(p. 13) While recent events have provided a painful reminder of the very bad viruses that prey on us, Tom Ireland’s “The Good Virus” is a colorful redemption story for the oft-neglected yet incredibly abundant phage, and its potential for quelling the existential threat of antibiotic resistance, which scientists estimate might cause up to 10 million deaths per year by 2050. Ireland, an award-winning science journalist, approaches the subject of his first book with curiosity and passion, delivering a deft narrative that is rich and approachable.
In the hands of d’Herelle and others, the phage became a potent tool in the fight against cholera. But, in the 1940s, when the discovery of the methods to produce penicillin at an industrial scale led to the “antibiotic era,” phage therapy came to be seen as quackery in Europe and America, in part, Ireland suggests, because antibiotics, unlike phages, fit the mold of capitalist society.
Capitalists love patents. A funny quirk of the patent system is that you cannot patent entire natural things, but you can sometimes patent the way you extract their byproducts. The first antibiotics, being the secretions of fungi, were easier to patent in the United States than phages, which were whole viruses.
For the full review, see:
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Aug. 15, 2023, and has the title “A Reason to Cheer for Cells and the Viruses That Feed on Them.”)
The book under review is:
Ireland, Tom. The Good Virus: The Amazing Story and Forgotten Promise of the Phage. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2023.