How viruses emerge to cause pandemics, how our immune system combats them, and how diagnostic tests, vaccines, and antiviral therapies work.
Throughout history, humans have contended with pandemics. History is replete with references to plagues, pestilence, and contagion, but the devastation wrought by pandemics had been largely forgotten by the twenty-first century. Now, the enormous human and economic toll of the rapidly spreading COVID-19 disease offers a vivid reminder that infectious disease pandemics are one of the greatest existential threats to humanity. This book provides an accessible explanation of how viruses emerge to cause pandemics, how our immune system combats them, and how diagnostic tests, vaccines, and antiviral therapies work – concepts that provide the foundation for our public health policies.
The authors, both experts in immunology, interweave explanations of scientific principles and ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19 with stories of the people behind the science. They recount the eradication of smallpox – the greatest accomplishment of vaccines and public health; discuss microbial pathogens; and describe what we know about modern pandemics, including how they spread, how they can be contained, and how they can be treated. They do not offer prescriptions for what to do, but equip readers to be informed participants in debates about how to create a more pandemic-resilient world. We do not have to repeat the mistakes made with COVID-19.
Arup K. Chakraborty is Robert T. Haslam Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Physics and Chemistry at MIT, where he also served as the Founding Director of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. He is a founding member of the Ragon Institute.
Andrey S. Shaw, an immunologist, is Staff Scientist in Immunology and Oncology at Genentech and holds adjunct professorships at Washington University in St. Louis and at the University of California, San Francisco.
"This remarkable book will take the reader on a fascinating journey – how scientists have developed a deep understanding of our immune system, how this system fights viruses, and how vaccines and antiviral therapies work. This human story addresses the many questions that people worldwide are grappling with during the current global pandemic."
– Arun Majumdar, Stanford University and Founding Director of ARPA-E
"Chakraborty and Shaw's book will satisfy the public thirst for an authoritative account of how destructive pandemics survive despite enormous growth in scientific understanding. Their sobering view of the challenges that remain – to understand antibody action and develop effective vaccines – deserves close attention."
– John Deutch, Former Provost and Institute Professor Emeritus, MIT
"The authors provide a readily accessible introduction to viruses, a class of tiny human pathogens with surprising potential to cause transmissible, sometimes fatal, disease. They speak from a deep understanding of the viruses and the body's response to viral infections. A great book for people who want to understand why viruses are such a challenge to human life."
– David Baltimore, Professor, California Institute of Technology, 1975 Nobel Prize in Medicine for work in virology
"This is a wonderful book that beautifully explains, in a very easy-to-read and understandable way, the history of pandemics and how the diseases that cause them may be conquered."
– Robert Langer, Institute Professor, MIT, and recipient of the US National Medal of Science and the US National Medal of Technology and Innovation