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  • NYS Writers Institute

Q&A: David Quammen, author of "Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic"

We caught up with David Quammen, one of the greatest science journalists at work today.

David visited the NYS Writers Institute at the University at Albany in 2012 with his bestseller, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, about diseases like COVID-19 that "jump species."

In the New York Times review of The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (2018), David was praised as "our greatest living chronicler of the natural world yet was never formally trained in the sciences." His other books include Ebola: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus (2015), and The Chimp and the River: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest.

Though David is in high demand in the media throughout the world for his perspective on the current crisis, he took the time to talk with us via email. Q:  Any fresh news from your life? A:  I’m at work on a book about cancer and evolution. My python Boots, who lives in my office, is healthy and robust, knock wood. My wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, is about to publish her first book, nonfiction, based on a dissertation but much revised to read like a guilty pleasure: American Zion: God, Cliven Bundy, and Public Lands in the West. Meanwhile I’m spending most of my time answering interview requests about COVID-19 and my related 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. Q:  Is there any action you would like us all to take at the present time? Vote your brain! Also: Walk in the woods and remember how precious every butterfly is. What if we soon have a world without insects? Q:  Is there anything you'd like us to read? A:  I warmly recommend to you Robert Penn Warren’s short book of related poems, a poem cycle as biography, Audubon: A Vision. If you want something very short, then Warren’s single poem from elsewhere,

Blackbirds, Goodbye What is love? Our name for it is knowledge. -- Robert Penn Warren, Audubon: A Vision Q:  Any words of wisdom for us?  If you would be a writer, take some risk. There is no safe and automatic route, no yellow brick road. Take some goddamn risk. If it’s not worth the risk, you don’t really want it. And if you don’t really want it, you’ll never have one of the cardinal requirements of being fully a writer, alone and unemployed: Discipline. More at

NPR "Fresh Air" interview with David Quammen: New Coronavirus 'Won't Be The Last' Outbreak To Move From Animal To Human, (Feb. 5, 2020)

"Somebody asked me. . .who is your main literary influence as a science writer and I said, William Faulkner." 

"There's been a drumbeat of new viruses emerging over recent years..."

David Quammen at TEDx in Bozeman, Montana in 2013

Question for you:

Have you been reading more science books and articles since the coronavirus pandemic?


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