Laurie Garrett, a journalist by trade, is a pro at writing non-fiction that feels like a thriller. The Coming Plague is a captivating read about public health.
This book is scary, in all the ways that would terrify a public health worker. Each chapter looks as a disease or collection of similar diseases, some new-ish, like Ebola, some old, like Tuberculosis. She situates the disease in time and space and examines the political will of the time, convention, morals, and the like. The public health response for each is dissected and praise is given where praise is due. And when praise is not due, oh boy, do things go wrong.
She wrote this book in 1995. It seems as she was looking into a crystal ball as her predictions for a world out of whack seem to have come true in the 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic. She barely dipped her toes into the waters of climate change–I am sure if this book was updated for the times, we may see even more pressure to slow climate change as health argument. After all, many of the diseases she writes about are diseases that have taken hold due to our changing climate.
The take-away…We should have great optimism about public health progress. We have vaccines and clean water, for example. We also need to be especially vigilant. The fact that the CDC, for example, is so woefully underfunded should be scaring the bejesus out of all of us. We are woefully underprepared for emerging and unpredictable plagues, outbreaks, and disease that is to come.
This one should be on your “books to read” list! As should another Laurie Garrett book: The Betrayal of Trust.