Wednesday, April 11, 2018

My book The Last Days of Smallpox is now available for you to buy in paperback & Kindle format:

Please share the news!

The last naturally occurring case of smallpox was diagnosed in Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in the picturesque seaport of Merca, Somalia, on 26 October 1977.

But in August 1978, the smallpox virus crept like a thief in the night from a laboratory in Birmingham to re-inhabit human flesh and blood. What happened next has all the hallmarks of a Greek drama or Shakespearean tragedy, with the shocking but mysterious appearance of a dreaded disease in the heart of England; a frantic effort to save a city—and the world—from disaster; a tragic heroine, a photographer, who suffered a hideous fate; and a tragic hero, a virology professor, driven to despair to mortifying despair, treated as a scapegoat during an official enquiry, but later exonerated in a court of law.

Here, I give a full account of the 1978 Birmingham smallpox outbreak and the ensuing court case, drawn from records of the time and the reminiscences of those who lived through it.

"A complete and rational account… sets the record straight, provides closure" Keith Dumbell, University of Cape Town

"A riveting account of the mystery, the politics and the legal implications of the Birmingham event." Stanley Falkow, University of Stanford

"Thoroughly engrossing—a high-quality detective story, with a nice human touch" Robin May, University of Birmingham

"A book full of humanity… and of anger at the smallpox virus and the misery it caused." Soad Tabaqchali, emeritus professor, St Bartholomew’s Hospital

"An engaging book that weaves the scientific, social, political and historical context into a multi-layered narrative." Conall McCaughey, Queens University Belfast

"The biographical material on the protagonists is superb. It makes it come alive. Janet Parker is not just a name, a Madonna to be sacrificed, but a real person." Brian Escott-Cox QC

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Game's Afoot!

On this date in 1796, at his home in Berkeley, the English scientist Edward Jenner (left) inoculated James Phipps, the eight-year-old son of his gardener, with material from cowpox blisters on the hand of a milkmaid Sarah Nelmes and set in motion a train of events that led to the eradication of smallpox. It is thus a fitting date for me to announce that I am writing a book entitled The Last Days of Smallpox, which not only covers events in Birmingham in 1978, but also several other twentieth-century smallpox outbreaks, with details of context and reactions. In many interesting ways, these outbreaks hold up a mirror to the society of the time, but also resonate with our own times.

Like my previous book, The Rough Guide to Evolution, this is a labour of love, which I am having to fit in around my usual academic work of doing research and teaching, writing papers and grants. I have now managed to get 30,000 words down on the page, which gives me the confidence to believe I will actually get this book written, although there is still much more to do. But I think I am now ready to let others join me in this adventure, so that on this blog I will share my journey as an author and also release drafts of some parts of the book in the hope of eliciting constructive comment, garnering a few words of encouragement to keep me going and whetting the reader's appetite for the completed work!

In this age of disintermediation, I am aiming to self-publish via Amazon or some equivalent service, but sorting all that out, together with marketing of the book will also be an adventure worth sharing.

To start the ball rolling, the next few posts will be samples from the current draft of the book. Later, I will share my experiences in finding sources, witnesses and information and, maybe, even get readers to help me in my research.