How to Survive a Pandemic by Michael Greger MD


Reviewed by Ian Lipke

I expect a dry treatise. Instead, I find a warm, welcoming publication, chockfull of information that is free of esoteric jargon. This is a book written for the general reader. There is no hint of a patronising tone, yet the subject matter is deep. I understand virtually everything I read even though at least eighty percent of the contents was formerly unknown to me. This is the way this sort of book should be written.

Great care in presentation is reflected in the order of the chapters, the revelation within each chapter, and the layout of the book generally. Items, normally unnoticed, are given due attention. Font choice is one such item that is conributory but often not in a conscious plane of view. The book has a Contents page that I usually skim read. In this instance a read is informative. The Preface serves the purpose of credentialling. However, the Prologue is one of the outstanding sections of this book. In it the author asks what we’re all asking ourselves viz. where do infectious diseases come from? Some of the chapter headings discuss this very question when the author considers: the emergence of MERS, SARS, COVID-19, and China’s temporary ban on consuming wildlife.

This could could have been a heavy tome of scientific knowledge. At 580+ pages it is heavy already but only in the physical sense. The contents are often challenging to engage with but are always saved by a little humour. In the Prologue is a section called ‘Coronaviruses infect pigs right off the bat’. In fact, pigs invading bat habitats become infected very quickly from a coronavirus spillover because man has changed the balance of nature through deforestation and intensive pig production. To complete the Prologue is the intriguing headline and discussion that COVID-19 may not have been the first coronavirus pandemic.

The Introduction carries a grim reminder, “with thousands already dead, millions projected to perish, billions in lockdown, and trillions lost as markets tumble, COVID-19 is still only shaping up to be a Category 2 pandemic” (1). This section ends on a note of hope.

Greger calls the first of his major chapters Storm Gathering. Here he gives a scientifically judged (and therefore balanced) assessment of the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’ (5), and then diverts into an utterly fascinating information-giving essay that ends with the provocative title Viral Sex (29). There is so much new information that I cannot mention it all but HN51 (Hong Kong virus) is treated at length even under wry headings like Year of the Rooster, Playing Chicken, and Cooking the Crap Out of It. In a section beginning page 71, Greger writes of a world encased in coronaviruses (like HN51) and with limited treatment options, and asks the question, ‘who should be given preferential treatment.’

A large section (sorry! They’re all large!) follows in which emerging infectious diseases are discussed at length. It is generally admitted that with the destruction of small pox, we became complacent, unaware that we were under attack from emergent infectious diseases that stem from animals (78). Animal Viruses Attack, the name of this section, continues to page 214. All discussion is scholarly, with tension dissipated by such humour as a section headed Big Mac Attack, and another, focused on infectious diseases in the author’s own country, identified as Made in the USA.

Section Three means exactly what it says, Pandemic Preparedness. This is what the book is about. Preliminary chapters had the purpose of increasing the reader’s knowledge of disease. The new chapter tells its readers about the importance of preparedness, while the following section is geared exclusively towards Part IV: Surviving the COVID-19 Pandemic. Following sections deal with Surviving the Next Pandemic and Preventing Future Pandemics.

Each time I read the advice in Part IV I hear the words of Chief Health Officers, Premiers and Prime Ministers. Greger’s book has to be the source of the advice about sanitising, keeping social distance, staying at home, and so on.  Greger is highly qualified with a presence recognised world wide. He is the author of How Not to Die and is the founder of Inc.

Michael Greger has writtn a book that attracts adjectives as readily as pigs attract viruses from bats. The writing is dignified, accurate, strong, and funny – the words just keep coming. A scholarly book that’s non-confrontational. Highly recommended.

How to Survive a Pandemic


By Michael Greger

Pan Macmillan

ISBN: 978-1-5290-5491-0

$US34.99; 583 pp

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