SecondIn the early days of the pandemic, the blunt tools of the past centuries saved the most lives. until proven safe, by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twillley (Picador), delves into the crudely effective and widely abused quarantine strategy that separates those who fear getting sick from those deemed healthy. The author traces the official quarantine back to Dubrovnik in the 14th century, where in response to the Black Death, tourists were required to stay in a nearby town or island for a month before entering the city. The strategy has caught on elsewhere, but despite the avoidance of disease, discrimination, inconvenience and tragic conditions hardly encourage compliance. In a colossal defeat, a plague-ridden ship avoided the Sicilian quarantine and left 16,000 dead on the island. Examples include the Apollo astronauts (quarantined in case they carried lunar bacteria) and the Covid pandemic, as well as efforts to prevent a “chocolate apocalypse” by protecting cocoa plants. The authors warn that with the rise of emerging diseases, quarantines are back and must be overhauled.
From the moment the coronavirus caught on in China, the race to create a vaccine began. It is extraordinary that the researchers designed, manufactured, tested and approved the jab in a record 12 months.exist drug addict (Hodder & Stoughton), two key members of the Oxford vaccine group, Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green, describe the hard work behind the feat. The science is clear, and the enormous pressure on the team will undoubtedly be exacerbated by media scrutiny. This isn’t the only Covid vaccine story: the story about how the mRNA injection came about is arguably more compelling. But Oxford set out to create a “world vaccine” and put profits aside to get there. In an episode with few heroes in history, no further research is necessary. Controversy over vaccine effectiveness, rare serious adverse events, and how it is distributed.
If the advent of the Covid vaccine marked a high point in modern medicine, the story of OxyContin, a powerful and highly addictive painkiller, marked an unforgivable low point.exist Painful Empire (Picador), New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe documents the Sackler dynasty, two branches of the family that have come together to support Purdue Pharma’s blockbuster drug. The pills have fueled a deadly wave of drug use amid the opioid epidemic, which has killed more than half a million people. The Sackler family, who took over Purdue, knew their drug was more effective than morphine, but took advantage of the fact that doctors didn’t think so. This book is filled with the wrongdoing, shameful conduct, and corruption that penetrated the American healthcare system. OxyContin’s profits fund the Sackler charity, helping to connect the surname to noble culture and scientific advancement. Hence the Sackler Library at Oxford University and the Sackler Institute at King’s College London. During a Sackler hearing, Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee said: “Watching you testify makes my blood boil. I’m not sure I know of a more wicked family in America than yours.”
When a scientist wakes up with a pounding heartbeat after a pig-faced Hitler enters their dream primer to understand the “use” of their discovery, it can be seen as a red flag. The nightmare hit in 2014 when Berkeley biochemist Professor Jennifer Doudna sparked a patent dispute over Crispr, the gene-editing technology she helped develop.exist password cracker (Simon & Schuster), Walter Isaacson tells Doudna’s story. Isaacson is a versatile biographer whose results are clear, insightful, and even entertaining. Doudna and her collaborators, especially Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, with whom she shared the 2020 Nobel Prize, believe Crispr will save lives by curing genetic diseases. But as Doudna thinks about her nightmare, she also realizes that there are almost countless ways it could be abused.
We deftly try to bend nature to our will, but doing so has a knack for uncannily counterproductive.exist Next white Sky (Baudley Hyde), Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction, offers a tour of such disasters. She started on the Chicago River, which was once so full of human feces and other delicacies that chickens were said to be able to cross the river without touching their feet. The river drains into Lake Michigan, the city’s source of drinking water, so engineers reversed the flow to send the waste to St. Louis. The move “upended about two-thirds of America’s hydrology,” Colbert found. Later, Asian carp were introduced to feast on weeds that blocked boat propellers, but the invasive species poses a threat to the ecosystem and must now be controlled by electrifying the river. The title of the book comes from proposals to fight global warming by spraying hundreds of thousands of tons of particles into the atmosphere. What could go wrong? On the one hand, if spraying stopped, the world would suffer from rapid heating known as a “termination shock.” Most disturbing is Colbert’s conclusion that, despite the risks, a technological fix may be our only hope.
One of the most interesting and provocative books of the year is Sleeping Beauty: And the Story of Other Mysterious Illnesses Dr. Suzanne O’Sullivan (Picador). In Sweden, hundreds of children from refugee families have been left in a coma for months or years at a time. In New York State, seizures are contagious among schoolchildren. Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan community reported shaking, twitching and disturbing hallucinations when a man in a hat came to take them away. Neuroscientist O’Sullivan delves into these cases and describes how “biopsychosocial” and “functional neurological” disorders may not show up on MRI scans, but be just as real or serious in their absence. She found that social narratives often play a crucial role in the spread and treatment of such diseases.
The effort to understand consciousness faces a daunting problem. Aptly titled “The Conundrum,” it asks why we should have a rich inner life – why is there a feeling of being you?It’s unclear if science has the answer, but in Be You: A New Science of Consciousness (Faber), Professor Anil Seth, Director of the Sackler Centre for the Science of Consciousness at the University of Sussex (see above) offers a method that can help us achieve most of our goals. By focusing on what he calls “the real problem,” modern science can unravel why patterns of brain activity produce certain experiences and not others. This is a wonderful and insightful book that explains how our perception of the world, including ourselves, becomes a “controlled hallucination”: the brain’s best guess at what’s on the outside, constructed from the inside out.
Quantum Gravity Professor Carlo Rovelli Reveals Another Mystery Helgoland (Allen Lane). The book, named after the 1925 North Sea rock, shocked a young Werner Heisenberg by computing that opened the door to the quantum realm. However, this is not Heisenberg’s story. Here’s Rovelli’s take on how physicists can get off track when thinking about the quantum world. For example, he dislikes many-worlds theory, where reality is split to fit all possible futures. Instead, he pushed for his “relational interpretation”, in which objects are defined by whatever they interact with. It’s reminiscent of a dizzying world. “We must give up what seems most natural to us,” he wrote, “the simple idea that the world is made of things.”