FarmED Books: Spillover, David Quammen

FarmED co-founder, Celene Wilkinson, has a background in veterinary medicine so found this prescient book (first published in 2013) that predicted the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, particularly fascinating.

Our first book recommendation of 2021. This excellent book reads like a thrilling detective story, telling the stories of incredibly brave scientists around the world as they try to track and trace the origins and sources of zoonotic diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries.


Coronaviruses get their first mention on page 185 in relation to an outbreak of disease in China in 2002/3, SARS-CoV, the first coronavirus to inflict serious illness and death to humans. By no means the only virus covered in this book, by David Quammen, goes to extraordinary lengths in his research, travelling around the world to interview scientists and local inhabitants of areas that have suffered zoonotic disease outbreaks, even shadowing scientists into the deep, dark recesses of caves filled with roosting bats as they trap and test bat populations. These scientists literally run into the face of danger when clusters of unusual illnesses occur around the globe, the work they do is astonishing.


If it were a work of fiction, the stories contained in this book would be extraordinary, fast paced and dramatic. The sad fact is, zoonotic diseases cause horrendous suffering and death to some of the poorest people on the planet, as well as in today’s climate, the affluent western world. Sad too is the suffering of the animals involved including those suspected of spreading an illness and oftentimes brutally slaughtered in their millions, at times mistakenly. Perhaps the saddest fact of all is that mankind is responsible for setting free these deadly diseases.


The book talks about the destruction of ecosystems that force wild animals into contact with both humans and domesticated animals, the abuse of wild animals world wide be it for meat, fur, potions, trinkets. Also, the millions of industrially reared, densely packed cattle, pigs and poultry amongst others, have created a perfect storm for bacteria and viruses to survive, thrive, transmit and mutate. Reading this book will leave you with a greater understanding of the workings of bacteria, viruses and the process of spillover, written as it is in an engaging, easy readable format.


Published by Vintage, it’s available from all good bookshops.

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