Carl Zimmer: A Planet of Viruses

A Planet of Viruses cover

Cover: A Planet of Viruses
by Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer
University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition/October 6, 2015/$13
ISBN-13: 978-0226294209

Zimmer reports:

In 2011, I published the first edition of A Planet of Viruses. My goal for the book was to get readers — especially young readers in high school and college — excited about the remarkable discoveries scientists have been making about viruses in recent years. Thanks to advances in genetics and molecular biology, researchers can trace the path that viruses take through our bodies, wreaking havoc along the way. They can reconstruct the evolutionary leaps that viruses took from other species to our own.

Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer

I also wanted to convey the emerging vision of viruses not as medical threats so much as environmental powerhouses — regulating ocean food webs, for example. One challenge of the book was figuring out ways to convey the sheer vastness of the “virosphere,” which contains an estimated 10 to the 31 power viruses. They weigh as much as 75 million blue whales, if that helps!

Last year, my University of Chicago Press editor Christie Henry asked if I would consider updating A Planet of Viruses. In the original edition, I had discussed Ebola, but only briefly. Now Henry expected that readers would come to the book hoping for more information about that virus in particular.

It’s not often that authors get a chance to update books. For science books, it’s a particularly valuable opportunity, because the pace of science can quickly render a book out of date. Fortunately, viruses are a topic that I report on regularly, and so I could start working on a second edition by drawing on my own recent articles about viruses for publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Quanta, and my blog, The Loom.

I supplemented that with more research to find important new developments in our understanding of the viruses I highlighted in the first edition of the book. I also consulted with virologists to find out what they thought were the most important advances is virology in the past four years. The new edition ended up with an in-depth account of the West Africa Ebola outbreak, along with accounts of the emergence of MERS and updates on viruses including influenzas, smallpox, and HIV.

I hope that A Planet of Viruses now will serve as an even better guide to the invisible creatures that surround us and infiltrate us.

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