One of the factors that make this book so readable is that Kucharski frequently draws some interesting history into his discussions of a particular subject ... While this review has tended to focus on epidemics the book covers a far wider field. The chapter headed ‘Panics and pandemics’ includes some fascinating, and indeed frightening, analysis of aspects of the global financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. The chapter headed ‘Going viral’ has much to say about communication on the internet ... The definition of an epidemiologist is a person who is an expert in the branch of medicine which deals with the incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases. In sharing his views and experience with the reader in an easily digestible manner, Kucharski makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the current pandemic and, not least, what options there are to deal with it.
... it is hard to imagine a more timely publication. And it is a useful, eye-opening read on that front, although it was written before the coronavirus was heard of ... It will also help you to understand the idea of “super-spreaders” and their role in keeping even quite low-R infections moving ... Even had it not been so “lucky” with its timing, it would be a worthwhile book; much of the modern world will make more sense having read it.
Kucharski is ideally placed to enlighten readers: as a biostatistician, he has been involved in modelling disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and the 2015 Zika epidemic ... It is testament to how well Kucharski understands his topic that he chose not to attempt a panicked update ... It is particularly pleasing that Kucharski decided not to gamble on guessing the coronavirus picture correctly: his previous book, about the mathematics of wagers, was entitled The Perfect Bet. This follow-up work stands on its own as an impressively fluent, fascinating and accessible introduction to how epidemics, trends, behaviours and ideas start, spread – and end ... Kucharski has made an extremely respectable stab at something broader, producing a work of contemporary relevance that Malcolm Gladwell devotees would enjoy: a blend of biology, mathematics, history, behavioural science and anecdote that reveals how diseases, ideas and behaviours are transmitted. His nicely observed analysis deserves to catch on.
In this smart and engaging tour of epidemiology, written before the pandemic, Kucharski makes a convincing case that just as the arc of an epidemic depends on the transmissibility of a virus and a population’s susceptibility to infection, so online contagions obey similar rules.
In the mode of pop tech writers like Michael Lewis, Steven Johnson, and Malcolm Gladwell, Kucharski combines science and history with a bit of immersive journalism to enliven what might otherwise be a dreary subject. Like those bestselling authors, Kucharski weaves in interesting asidesand builds his narrative around a complicated hero that such books require ... will interest those seeking insight into COVID-19, of course, but it’s impossible to read the book without reflecting on the Black Lives Matter protests that have flared up since the killing of George Floyd in late May. Viral cellphone videos of police brutality and murder incite people to take to the streets, but also—as my experience shows—invite the opportunity to productively talk about America’s history of systematic racism among family and friends with whom, for any number of reasons (discomfort, ignorance, racism itself), the subject never came up.
Epidemic is a Greek word meaning 'on the people', and until Hippocrates requisitioned it to refer exclusively to the spread of a disease, the Greeks applied it to anything that percolated through a population – from fog to rumour to civil war. What’s striking about Kucharski’s tale is how we’ve circled back to that pre-Hippocratic outlook ... One of the most interesting and topical parts of the book is about the mathematical modelling of fake news ... There may still be a lot of uncertainty around Covid-19, but one thing is clear: for Kucharski and his fellow modellers, it will be one more learning experience.
This is a hell of a moment for a book like this to come out, and some might assume it’s a lightning-fast cash-in on a global tragedy. They would be wrong. Coronavirus hadn’t even appeared when Kucharski delivered the manuscript, so the disease isn’t directly addressed here. But the principles of contagion, which, he argues, can be applied to everything from folk stories and financial crises to itching and loneliness, are suddenly of pressing interest to all of us ... Kucharski’s maths is illuminating ... And Kucharski is capable of looking beyond the numbers, to the culture and politics of outbreaks ... Much of the book focuses on non-medical contagion, and the results are patchy. Kucharski is convincing on the effectiveness of treating gang-related violence as a public-health issue. When he turns to contagion in financial systems and social media, though, he’s on well-worn ground that has been covered with more skill and depth elsewhere ... So, will this book help you stay coronavirus-free? Maybe not in the way you might think. Every outbreak is different, so there’s only so much we can learn from previous contagions. The only sure way to dodge the bug is to reduce your personal interactions to zero. Stay home alone reading this for long enough, and you’ll be fine.
... with perfect timing, a good guide has arrived to pull together scientific knowledge about the way things spread and how to block (or encourage) their transmission ... [Kucharski's] book prepares the ground comprehensively for readers to make sense of what is happening today, by distilling the wisdom gathered by studying previous epidemics over more than a century.