Book Review: The Fever – Sonia Shah

the fever shahTitle: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
Author: Sonia Shah
ISBN: 9780312573010
Pages: 320
Release Date: June 21, 2011
Publisher: Picador
Genre: Nonfiction, Science
Source: Personal Copy


Why is malaria such a modern-day scourge? Why haven’t we been able to eradicate it? And why is it mostly nonexistent in Europe and the United States? In her investigation of malaria, Sonia Shah answers these many questions and many others as she strives to understand how malaria has shaped the evolution of human civilization over the past 500,000 years.


I’m a big fan of pop science–well-researched science but told from a journalistic perspective designed to appeal to laypeople—so when I first heard of Sonia Shah’s books about science and medicine, I was intrigued. I decided to start with The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years because malaria is a disease I’m somewhat familiar with. Though I’ve never suffered from it, I have close friends who have become its victim (and survived to tell the tale, though as this book shows, many others aren’t so lucky) and have taken preventative malaria medicine on trips back to visit my parents’ homeland, India.

The Fever has surprises and interesting facts on every page, but the most surprising to me is how common malaria is in equatorial countries. The question isn’t who’s had malaria. It’s who hasn’t. Its ubiquity made sense when I thought about it, but it was startling nonetheless. I found this deep dive into the disease, and specifically its resistance to eradication and ability to morph based on what we’re throwing at it, fascinating.

Sonia Shah writes in an easy, journalistic style that is very accessible. You don’t have to know a lot about malaria to enjoy this book—you really don’t even need to be overly familiar with what’s going on in medicine. Shah lays the groundwork you need to know without coming across as condescending. I was completely drawn into this book in a way that can be difficult with nonfiction, especially when it comes to somewhat technical topics. I appreciated her writing style, for sure.

Having read The Fever, I’m planning on coating myself with bug spray every time I leave the house (I’m kidding, that comes with its own health risks, but MAN this book is disturbing). I found this account clearly told and eye opening, and I appreciated the mix of anecdote, science, and reporting. Shah’s a talented writer, and I’m glad I have more books of hers to read before I run through her backlist.

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