Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus

I stumbled upon Rabid last week and read the book yesterday. In addition to being a voracious reader, I also spend a lot of time listening to NPR. Since I had listened to everything interesting I could find I started looking into the archives and found this book review of Rabid. The book is written by a husband and wife team, the former a journalist and the later a veterinarian, who review the history and massive cultural impact of the virus. The book, like the duo writing it, combined cultural and scientific information into a seamless and smooth story.

Rabies is an interesting subject for sure and it ripe thousands of years of history. The authors argue that the concept is rabies is so terrifying because of that fact that it can affect both animals and humans. Few diseases can do this, short of worms and other internal parasites which have a far less dramatic effect. The couple argues that classic literally archetypes and monsters likely spawned from the virus. Claims that vampires, werewolves and even zombies may have come from rabies seems a little heavy handed but still certainly plausible.

The most interesting point I think they make is in the discussion of the connection between animal companion and the virus. Part of the impact of rabies is the fact that animals close to you can become infected in a way that makes them murderous. The dog has been with man for thousands of years and along with the dog has been rabies. It would be one thing if this was only a disease of the wild animal but the fact that it infects the domestic as well creates an entirely more dramatic image of the disease. That which was once your friend is now you enemy.

Overall, I love these types of books that give you an expansive, cross-cultural view of a particular thing across time. This isn’t an official book review but nonetheless, I would recommend Rabid to anyone who has interested the disease or who wants to learn more about how much of a historical impact the disease has had on the human psyche. Short read and well worth it.

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