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Summary

From the masters of storytelling-meets-science and co-authors of QuackeryPatient Zero tells the long and fascinating history of disease outbreaks—how they start, how they spread, the science that lets us understand them, and how we race to destroy them before they destroy us.

Written in the authors’ lively and accessible style, chapters include gripping medical stories about a particular disease or virus—smallpox, Bubonic plague, polio, HIV—that combine “Patient Zero” narratives, or the human stories behind outbreaks, with historical examinations of missteps, milestones, scientific theories, and more.

Learn the tragic stories of Patient Zeros throughout history, such as Mabalo Lokela, who contracted Ebola while on vacation in 1976, and the Lewis Baby on London’s Broad Street, the first to catch cholera in an 1854 outbreak that led to a major medical breakthrough. Interspersed are origin stories of a different sort—how a rye fungus in 1951 turned a small village in France into a phantasmagoric scene reminiscent of Burning Man. Plus the uneasy history of human autopsy, how the HIV virus has been with us for at least a century, and more.

©2021 Lydia Kang, MD and Nate Pedersen (P)2022 Workman Publishing Company

Critic reviews

"[A] rich and thought-provoking book... It's also a profound reconsideration of our common understanding of our most famous stories of sickness and science." —Salon.com

“A thorough and morbidly funny study of some of the world’s deadliest diseases… Readers will be swept away by this energetic and enlightening survey.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review 

“A fascinating foray into the etiology of fevers, flus, and other foul febrilities.” —James Nestor, New York Times bestselling author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art 

What listeners say about Patient Zero

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The perfect mix of storytelling and science

An amazing book that includes both the science and the stories behind some of the most prolific diseases in human history

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  • Doug Clyde
  • 21-07-22

Can’t listen to the reader

I was excited to listen to this, but had to turn off- the reader sounds like a Google-generated robot. So flat, odd enunciation. Made listening annoying rather than pleasant

1 person found this helpful

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  • aaron
  • 23-01-22

Excellent Pop Science Book

For what it is, another popular science book on another very timely and VERY interesting subject, the book nails the mark. The narrator is excellent and the stories/histories of each of the relevant outbreaks is intriguing. Great book.

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  • Margaret Sells
  • 15-12-21

Great info

Great info inside a great story. Will give this audio book as a gift to my son who thinks he knows it all.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Greg
  • 02-08-22

Just ok

Scattered interesting tidbits throughout but somehow political beliefs get included to the detriment of the content. Also, the pronunciation of some of the medical terms is awful.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-07-22

Timely, informative, entertaining but not overwhelming

As my province enters it’s 7th wave of COVID and I currently know more people dealing with active infections than ever before, I _really_ appreciated that this was not a chronological description of disease outbreaks.

Lots of information on areas where I only had surface levels of knowledge. I enjoyed it a lot.

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  • Tana
  • 13-06-22

Timely and Historic

Should be required reading for all whiners of our current time. You might learn something.