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About Sonia Shah
Her prize-winning 2006 drug industry exposé, The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World's Poorest Patients (New Press), has been hailed by Publishers Weekly as "a tautly argued study...a trenchant exposé...meticulously researched and packed with documentary evidence," and as "important [and] powerful" by The New England Journal of Medicine. The book, which international bestselling novelist and The Constant Gardener author John Le Carré called "an act of courage," has enjoyed wide international distribution, including French, Japanese, and Italian editions. The Library Journal named it one of the best consumer health books of 2006.
Shah was born in 1969 in New York City to Indian immigrants. Growing up, she shuttled between the northeastern United States where her parents practiced medicine and Mumbai and Bangalore, India, where her extended working-class family lived, developing a life-long interest in inequality between and within societies. She holds a BA in journalism, philosophy, and neuroscience from Oberlin College, and lives with molecular ecologist Mark Bulmer and their two sons Zakir and Kush.
Photo by Joyce Ravid.
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The news today is full of stories of dislocated people on the move. Wild species, too, are escaping warming seas and desiccated lands, creeping, swimming, and flying in a mass exodus from their past habitats. News media presents this scrambling of the planet's migration patterns as unprecedented, provoking fears of the spread of disease and conflict and waves of anxiety across the Western world. On both sides of the Atlantic, experts issue alarmed predictions of millions of invading aliens, unstoppable as an advancing tsunami, and countries respond by electing anti-immigration leaders who slam closed borders that were historically porous.
But the science and history of migration in animals, plants, and humans tell a different story. Far from being a disruptive behavior to be quelled at any cost, migration is an ancient and lifesaving response to environmental change, a biological imperative as necessary as breathing. Climate changes triggered the first human migrations out of Africa. Falling sea levels allowed our passage across the Bering Sea. Unhampered by barbed wire, migration allowed our ancestors to people the planet, catapulting us into the highest reaches of the Himalayan mountains and the most remote islands of the Pacific, creating and disseminating the biological, cultural, and social diversity that ecosystems and societies depend upon. In other words, migration is not the crisis--it is the solution.
Conclusively tracking the history of misinformation from the 18th century through today's anti-immigration policies, The Next Great Migration makes the case for a future in which migration is not a source of fear, but of hope.
Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize | A New York Times Editor's Choice
“[A] grounded, bracingly intelligent study” —Nature
Prizewinning science journalist Sonia Shah presents a startling examination of the pandemics that have ravaged humanity—and shows us how history can prepare us to confront the most serious acute global health emergency of our time.
Over the past fifty years, more than three hundred infectious diseases have either emerged or reemerged, appearing in places where they’ve never before been seen. Years before the sudden arrival of COVID-19, ninety percent of epidemiologists predicted that one of them would cause a deadly pandemic sometime in the next two generations. It might be Ebola, avian flu, a drug-resistant superbug, or something completely new, like the novel virus the world is confronting today. While it was impossible to predict the emergence of SARS-CoV-2—and it remains impossible to predict which pathogen will cause the next global outbreak—by unraveling the stories of pandemics past we can begin to better understand our own future, and to prepare for what it holds in store.
In Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, Sonia Shah interweaves history, original reportage, and personal narrative to explore the origins of epidemics, drawing parallels between cholera—one of history’s most deadly and disruptive pandemic-causing pathogens—and the new diseases that stalk humankind today. She tracks each stage of cholera’s dramatic journey, from its emergence in the South Asian hinterlands as a harmless microbe to its rapid dispersal across the nineteenth-century world, all the way to its latest beachhead in Haiti. Along the way she reports on the pathogens now following in cholera’s footsteps, from the MRSA bacterium that besieges her own family to the never-before-seen killers coming out of China’s wet markets, the surgical wards of New Delhi, and the suburban backyards of the East Coast.
Delving into the convoluted science, strange politics, and checkered history of one of the world’s deadliest diseases, Pandemic is a work of epidemiological history like no other, with urgent lessons for our own time.
“Shah proves a disquieting Virgil, guiding us through the hells ruled by [infectious diseases] . . . the power of Shah's account lies in her ability to track simultaneously the multiple dimensions of the public-health crises we are facing.” —The Chicago Tribune
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.
Shah infuses recent twists in the story with equal drama, through chronicles of colorful modern-day characters — from the hundreds of Nigerian women who stormed a Chevron plant to a monomaniacal scientist for whom life is the pursuit of this earthblood and its elusive secret. Shah moves masterfully between scientific, economic, political, and social analysis, capturing the many sides of the indispensable mineral that we someday may have to find a way to live without.
"A trenchant exposé . . . meticulously researched and packed with documentary evidence" (Publishers Weekly), Sonia Shah’s riveting journalistic account shines a much-needed spotlight on a disturbing new global trend. Drawing on years of original research and reporting in Africa and Asia, Shah examines how the multinational pharmaceutical industry, in its quest to develop lucrative drugs, has begun exporting its clinical research trials to the developing world, where ethical oversight is minimal and desperate patients abound. As the New England Journal of Medicine notes, it is critical that those engaged in drug development, clinical research and its oversight, research ethics, and policy know about these stories,” which tell of an impossible choice being faced by many of the world’s poorest patients—be experimented upon or die for lack of medicine.