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January 1, 1982

The Virus That Ate Cannibals

JAMA. 1982;247(1):87. doi:10.1001/jama.1982.03320260065041

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The Virus That Ate Cannibals sounds like the title of a third-rate horror film, but don't let it put you off. This medical detective book about virus research, although entertaining, is meticulously researched, and the author does not talk down to her audience. Some of the book may even be hard going for those without a scientific background, particularly the discussion of retroviruses in the chapter on cancer-causing viruses.

There are six chapters, each narrating one campaign in the ongoing battle to understand the bit of biochemical matter called a virus. The first five chapters have two leading characters each: a disease, and a scientist who either helped to triumph over the disease or contributed to a better understanding of its causes. Included are Max Theiler and yellow fever, Albert Sabin and poliomyelitis, Christopher Andrews and the common cold, Carleton Gadjusek and kuru, and David Baltimore and cancer. The last