The Fever

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by Sonia Shah

In recent years, malaria has emerged as a cause célèbre for voguish philanthropists. Bill Gates, Bono, and Laura Bush are only a few of the personalities who have lent their names—and opened their pocketbooks—in hopes of curing the disease. Still, in a time when every emergent disease inspires waves of panic, why aren't we doing more to eradicate one of our oldest foes? And how does a parasitic disease that we've known how to prevent for more than a century still infect 500 million people every year, killing nearly 1 million of them?

In The Fever, the journalist Sonia Shah sets out to answer these questions, delivering a timely, inquisitive chronicle of the illness and its influence on human lives. Through the centuries, she finds, we've invested our hopes in a panoply of drugs and technologies, and invariably those hopes have been dashed. From the settling of the New World to the construction of the Panama Canal, through wars and the advances of the Industrial Revolution, Shah tracks malaria's jagged ascent and the tragedies in its wake, revealing a parasite every bit as persistent as the insects that carry it. With distinguished prose and original reporting from Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India, and elsewhere, The Fever captures the curiously fascinating, devastating history of this long-standing thorn in the side of humanity.

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One simple reason for malaria’s ferocity is that the protozoan creature that causes the disease is, by definition, a cheater at the game of life. It is a parasite, a creature that can eke out its livelihood only by depleting others of theirs. The rest of us all do our obscure little part in the drama of life, weaving ourselves deeper into local ecology and strengthening its fabric, the bees pollinating the flowers, predators culling the herds of their weakest members. Parasites don’t help anyone. They’re degenerates.

— Sonia Shah, The Fever