By Sonia Shah
Sarah Crichton Books; 307 pages
The war between homo sapiens and the mosquito-borne parasite Plasmodium is truly epic: so long-running that 1 in 14 humans carries genetic mutations that originally evolved to fight malaria--the disease Plasmodium causes--and so bitter that today an estimated 1 million people a year still die of the disease. But despite such sobering subject matter, The Fever is an often rollicking read, spanning from modern-day Panama and Malawi to medieval Italy (where malaria claimed the lives of four Popes and the poet Dante, among countless others). Shah has put together an engrossing cast of doctors, malariologists and historical figures like the legendary missionary doctor David Livingstone, who pioneered the use of massive doses of quinine to fight the disease. But most fascinating is Plasmodium itself. Like fiction's best supervillains, it is a complex, brilliant and mysterious foe that has resisted all attempts to tame it. While recent campaigns have had some success, Shah warns that to underestimate the parasite's resourcefulness is to invite future epidemics. We have 500 millennia of suffering as proof.