Book: Virus Hunters by Greer Williams
Description: Williams describes the work of hunting for viruses and their cures throughout history, as well as the people who were a part of that work. (My own description)
My Thoughts: I bought Virus Hunters at a library book sale, and am very happy with my choice. It was a really fun and fascinating read!
Virus Hunters is about both the science of learning more about viruses and the people who do that science. It is written for anyone, whether they have a science background or not, but Williams does not avoid the scientific details. He does not go into step-by-step instructions for how to do each relevant experiment, for instance, but he does explain the general science of it. As someone who loves learning about science, I appreciated his explanations, which I found to be helpful and easy to understand.
However, this book is much more a book about the people who hunt for viruses. This is especially true of the first few sections, where Williams goes into great detail about Dr. Edward Jenner, who created the first vaccine (for smallpox), and Louis Pasteur, who created a vaccine for rabies. He then goes into less detail about other virus pioneers, and almost none by the end of the book as he described current developments. These details about the people involved--their life stories, their personalities, their motivations--were by far the most fascinating aspects of Virus Hunters.
Williams has faith in the scientific method (perhaps too much), although he does not overly idolize most of the figures he mentions. He talks about their faults as well as their good work and traits.
The other interesting aspect of Virus Hunters was simply the fact that it was written over fifty years ago. It was fascinating to read about science as it was done then, as well as what Williams saw as important. Polio, for instance, was a huge topic that is hardly discussed no, as there is a working vaccine and polio has been eliminated from developed countries; HIV/AIDS were not discussed at all, because of course it wasn't discovered for another twenty years at least. The idea of vaccines against colds and cancer (which Willliams argued may be caused by viruses) made me laugh, simply because more than fifty years later, we are no closer to finding cure-alls for either colds or cancer (although, of course, some cancers can be cured now. Some are even caused by viruses, and vaccines exist--for instance human papillomavirus causing cervical cancer).
Virus Hunters was a fun, interesting read--Williams was an engaging writer and the subject matter was fascinating.