FIVE STAR NON-FICTION: RABID by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

As a tailgater of genetic and epigentic advances in medicine, I was fascinated by this somewhat anecdotal and jumpy narrative that seeks to encompass human/dog history from the ancient Greeks to the modern Balinese. On its journey through space and time, it peeks down every possible alleyway–many of them endearingly gross–en route to our contemporary mastery, or near mastery, of the rabies virus.

Thus, the reader burrows into biographies, experimental procedures (anti-vivisectionists beware), genetics, literary plot summaries, professional squabbles, and a paragraph or two for just about every animal-to-human, or zoonotic, infection we’ll ever come across. 

There are perhaps four major foci:

First and crucially important to readers interested in the way our bodies collude with or collide with our environments:

An account of medical/research advances going from ancient times to Louis Pasteur–a pioneer in rabies research–and into the present day. Rabies can now be prevented by the vaccination of its vectors (primarily dogs; bats being rather harder to corral), while humans infected by a bite can be cured, if they are treated before hydrophobia sets in, with a specific RNA therapy. This magic bullet might well serve to eliminate similar viral infections that plague humanity.

Secondly, for the history buffs:

A comprehensive discussion of animal to human interaction and the dangerous infections arising from the twin developments of domestication and urbanization, infections that have, through the ages, led to epidemics of greater or lesser magnitude and engendered, besides death and horror, a great deal of appalling medical practice.

Thirdly and close to the heart of every dog lover:

By no means a straight line exposition, here is an episodic but nonetheless cogent history of mankind’s dual relationship with dogs, from bonding with companions in the hunt or hearth to the repudiation and scourging of dogs as unholy, disease-bearing  scavengers.

Fourthly, and especially interesting to practitioners and students of genre fiction of the horror or apocalyptic variety:

An explication of the rapid rise in modern European culture, at least, of the “rabid” monster, from vampire to werewolf to zombie, complete with discussion of seminal novels and films. 

The volume is complete with footnotes, endnotes, and an index–a fabulous addition to any library.