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Publisher's Summary

"Chan and Ridley write with an urgency...that inspires gripping depictions of what viruses are, how infectious-disease laboratories work and wonderfully lucid descriptions of bats.... They powerfully recount how dangerous pathogens can both leak from a lab and emerge in nature." (New York Times Book Review) 

Understanding how COVID-19 started is crucial for the future of humankind. Viral is the most incisive and authoritative book about the search for the source of the virus.

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 kilometers 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 travelers to the city, no smoldering 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 tantalizingly close to a shaft that leads to the light.

©2021 Matt Ridley and Alina Chan (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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A pivotal work in search of truth around the Covid19 virus in a world where facts got downgraded in favour of politics

Soon two years into the Covid19-pandemic this is quite surely the most important book on the topic to date. Polarisation, lockdowns and political travesties notwithstanding, without coming to the root of the Origin of Covid we will remain badly equipped for the next big one.

This book is not only important to put together the puzzle around the real source of this disease that changed our lives, but it’s also extremely well-written. While a science book, it almost serves as a detective novel even, there’s plenty in it confirming that often reality is stranger than fiction.

I have followed the discourse - or rather the lack of it - since April 2020 when I for the first time started my quest to understand better how this pandemic could happen. What struck me fast was the dishonesty around it, the hush-hush, the orchestrated accusations against anyone questioning the favoured theory of the natural origin of the virus as tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. How could that be? (Well, the answer is politics, Trump and a political left that as a consequence of anti-Trump sentiments somehow unbelievably sided with totalitarian China on this matter.)

It has been baffling to me that the most logical question around - “what role has the most advanced virology laboratory in the world studying novel
Corona viruses, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), at the absolute epicentre of this pandemic, in the context of the cause of the event that killed millions, ruined the life of hundreds of millions and that turns our world upside down” - has been sidestepped by the mainstream media, politicians and scientists alike.

In this excellent book facts are the guiding principle, just as it should be in’s cornice. The expectation is not to give the definitive answers, rather laying out the hypothesis why this is so important and why we have failed until now to come to answer.

The writing is excellent and easily digestible, likely attributable to the vast experience of Matt Ridley’s and his craftsmanship. The science is accurate, intriguing, well-presented and well-argued, likely linked to Alina Chan’s brilliant mind. I have followed Alina since the summer of 2020 and her untiring efforts to bring this discussion forward, despite the enormous countercurrent forces facing her. Brave and brilliant is my conclusion.

There are two or three chapters heavy on science, which may be trickier for the untrained reader, but despite all the virus letters and numbers it’s still easily digestible.

Another aspect of this book is the tribute to Twitter and the force it plays in our society. It’s often only discussed in the polarising terms, but this book is the living proof for Twitter’s excellent ability to bring curious minds together to achieve big goals.

To conclude: please read this book, it’s well worth it. It won’t stop here though, this matter will continue, new developments will come. Having read this you can for sure see the big picture better and be prepared for future discussions. The truth in this matter is super-important, we can’t let politics and bad intentions from superpowers and representatives of dodgy scientific organisations (yes, looking at you EcoHealth Alliance) come in its way.

Ultimately, what matters is not who is right (a remote chance for a natural origin or a likely lab leak). What matters is that we get this right. For the sake of science and for humanity.

8 people found this helpful

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Makes covid history interesting

This book is exactly what it calls itself, "a search". I've never heard a more detailed explanation of the facts surrounding the pandemic. And the writers do an excellent job to keep the reader interested throughout piles of information.

4 people found this helpful

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Are you sure you want to know?

Extremely well documented and likewise unmistakably points at a cast of characters including the venerated Dr. Fauci. The deceitful Peter Daszak, Ralf Baric and Bat-woman herself Shi Zhengli. That they connect dots going back so long ago make us realize this research has a sordid track record. That the base virus sharing 98% with Covid-19 was discovered in a Yunan province cave in 2012 is also very important. That so many of the key players including the Chinese Communist Party have went to drastic lengths so obfuscate and destroy people and data that links it to this is remarkable. Americans of the two major political parties making this a partisan issue is works against us. Read the book if you want to know the greatest minds and sickening details of this pandemics origins you should read and or listen to this book.

3 people found this helpful

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Pulitzer worthy

Devastating and methodical dissection of the misinformation we have been spoon fed for last two years...they are true heroes to do such heavy lifting while so-called "journalists" have been comatose at the wheel.
To their credit they present alternative viewpoints including an entire chapter making the case for the zoonotic thesis.

Unfortunately the committee who give out book awards will not be politically predisposed to recognize merit from authors who made the establishment conventional wisdom "purveyors" look so faulty in their judgements.

PS a strong biology science background certainly would help to follow these technical descriptions.

2 people found this helpful

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If you are inquisitive

If you care about not repeating history...If you care about how we can learn to be better...you should read this book.

2 people found this helpful

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Febwuary

Narrator can’t pronounce February properly! Good book otherwise though. You’d have to be a brainwashed protoplasmic jelly to still think the origin of Covid wasn’t a lab leak…

2 people found this helpful

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Should be compulsory text for everyone on the planet

Such a brilliantly written and argued book. Must read for everyone affected by this pandemic - everyone on the planet. The truth is closer now- I hope this book encourages the last few people with the final few pieces of knowledge to come forwards.

2 people found this helpful

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Great deep dive without the hype

Great exploration of the COVID-19 pandemic. If focuses on the origin but along the way you receive valuable information about virus research in general. No hype here. Just a clear eyed look at the evidence.

2 people found this helpful

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Excessive irrelevant details. Last chapters great.

The content of this book is shocking, important, and carefully reasoned. They do not come down definitively on any conclusion, but they do offer evidence worth hearing that makes it sound an awful lot like a lab leak.

I just wish they had hired a journalist to help them write it. They often violate the "Maxim of Quantity," giving information that is not relevant to their point, which leaves you wondering what they're getting at. There are whole chapters here that could be reduced to a paragraph or two. They sometimes jump around in time and circle their point in a way that is confusing.

But it's worth reading for the good bits, and the last few chapters are well written. Here are the best chapters:
- Prologue.
- Chapter 1. The copper mine, in which they provide evidence that the closest wild match for a COVID-liked disease had been found in a mine and then transported to Wuhan to be studied.
- Chapter 12. Spillover, in which they give the best case for natural origins.
- Chapter 13. Accident, in which they give the best case for a lab leak.
- Chapter 13 and epilogue.

If you just read these, it'd be a perfectly good book, though you might need to check some other chapters for technical bits they refer to, such as chapter 9, "The furin cleavage site." Chapter 7 on lab leaks is also valuable.

1 person found this helpful

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Science and a dramatic story in one book!

My big takeaway about this virus - you could collect every one of them today, and it would fit in a soda can! The virus is a mystery, and the explanations are easy to understand. When it gets super sciency, I jump forward because the stories are so interesting, dating back to 1976.

I did not know the Russian flu resulted from a laboratory leak.

It's hard to imagine, with all the high-tech equipment, particular protocols, airtight rooms, special attire, that a scientist can still become infected with a virus they study. Fascinating how the Chinese scientists for decades have dealt with secrecy and shame at making a mistake, leading to the virus spreading.

If you're super sensitive to criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party, you probably won't like this book.

For me, I understand more clearly how just a handful of people changed the course of human history over just a few weeks and why censorship and coercion are the most significant challenges scientists face today.

1 person found this helpful