How Contagion Works

Bloomsbury. Apr. 2020. 72p. ebk. ISBN 9781635576856. $4.99. SCI
In February 2020, novelist and scientist Giordano (The Solitude of Prime Numbers) began recording his thoughts about the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy. This illuminating work begins with the author explaning his lifelong fascination with mathematics, and how essential math is to understanding and dealing with a pandemic. He focuses first on how a nonlinear spread can be so rapid, and why it’s essential to reduce interpersonal contact. He emphasizes patience as a challenging but essential skill while waiting for a vaccine, particularly because this virus is adept at finding new hosts. Of the conflicting advice and confusing statistics and forecasts rampant in the media coverage of the coronavirus crisis, Giordano says it’s owing to the science of the disease, which is well understood by scientists but not by the general public. Information from governments and experts, he says, is essential for combatting anger, distrust, and unfounded conspiracy theories. Finally, the author expands beyond the current pandemic to discuss other global catastrophes and how individuals and communities can learn to recognize early warnings and ultimately adapt and change.
VERDICT Concise explanations of the science and statistics are balanced with poignant reflections on human nature and the way forward in this important, timely work.

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