While winter has long been considered the cold and flu season, so far this spring, reading-wise anyway, has been the season of disease. After devouring Medical Mysteries, Invisible Enemies, The Viral Storm and Rabid, the next book on my disease-ridden hit parade is Infection: The Uninvited Universe by Gerald Callahan. Published in 2006, Callahan’s book is an introductory yet informative look at the hidden world of human infections. While his book didn’t blow me away, thanks to Callahan’s ability to discuss a broad array of complex subject matter clearly and with straight-forwardness so nonscientists like myself can understand it all, I found this to be a pretty descent book.
I can honestly say that yes, from reading Callahan’s book I did learn a few new things about infectious agents such as viruses, parasites, bacteria and the ever so mysterious prions. But perhaps more importantly I came away from Infection with a new-found understanding that humans are walking warehouses of infection. From our very cells to our digestive tract to the skin that covers us, we are home to countless infectious agents, many surprisingly benign. According to Callahan only a miniscule minority of these agents cause horrible diseases. But of course, these are the ones that grab our attention. Rest assured, as one would expect Callahan covers more than a few of them in Infection. (After reading his concluding chapter devoted to the perils of the influenza virus I know now why scientists and other health officials take the thing so seriously. It can mutate and spread around the globe quickly. It can also kill millions almost as quickly.)
Like I mentioned at the beginning, this is a very good introductory book. The writing is not bad, and much to my liking Callahan is not shy about throwing in a few pithy comments in order to drive home the importance of what he’s trying to say. I also thought his use of actual or in some cases created case studies helped put a human face on things when it came to tragic cases of infection. It is for these reasons why I have no problem recommending Infection to any reader seeking to learn about the world of infectious disease.