors have a seriously bad habit of spoiling the stories of popular books in their writing. I am usually put off when an author does it once, but this is just ridiculous! I like the book, but the sheer number of spoilers might make me hesitate recommending it to others. It's like going out on a blind date, meeting someone you immediately find attractive, and then halfway through dinner service you embarrassingly discover they suffer from chronic flatulence. That's not to say I won't read more books by them in the future, but I hope they see a doctor about their flatulence soon.

Otherwise it's a fantastic book, really. ( )
2 vote Ape | Feb 17, 2014 |
This review relates to the audiobook version.

An extremely wide-ranging book that looks at rabies in medicine and popular culture, tracing literary depictions and medical descriptions since the ancients. Along the way, Bill Wasik examines vampire and werewolf stories, wondering if rabies could provide a source for these tales; the relationships between humans and dogs, which were most often the real or suspected source of rabies; zoonotic (i.e., human illnesses with origins in animals) diseases from bubonic plague to influenza to AIDS to hemorrhagic fever; Louis Pasteur's professional career and his role in developing a rabies vaccine; and efforts throughout time and place to combat rabies epidemics or prevent them. (I learned that Kentish opposition to the Chunnel was often pitched in terms of a fear that French foxes would come through the Chunnel and spread rabies!)

This is normally the kind of eclectic, broad-minded history that I love. However, I listened to this as an audiobook, which really was a struggle for me. I had previously done really well with a non-fiction audiobook (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief), so I'm not sure if it's just that this book's eclecticism made it more difficult to follow or if it was something else. The reader was rather monotone, but about halfway through the book, he started reading parts of the book in accents when they are passages from books or quotes from interviews. This included an extremely awkward and racist-feeling imitation of a southern black woman (when reading quotes from Their Eyes Were Watching God), an awful Scottish brogue when citing interviews with Scots about AIDS, an even more awful Irish accent, and I swear to god he started to try to imitate an Anglo-Indian woman before thinking better of it. ( )
2 vote fannyprice | Jan 6, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bill Wasikprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Murphy, Monicamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Heller, JohnnyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For our "creatures" - Emmett and Mia
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(Introduction) Ours is a domesticated age.
For more than a week, Achilles sulks while the Trojan War carries on without him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Haiku summary
Rabid bites meant death
Until heroic people
Made discoveries

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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.

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