The urgency of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has fixed humanity's gaze on the present crisis. But the story of this pandemic extends far further back than many realize. In this engrossing narrative, epidemiologist Dan Werb traces the rising threat of the coronavirus family and the attempts by a small group of scientists who worked for decades to stop a looming viral pandemic.
When virologist Ralph Baric began researching coronaviruses in the 1980s, the field was a scientific backwater – the few variants that infected humans caused little more than the common cold. But when a novel coronavirus sparked the 2003 SARS epidemic, and then the MERS epidemic a decade later, Baric and his allies realized that time was running out before a pandemic strain would make the inevitable jump from animals to human hosts.
In The Invisible Siege, Werb unpacks the dynamic history and microscopic complexity of an organism that has wreaked cycles of havoc upon the world for millennia. Elegantly tracing decades of scientific investigation, Werb reveals how Baric's team of scientists hatched an audacious plan not merely to battle COVID-19 but to end pandemics forever. Yet as they raced to find a cure, they ran into a complicated nexus of science, ethics, industry, and politics that threatened to derail their efforts just as COVID-19 loomed ever larger.
The Invisible Siege is an urgent and moving testament to the unprecedented scientific movement to stop COVID-19 – and a powerful look at the infuriating factors that threaten to derail discovery and leave the world vulnerable to the inevitable coronaviruses to come.
Dan Werb, PhD, is an award-winning writer and epidemiologist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, and elsewhere. He holds faculty appointments at the University of California San Diego and the University of Toronto.
– One of Publishers Weekly's top ten science books of the season
"A journey into the origins of COVID-19 and the discovery of vaccines and potential cures [...] I learned so much that I didn't know before – above all, I met the subtle warriors of the laboratory who are working to save all of us from the horror of new pandemics."
– Richard Preston, bestselling author of The Hot Zone and Crisis in the Red Zone
"A fascinating, sometimes terrifying, exploration of science and viruses [...] Through vivid storytelling, we see the deep roots of both scientific discovery and viral ecology, and how these are tangled with human ingenuity and folly."
– David George Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen and The Songs of Trees
"Through remarkable storytelling, Dan Werb illuminates the long history of the coronavirus family, how we were amply forewarned by the SARS and MERS epidemics, and how the science community has rallied to successfully take on SARS-CoV-2 and ultimately prevail over COVID."
– Eric Topol, director and founder of Scripps Research Translational Institute and author of Deep Medicine
"A page-turning and unsettling look at the history of coronaviruses [...] The light [Werb] sheds on scientists whose work has gone largely under the radar makes for a moving account. This is a unique and valuable addition to the expanding body of work on COVID-19."
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)