Amanda Schaffer


    "An outbreak, like a story, should have a coherent plot.” That comment, from a well-known virologist, could easily serve as epigram or foil to Contagious, Priscilla Wald’s critique of the stories that the media and the medical profession have constructed about disease outbreaks from typhoid to HIV/aids to Ebola.

    Wald painstakingly places pins in a map of twentieth-century culture, charting the rise of stock characters, settings, and plot twists. The accumulated conventions are on display, she argues, in many outbreak tales from the ’90s—books such as Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone and Laurie