With exceptional empathy and care, Paul Farmer takes us through his experience with that health crisis and the difficult history that made those populations particularly vulnerable ... To really remedy what has happened to West Africa will not be cured by training more nurses or, as he does so well, telling the stories of Ebola survivors.
Instead of a disease thriller or a straight memoir, Farmer’s book is structured almost like an experimental novel, or a time-twisting prestige television drama. The chronology loops back on itself multiple times ... Farmer begins the final section of Fevers, Feuds, and Diamonds with a quote apparently uttered by Louis Pasteur on his deathbed: 'Le microbe n’est rien, le terrain est tout.' The microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything. If indeed Pasteur said the line, the reference to “the terrain” was an allusion to the 'terrain' of the human body, and to the immune system in particular. But Farmer invokes it to point to a broader landscape, more political than biological: the violent conflict and material inequalities that inevitably play a role in determining whether a virus destroys a human life, or leaves it relatively unscathed. 'This was not,' Farmer writes, 'a history of inevitable mortality that resulted from ancient evolutionary forces. … It was the contingent history of a population made vulnerable.' For that terrain — and the ravages of history that created it — Farmer has given us an invaluable map.
Anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, based at Harvard Medical School, turns [the common view] of Ebola on its head in his eye-opening, densely detailed, and riveting Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds: Ebola and the Ravages of History ... The truth, as Farmer makes crystal clear, often with an incandescent anger that shines through even his measured words, is much different. Yes, the disease — just like coronaviruses — is spread in part through caregiving. But the base fact is this: Ebola swept through these nations in a catastrophic way more because of a history of inequality than because of viral biology ... When it comes to Ebola in 2014, Fevers, Feuds and Diamonds is no armchair account ... Only Paul Farmer, I think, in his ability to write so knowledgeably and with such love and hope for all of humanity, could coax me to read 526 pages of text about a viral outbreak during a viral pandemic. (Confession: I only skimmed the nearly-100 extra pages of footnotes in the back.) Farmer is modest in print, but his story (conveyed also in his previous books) is compelling. He's worked tirelessly for decades in places like Haiti and Rwanda to aid crisis recovery and build strong public-health networks.From Farmer we learn that the world needs not only a COVID vaccine, but something much more: a rejection of global racial inequalities and an embrace of investing seriously in the care of all people.