Books This Weekend: Of health, economy and mystery

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New Delhi–Get in-depth, comprehensive knowledge about the Zika virus; know about the continuously-changing economic system and immense complexity that enables it to offer more than 10 billion distinct products and services; flick through a work of detective fiction whose characters get their names from mythology.

The IANS bookshelf has an interesting mix of fiction and non-fiction for its readers this weekend.

1. Book: The Secret Life of Zika Virus; Author: Kalpish Ratna; Publisher: Speaking Tiger; Pages: 271; Price: Rs 299
The Zika virus has wreaked havoc in Brazil in recent times and is rapidly raising the spectre of a global pandemic. It has also resurfaced in India. In June 2017, three individuals in Ahmedabad were found infected. The ensuing panic was compounded by the lack of knowledge and, worse, by conflicting and confusing information.

The “Secret Life of Zika Virus” cuts through the chaff and misinformation to present an in-depth, comprehensive biography of the virus and to answer these questions: What is the Zika virus? Where did it come from? When did it get here? Why is it suddenly so dangerous? How does it affect the body? How does it spread? And why should a mosquito which is already, very efficiently, spreading Dengue and Chikungunya, decide to acquire and transmit Zika?

Drawing extensively on history, as well as on scientific data and research, both archival and current, the book examines the nature of viruses — how they evolved and how they co-exist with and affect humans and other animals. It traces linkages between virus and vector, and the role of the mosquito in carrying and spreading Zika as well as other deadly viruses. It also explores the ongoing explosion of Zika virus infections in Brazil and the crippling deformities it causes in newborns, its connection with the widespread destruction of the rain forest in the country, and the lessons for us.

It is a necessary book for our times, and crucial to arming ourselves with information relating to our own health.

2. Book: Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy; Author: Tim Harford; Publisher: Little Brown; Pages: 343; Price: Rs 599
Who thought up paper money? How did the contraceptive pill change the face of the legal profession? Why was the horse collar as important for human progress as the steam engine? How did the humble spreadsheet turn the world of finance upside down?

The world economy defies comprehension. A continuously-changing system of immense complexity that offers over 10 billion distinct products and services, doubles in size every 15 years and links almost every one of the planet’s seven billion people. It delivers astonishing luxury to hundreds of millions. It also leaves hundreds of millions behind, puts tremendous strains on the ecosystem, and has an alarming habit of stalling. Nobody is in charge of it. Indeed, no individual understands more than a fraction of what’s going on.

How can we make sense of this bewildering system on which our lives depend?

From the tally-stick to Bitcoin, the canal lock to the jumbo jet, each invention in Tim Harford’s fascinating book has its own curious, surprising and memorable story, a vignette against a grand backdrop. Step by step, readers will start to understand where we are, how we got here, and where we might be going next.

3. Book: The Mahabharata Murders; Author: Arnab Ray; Publisher: Juggernaut; Pages: 291; Price: Rs 350
One by one, the Pandavas fall. Duryodhana claims to be reborn.

In modern-day Calcutta, there is a beautiful model. He cuts her open — his Draupadi.

He hammers surgical needles into his Sahadeva and severs Nakula’s head.

Will detectives Ruksana Ahmed and Siddhanth Singh be able to keep him from his Arjun, Bheem and Yudhishtira? Or will Duryodhana finally win?

Read on to find out.


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