Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Breathless is not a book about heroic health care or essential workers of the COVID-19 pandemic. It's not about the gravity of human suffering or political malevolence witnessed since 2020. It is about the emergence and science of the virus that led to the pandemic, however. Citing interviews with scores of scientists across the globe, Quammen tracks its history and how for decades scientists were warning of the potential of a highly malleable new virus. He also discusses the possible origins of the virus (and dismisses many theories as incorrect) and why many believe that COVID-19  will be with us for a very long time. -Holly

— From Fall Booknotes 2022


The story of the worldwide scientific quest to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Breathless is the story of SARS-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems, and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a “forever virus,” destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.

Based on interviews with nearly one hundred scientists, including leading virologists in China and around the world, Quammen explains that:
-Infectious disease experts saw this pandemic coming
-Some scientists, for more than two decades, warned that “the next big one” would be caused by a changeable new virus—very possibly a coronavirus—but such warnings were ignored for political or economic reasons
-The precise origins of this virus may not be known for years, but some clues are compelling, and some suppositions can be dismissed
-And much more.

Breathless takes you inside the frantic international effort to understand and control SARS-CoV-2 as if we were peering over the shoulders of the brilliant scientists who led the chase.

About the Author

David Quammen’s sixteen previous books include The Tangled Tree, The Song of the DodoThe Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Premio Letterario Merck, in Rome. He has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines, and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion, and with two Russian wolfhounds, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python. Visit him at 

Praise For…

"A supernova among science journalists and lauded author of The Song of the Dodo and Spillover now tackles the most sprawling news story on the planet, the Covid-19 pandemic. . . . Quammen’s narrative finesse is peerless as he meticulously dissects the waves of mass infections, Wuhan to Alpha to Delta to Omicron."

"A masterful scientific detective story. . . . Quammen delivers a demanding and essential book about COVID-19."
— Booklist (starred review)

"Science journalist Quammen recounts in page-turning detail the scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic. . . . A must-read for anyone looking to get a better handle on the pandemic so far."
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“An authoritative new history of Covid-19 and its predecessors. . . . [Quammen] constructs a masterful account of viral evolution culminating in Covid-19. . . . Unsettling global health news brilliantly delivered by an expert.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982164362
ISBN-10: 1982164360
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 4th, 2022
Pages: 416
Language: English