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About The Book

National Book Award finalist Breathless tells the story of the worldwide scientific race to decipher the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, trace its source, and make possible the vaccines to fight the Covid-19 pandemic—a “luminous, passionate account of the defining crisis of our time” (The New York Times).

Breathless is a “gripping” (The Atlantic) but “clear-eyed analysis” (Time) of SARs-CoV-2 and its fierce journey through the human population, as seen by the scientists who study its origin, its ever-changing nature, and its capacity to kill us. David Quammen expertly shows how strange new viruses emerge from animals into humans as we disrupt wild ecosystems and how those viruses adapt to their human hosts, sometimes causing global catastrophe. He explains why this coronavirus will probably be a “forever virus,” destined to circulate among humans and bedevil us endlessly, in one variant form or another. As scientists labor to catch it, comprehend it, and control it, with their high-tech tools and methods, the virus finds ways of escape.

Based on interviews with nearly one hundred scientists, including leading virologists in China and around the world, Quammen explains that:
-Infectious disease experts saw this pandemic coming
-Some scientists, for more than two decades, warned that “the next big one” would be caused by a changeable new virus—very possibly a coronavirus—but such warnings were ignored for political or economic reasons
-The precise origins of this virus may not be known for years, but some clues are compelling, and some suppositions can be dismissed
-And much more

Written by “one of our finest explainers of the natural world for decades” (Chicago Tribune), This “compelling and terrifying” (The New York Times) account is an unparalleled look inside the frantic international race to understand and control SARS-CoV-2—and what it might mean for the next potential global health crisis.

About The Author

Photograph by Louise Johns

David Quammen’s books include BreathlessThe Tangled TreeThe Song of the DodoThe Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover. He has written for The New YorkerHarper’s Magazine, The AtlanticNational Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines, and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion, and with three Russian wolfhounds, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python. Visit him at

About The Reader

Why We Love It

“We are overwhelmed by news about the coronavirus every day: What are the latest regulations regarding masks; where are infections spiking or diminishing; what are the regulations for travel; how effective are the vaccines; is the latest variant more dangerous than earlier ones; etc.

We have a great deal of information, but not enough knowledge. Breathless explains the basic science of the coronavirus in a way we can understand. It shows how scientists all over the world mobilized and communicated to learn how the virus works, making it possible to develop vaccines faster than has ever been done before. Breathless is a portrait of science—and scientists—in action during a time of crisis.

If you want to understand these viruses—which will be with us for the rest of our lives—this is the book to read. And if you want to appreciate the dedication, the brilliance, and the internationalism of the scientific community as it races to save lives, this is also the book to read.”

—Bob B., VP, Executive Editor, on Breathless

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (October 4, 2022)
  • Runtime: 13 hours and 25 minutes
  • ISBN13: 9781797145747

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Raves and Reviews

"Quammen’s focus is on the science of COVID-19 — its nature, development, and possible origin — in a study that is complex and often technical. Narrator Jacques Roy negotiates the details deftly, maintaining the intelligent dispassion of a newsman or documentary narrator but with the amiable, intimate manner of an expert recounting a story in a personal conversation. His expressiveness and naturally varying tones convey not only the facts, but also Quammen’s take on them, including occasional authorial sarcasm delivered with a muted but telling edge. His ability to engage the listener even with the denser passages makes him the perfect companion for this sometimes microscopic examination of virological science and the illness that currently plagues us."

– AudioFile Magazine

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