The story of the worldwide scientific quest to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Breathless is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a "forever virus", destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labour to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.
Based on interviews with nearly one hundred scientists, including leading virologists in China and around the world, Quammen explains that:
- Infectious disease experts saw this pandemic coming
- Some scientists, for more than two decades, warned that "the next big one" would be caused by a changeable new virus – very possibly a coronavirus – but such warnings were ignored for political or economic reasons
- The precise origins of this virus may not be known for years, but some clues are compelling, and some suppositions can be dismissed
Breathless takes you inside the frantic international effort to understand and control SARS-CoV-2 as if we were peering over the shoulders of the brilliant scientists who led the chase.
David Quammen's sixteen previous books include The Tangled Tree, The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Premio Letterario Merck, in Rome. He has written for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines, and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award.
Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion, and with two Russian wolfhounds, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python.
"A supernova in among science journalists"
– Oprah Daily
"Will likely prove to be a classic in the history of science [...] a masterpiece"
– Stanley Prusiner, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
"[A] tour de force [...] A luminous, passionate account of the defining crisis of our time – and the unprecedented international response to it."
– The New York Times Book Review
"As close to authoritative history – from the virus's origins to vaccines and variants – as we have, told through scientists involved, and the signature ease of Quammen's prose. It reads like a real-time thriller."
– Chicago Tribune
"An expert eye on COVID's past and present [and] a viral howdunnit that is pacy and unafraid to educate readers"