The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses

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9780198503323: The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses

In 1969 the US Surgeon General confidently declared, "We can now close the book on infectious diseases." The advent of AIDS has proven him spectacularly wrong, and in recent years the world has witnessed infectious outbreaks of other highly lethal viruses such as Hanta, Ebola, and Lassa fever. Flu strains are getting stronger and stronger each year. But what, exactly, is a virus? How does it work? And what is the best way to fight it?
In Invisible Enemy, Dorothy Crawford offers clear answers to these and many other questions. She shows precisely how viruses, with their amazing ability to mutate, have caused devastating diseases in the past, and continue to pose one of the greatest challenges to science. A virus is disarmingly small and simple--a minute piece of genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. And yet it can cause major chaos. Smallpox killed over 300 million people in the twentieth century before it was eradicated in 1980; at that time, measles still killed two and half million children a year; and the HIV virus is now the leading cause of death in Africa. Crawford lucidly explains all aspects of these deadly parasites and discusses controversial subjects such as CFS and Gulf War Syndrome. She goes on to consider how we've coped with viruses in the past, where new viruses come from, and whether a new virus could wipe out the human race.
For anyone seeking a deeper understanding of these remarkably efficient killers, Invisible Enemy provides a compelling account of their history, their effects on us, and their possible future.

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Review :

Though the Berlin Wall has fallen, we find ourselves still struggling with an even older enemy in the eternal Common Cold War. Virologist Dorothy H. Crawford has studied the link between Epstein-Barr virus and human cancer for years, and she casts a wary eye through the electron microscope to check up on them and report on our strange and occasionally deadly symbiosis in The Invisible Enemy.

This slim book, scholarly but accessible, examines these barely living (or unliving, depending on whom you ask) gene packages with a strong emphasis on their disease-causing antics and the intellectual heroics of the various campaigns of eradication and control humans have waged for centuries. Though biological relativists might cringe occasionally at Crawford's dogged humanocentrism, few of them would really pine for the days of smallpox or embrace the raging HIV pandemic if pressed. Crawford looks at the wake of devastation left by these two viruses as well as her own favorite subject, which is strongly implicated in the formation of many cancers. Going a bit farther afield, she explains the weird behavior of the nongenetic reproduction of prions that cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy; though these scary proteins aren't viruses by any definition, their behavior is similar enough to warrant inclusion. The Invisible Enemy, calmer than its title would suggest, provokes a sense of optimism in the reader. Though the war might last forever, we can hope for fewer and fewer casualties as the years go by. --Rob Lightner

About the Author :


Dorothy Crawford is Professor of Medical Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh.

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Crawford, Dorothy
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