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Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19





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Book Description


A new virus descended on the human species in 2019 wreaking unprecedented havoc. Finding out where it came from and how it first jumped into people is an urgent priority, but early expectations that this would prove an easy question to answer have been dashed. Nearly two years into the pandemic, the crucial mystery of the origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not only unresolved but has deepened.


 In this uniquely insightful book, a scientist and a writer join forces to try to get to the bottom of how a virus whose closest relations live in bats in subtropical southern China somehow managed to begin spreading among people more than 1,500 kilometres away in the city of Wuhan. They grapple with the baffling fact that the virus left none of the expected traces that such outbreaks usually create: no infected market animals or wildlife, no chains of early cases in travellers to the city, no smouldering epidemic in a rural area, no rapid adaptation of the virus to its new host—human beings.


 To try to solve this pressing mystery, Viral delves deep into the events of 2019 leading up to 2021, the details of what went on in animal markets and virology laboratories, the records and data hidden from sight within archived Chinese theses and websites, and the clues that can be coaxed from the very text of the virus’s own genetic code.

 The result is a gripping detective story that takes the reader deeper and deeper into a metaphorical cave of mystery. One by one the authors explore promising tunnels only to show that they are blind alleys, until, miles beneath the surface, they find themselves tantalisingly close to a shaft that leads to the light.



Editorial Book Review:

By Michael Beas

In a world where the origins of a virus might hold the key to our shared future, "Viral: The Search for the Origin of Covid-19" shines as a beacon of urgency and clarity. Matt Ridley and Alina Chan worked together to unravel the puzzle of SARS-CoV-2's beginnings in a collaborative effort that combines scientific accuracy with literary grace.


With narrative skill that immediately grabs the reader's interest, Ridley and Chan manage the complex web of epidemiology, virology, and socio-political landscapes. They confront head-on the bewildering absence of traditional markers in the virus's emergence: no infection in wildlife, no clear chains of transmission, and no rapid adaptation to human hosts. The absence of crumbs only serves to heighten the mystery and highlights the importance of their investigation.


As the layers of trickery and misdirection are removed, "Viral" turns into an engrossing detective narrative. With meticulous attention to detail, they examine the events leading up to the epidemic, including the subtleties of animal markets and the inner workings of virology labs. They explore hidden areas of classified information and old Chinese theses in quest of solutions, even looking into the genetic code of the virus.


Together with a narrative of scientific inquiry, this laborious examination produces a profound meditation on the nature of uncertainty and human perseverance. By examining false beginnings and dead ends, Ridley and Chan highlight the value of cooperation and humility in the face of uncertainty and throw insight on the challenges associated with acquiring knowledge.


"Viral" is a testament to the power of interdisciplinary collaboration and people's enduring curiosity. In a world full of speculation and misleading information, Ridley and Chan offer a glimmer of reason and clarity, acting as a continual reminder of the importance of careful research in the pursuit of truth. This book is not merely a study of the origins of a virus; it is a call to arms for the future of humanity.


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