Salon Series: Pandemic from the Perspective of the Virus with Author David Quammen
March 2, 2021
NYU DC Dialogues and NYU Florence welcomed critically acclaimed science journalist David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012). In conversation with Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at NYU and co-director of NYU Florence Perri Klass, David discussed viruses, animal infections, evolution, and the times we’re living through.
Spillover is a work of science reporting, history, and travel, tracking this subject around the world. For five years, I shadowed scientists into the field--a rooftop in Bangladesh, a forest in the Congo, a Chinese rat farm, a suburban woodland in Duchess County, New York-and through their high-biosecurity laboratories. I interviewed survivors and gathered stories of the dead. I found surprises in the latest research, alarm among public health officials, and deep concern in the eyes of researchers. I tried hard to deliver the science, the history, the mystery, and the human anguish as page-turning drama.
The subject raises urgent questions. Are these events independent misfortunes, or linked? Are they merely happening to us, or are we somehow causing them? What can be done? But this book is intended to be more than a work of reportage. It's also the tale of a quest, through time and landscape, for a new understanding of how the world works.
Recent articles by David Quammen
The Virus, the Bats and Us – The New York Times
Did Pangolin Trafficking Cause the Coronavirus Pandemic? – The New Yorker
How Viruses Shape Our World – National Geographic
David Quammen’s fifteen books include The Tangled Tree, The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. He has written for Harper’s, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, The New York Times Book Review, Outside, and Powder, among other magazines, and is a contributing writer for National Geographic. He wrote the entire text of the May 2016 issue of National Geographic on the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem—the first time in the history of the magazine that an issue was single-authored. Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, an environmental historian, along with two Russian wolfhounds and a cross-eyed cat. Visit him at DavidQuammen.com.
Perri Klass, Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University and Co-Director of NYU Florence
Perri Klass is Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University and Co-Director of NYU Florence. She attended Harvard Medical School and completed her residency in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital, Boston.
She writes the weekly column, “The Checkup,” for the New York Times Science Section. She has written extensively about medicine, children, literacy, and knitting. Her new book, A Good Time to Be Born: How Science and Public Health Gave Children a Future, is an account of how victories over infant and child mortality have changed the world. She began writing about medicine and about medical training when she was a medical student; her accounts were collected in her two books, A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student, and Baby Doctor: A Pediatrician’s Training, which were originally published in 1987 and 1992, and were reissued as classics of the genre in updated editions in 2010. Her most recent book of medical journalism is Treatment Kind and Fair: Letters to a Young Doctor. Her medical journalism has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The New England Journal of Medicine, and Harvard Medicine. Her other nonfiction includes Every Mother is a Daughter: the Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen, which she coauthored with her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass, and Quirky Kids: Understanding and Supporting Your Child With Developmental Differences, which she coauthored with Eileen Costello, M.D., and which will come out in a new edition from the American Academy of Pediatrics in early 2021.
Perri is the National Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, a national program which promotes early literacy through pediatric primary care, with guidance about reading aloud for parents and children’s books provided at routine well child visits. She ran the National Center from its inception through 2006, during which time the program grew from a single site to a national program with thousands of sites serving millions of children; the program now reaches 4.8 million children a year, 80% of whom are growing up in poverty. Through her work with Reach Out and Read, Perri has been able to integrate her commitment to the health care of young children with her love of the written word. In an essay on the program, she wrote, "When I think about children growing up in homes without books, I have the same visceral reaction as I have when I think of children in homes without milk or food or heat: It cannot be, it must not be. It stunts them and deprives them before they've had a fair chance."
She has received numerous awards for her work as a pediatrician and educator including the 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics Education Award, which recognizes her educational contributions that have had a broad and positive impact on the health and well-being of children; the 2006 Women’s National Book Association Award; and the 2011 Alvarez Award from the American Medical Writers Association. In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics honored her with The Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award, citing the impact that she has made through her writing, service as an educator, and leadership in promoting early literacy through Reach Out and Read.
The NYU Washington, DC Salon Series: Conversations with Writers & Artists presents an opportunity for the NYU and Washington, DC community to meet and engage in dialogue with acclaimed writers and artists as they reflect on their craft. This program provides facilitated conversations that aim to illuminate the guests’ creative processes, discuss their current works, and explain the impact of their work on the world around us. The Salon Series is made possible by NYU Washington, DC through the collaboration of NYU schools, departments and centers, as well as through special relationships with selected external organizations.