A medical science journalist takes a look at one of the biggest killers among human diseases. In a narrative spanning centuries, Krishnan shows how superstition and folk-remedies made way for scientific understanding of TB, such that it was controlled and cured in the West while remaining a major threat in less-developed nations.
We meet giants in the history of germs ... Some of the tangents along the way are amusing ... But the book is, above all, a polemic against those in power who continue to neglect this well-known killer ... I could have done without the long forays into the intricacies of patent law. Krishnan’s writing is most powerful toward the end, when she introduces us to patients in Mumbai whose struggles illustrate the failures of the Indian government ... I wished for a global picture of the disease early on—one that included places like Eastern Europe, where drug-resistant TB is rampant, for example. A more comprehensive picture of TB might have better justified its chronological history for the first third of the book. At its best, Krishnan’s writing is clear and compelling, and the book is a worthy read for anyone interested in public health and infectious diseases.
... as Ms. Krishnan vividly reminds us, TB is not a disease of the past ... the only history to be found consists of anecdotes from the 19th century. It is unfortunate that the deeper history of tuberculosis does not seem to interest Ms. Krishnan ... What makes Ms. Krishnan’s book worth the price of admission is the tableau she paints of the current plague. She writes with authority about the current state of TB globally, especially in her native India, which is the epicenter of the disease today. A 20-year veteran of medical journalism, Ms. Krishnan is a powerful storyteller, and her accounts of frustration, suffering, grief and resilience are moving ... Ms. Krishnan’s book is self-consciously a work of activism. She does not believe in intellectual property rights; pharmaceutical companies are a source of exploitation, not innovation. These parts of the book cannot be accused of nuance.
A penetrating social history ... a hard-hitting indictment of the greed, politics, and racism that have led to the prevalence of drug-resistant tuberculosis ... A timely, significant analysis of the dire consequences of public health failures.