Emily Monosson—Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic

Cover of the book Blight: Fungi and the Coming Pandemic showing the book’s title and a close-up photo of fungi.

Blight

BLIGHT:
FUNGI AND THE COMING PANDEMIC

Emily Monosson
W.W. Norton Press, July 18, 2023. $28.95
ISBN: 978-1324007012; ASIN: ‎B0BHPTXXLM

Monosson reports:

Blight is about fungal pandemics across species, from trees to frogs to crops.

My first real acquaintance with a fungus-like pathogen was a disease called late blight that spread up the U.S. East Coast in 2009, devouring tomato plants. The devastation was shocking. Late blight returned and returned and remains a problem today. The same organism contributed to the Irish Potato Famine.

A few years later, several scientists published an article in Nature titled “Emerging Fungal Threats to Animal, Plant and Ecosystem Health.” They were ringing a warning bell: fungal and fungus-like pathogens can be catastrophic, not just for crop plants but also for wildlife, forests and in some cases humans. I wrote a proposal on the topic but later decided to write a different, more hopeful book.

Portrait photo of Emily Monosson by John Rae NYC

Emily Monosson
Photo by John Rae NYC

Over the years the fungus problem not only didn’t go away, but worsened: dozens of frog species went extinct, millions of bats died, iconic pines were dying across the western mountains. Scientists still were ringing that bell. In the spring of 2019, I wrote a new proposal and found an agent, who sold the book to W.W. Norton.

I intended to travel and interview scientists in the field, but COVID arrived. Almost all interviews were over Zoom. I also relied on primary literature and other publications which, if not available through open access (and many were not), I acquired through the University of Massachusetts, where I hold an adjunct faculty position. I am grateful to the University for that: too many scientists and writers do not have easy access to primary literature.

One thing I swore I would do better this time around was to keep better track of information: interviews, citations, notes, out-takes. I used a spreadsheet and Mendeley but if there is a next time, I will (I hope) do even better. While I checked and rechecked facts and figures, I wish I had thought to hire a fact-checker.

Finally, the one chapter I thought was key ended up being distributed throughout the book. My advice to new authors: remain flexible, track your info, and consider hiring a fact-checker for peace of mind.

Contact info:


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Banner image adapted from original photo by Emily Monosson.

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Advance Copy

The path from idea to book may take myriad routes. The Advance Copy column, started in 2000 by NASW volunteer book editor Lynne Lamberg, features NASW authors telling the stories behind their books. Authors are asked to report how they got their idea, honed it into a proposal, found an agent and a publisher, funded and conducted their research, and organized their writing process. They also are asked to share what they wish they’d known when they started or would do differently next time, and what advice they can offer aspiring authors. Lamberg edits the authors’ answers to produce the Advance Copy reports.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit www.nasw.org/advance-copy-submission-guidelines for information on submitting your report.

Publication of NASW author reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of any publication or the ideas, values, or material contained within or espoused by authors or their books. We hope this column stimulates productive discussions on important topics now and in the future as both science and societies progress. We welcome your discussion in the comments section below.

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