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Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine

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Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley trace the history and the future of quarantine methods and tactics. Quarantine is such a simple, profound, and effective idea that it's almost hard to realize that it is in fact an idea--a concept that needed to be discovered, figured out, refined, and, of course, applied. We are now all too aware of how it is applied, but we know far less a Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley trace the history and the future of quarantine methods and tactics. Quarantine is such a simple, profound, and effective idea that it's almost hard to realize that it is in fact an idea--a concept that needed to be discovered, figured out, refined, and, of course, applied. We are now all too aware of how it is applied, but we know far less about how the idea came to be--and where it may yet go. Until Proven Safe tracks the idea of quarantine around the globe, through time and space, chasing the story from the lazarettos and quarantine islands of Venice--built before communicable diseases were really understood--to the hallways of the CDC, NASA, and the cutting-edge labs and conference rooms where the future technology of quarantine is being developed. The result is a tour of an idea that could not be more urgent or relevant, a book full of stories, people, and insights that is as compelling as it is definitive.


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Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley trace the history and the future of quarantine methods and tactics. Quarantine is such a simple, profound, and effective idea that it's almost hard to realize that it is in fact an idea--a concept that needed to be discovered, figured out, refined, and, of course, applied. We are now all too aware of how it is applied, but we know far less a Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley trace the history and the future of quarantine methods and tactics. Quarantine is such a simple, profound, and effective idea that it's almost hard to realize that it is in fact an idea--a concept that needed to be discovered, figured out, refined, and, of course, applied. We are now all too aware of how it is applied, but we know far less about how the idea came to be--and where it may yet go. Until Proven Safe tracks the idea of quarantine around the globe, through time and space, chasing the story from the lazarettos and quarantine islands of Venice--built before communicable diseases were really understood--to the hallways of the CDC, NASA, and the cutting-edge labs and conference rooms where the future technology of quarantine is being developed. The result is a tour of an idea that could not be more urgent or relevant, a book full of stories, people, and insights that is as compelling as it is definitive.

30 review for Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ula Tardigrade

    Every crisis is an opportunity - it may be a cliché but it is certainly true in the case of this book. Global pandemic in 2020 made a seemingly obscure quarantine not only relevant but a hot topic. Thankfully, it is not a case of a hastily written volume intended to grab the spotlight. The authors worked on it for many years, researching, traveling the world and interviewing numerous experts, and it isn’t focused on COVID-19 (but it covers recent developments). I have to admit that after last ye Every crisis is an opportunity - it may be a cliché but it is certainly true in the case of this book. Global pandemic in 2020 made a seemingly obscure quarantine not only relevant but a hot topic. Thankfully, it is not a case of a hastily written volume intended to grab the spotlight. The authors worked on it for many years, researching, traveling the world and interviewing numerous experts, and it isn’t focused on COVID-19 (but it covers recent developments). I have to admit that after last year I am experiencing a kind of COVID-fatigue, so I’ve found the parts dedicated to the history of quarantine and it’s aspects not directly related to human infectious diseases most interesting and enlightening. I especially loved the chapter devoted to space exploration - yes, there is such a thing as planetary quarantine! The book is very well written and original. Recommended to anyone interested in the history of medicine, science and engineering. Thanks to the publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This nonfiction book about the global history of quarantine started before COVID and ended during, putting the authors in the unusual position of unwillingly experiencing what they were writing about (and in the enviable position of striking book gold--probably increasing sales dramatically because their chosen topic became uncomfortably close reality to the entire world at once). "Lazarettos" were quarantine facilities constructed centuries ago, some of which were abandoned and decayed, but more This nonfiction book about the global history of quarantine started before COVID and ended during, putting the authors in the unusual position of unwillingly experiencing what they were writing about (and in the enviable position of striking book gold--probably increasing sales dramatically because their chosen topic became uncomfortably close reality to the entire world at once). "Lazarettos" were quarantine facilities constructed centuries ago, some of which were abandoned and decayed, but more than one of which became outdoor shopping/dining malls in later centuries. These facilities look like prisons because they ARE prisons, with the exception of open, outdoor courtyards for obvious reasons. Did you know certain animals have been found to be smarter about this than we are? Bees, bats and spiders have all been shown to have a "social distancing" instinct, where when they contract something communicable, they somehow know to steer clear of their hive or nest until it clears up. They are not punching each others' lights out for wearing or not wearing masks. The book envisions a (tiresome theme) digital future where, rather than a physical lazaretto building our sick would be forced into, Alexa or Siri automatically locks our doors, stranding us within our homes when it detects a rise in our body temperature or hears too much coughing. I found this book mostly interesting but with some dull parts, like a whole long chapter on disinfecting mail I could've lived without, and skimmed through.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Much like Twilley's podcast, this book is wide ranging and always interesting. The last couple chapters were the weakest. I'm not sure what nuclear waste storage has to do with quarantine—it is still fun to read about, but not really on topic. The discussion of digital surveillance, contact tracing and quarantine is also very weak—mostly speculative and not based on actual reporting. The book would have benefitted if the authors had reported from South Korea, China, or possibly the US developers Much like Twilley's podcast, this book is wide ranging and always interesting. The last couple chapters were the weakest. I'm not sure what nuclear waste storage has to do with quarantine—it is still fun to read about, but not really on topic. The discussion of digital surveillance, contact tracing and quarantine is also very weak—mostly speculative and not based on actual reporting. The book would have benefitted if the authors had reported from South Korea, China, or possibly the US developers of contract-tracing apps. > Later, the practice of slashing mail with chisels and awls, which often left it in shreds, was made obsolete by a device called a rastel (from the Latin rastellus, or “rake”), which resembles the love child of a waffle iron and a medieval torture device. Letters were placed between hinged, spiked plates and punctured pre-fumigation > for a century, from 1770, Austro-Hungarian authorities maintained a thousand-mile quarantine corridor along their imperial frontier, all the way from the shores of the Adriatic to the Transylvanian mountains. This epidemiological boundary was not simply a line but a buffer zone, thirty miles wide in many places, cutting a broad swath through modern-day Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia. Inside this belt, every peasant was also a soldier, responsible for manning the sanitary cordon for at least one week in every eight, and more during an outbreak—up to a total of six months’ active service each year. A chain of two thousand lookout posts was constructed, each no more than a musket-shot’s distance from the next, and soldiers were instructed to fire on any unauthorized traffic. Nineteen crossing posts offered disinfection services, open-air parlatorios for distanced conversation across the divide, and supervised quarantine for travelers—twenty-one days when no outbreak was suspected, and forty-eight when the presence of plague was confirmed in the region > When Napoleon sent sixty thousand French soldiers to Haiti to quash a slave rebellion in 1801, 80 percent of them died within two years, jaundiced, feverish, and vomiting a noxious substance that resembled spent coffee grounds. Defeated, Napoleon sold off the rest of his North American possessions to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Meanwhile, what was left of the imperial fleet sailed back to French and Italian ports in 1804, bringing yellow fever with them > The use of these kinds of canaries in the coal mine of public health is expensive but effective. In Australia, which is the only continent free of the Varroa mite, sentinel beehives are stationed near ports, to alert biosecurity officials to any accidental introduction. In California, 139 flocks of sentinel chickens stand guard in chicken coops around the state; if the white leghorns are bitten by mosquitoes infected by West Nile or St. Louis encephalitis, they will develop antibodies that alert local public health agencies to the presence of the disease.

  4. 4 out of 5

    pugs

    a book years in the making, coincidentally forcing itself into forewarned disaster, proving one of its points, this is probably the only book with mentions of covid that i'm willing to read between now and in the near future, as so many others will be unsubstantial cash grabs. the authors traveled around the world before and after the pandemic, and it's fascinating to see just how much we rely on quarantine internationally, and... interplanetary measures. from religious connotations, to history a book years in the making, coincidentally forcing itself into forewarned disaster, proving one of its points, this is probably the only book with mentions of covid that i'm willing to read between now and in the near future, as so many others will be unsubstantial cash grabs. the authors traveled around the world before and after the pandemic, and it's fascinating to see just how much we rely on quarantine internationally, and... interplanetary measures. from religious connotations, to history of treating people during plagues, to safeguarding plants, inspection, the multi-multi-multi-layered, sanitized facilities, and how surveillance capitalism will affect the future of quarantine. worth reading and not a dry read, either.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Such an interesting book – a detailed and excellently researched history of quarantine, past, present and future, form the earliest recorded formal quarantine in 1377 to speculation about what quarantine might look like in the future. Scholarly but accessible, the book is full of fascinating and compelling stories and people, and I can’t imagine anyone NOT being absorbed by it. A really great read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    This was a very good book on pandemics and the future of things like COVID-19. What we have in years ahead. I found it very interesting. Proves how you can't be selfish during a pandemic. Didn't love the little history bits (I am not a fan of just history for the sake of history), but I really enjoyed the majority of the book, as it mostly was written about current times and the future. 4.6/5 This was a very good book on pandemics and the future of things like COVID-19. What we have in years ahead. I found it very interesting. Proves how you can't be selfish during a pandemic. Didn't love the little history bits (I am not a fan of just history for the sake of history), but I really enjoyed the majority of the book, as it mostly was written about current times and the future. 4.6/5

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joni Baboci

    A review of quarantine around the world with a philosophical edge. It's an interesting book that starts in Venice/Dubrovnik and ends in potential future surveillance-tech quarantine covering most bases. A review of quarantine around the world with a philosophical edge. It's an interesting book that starts in Venice/Dubrovnik and ends in potential future surveillance-tech quarantine covering most bases.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maddie Woda

    Smart, well-researched, nuanced, and obviously prescient. Love that the authors are married.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Socrate

    On March 6, 2020, a King County, Washington, health department van pulled up in front of an Econo Lodge motel outside Seattle. An employee clad in white coveralls hopped out, grabbed tools from the back of his van, and proceeded to paint the motel’s still-glowing sign pitch-black. The red and yellow colors of the chain’s familiar logo quickly disappeared, replaced by a matte-black rectangle that loomed over the street like a pirate flag. Ominous, deathly, its former welcoming light now extinguis On March 6, 2020, a King County, Washington, health department van pulled up in front of an Econo Lodge motel outside Seattle. An employee clad in white coveralls hopped out, grabbed tools from the back of his van, and proceeded to paint the motel’s still-glowing sign pitch-black. The red and yellow colors of the chain’s familiar logo quickly disappeared, replaced by a matte-black rectangle that loomed over the street like a pirate flag. Ominous, deathly, its former welcoming light now extinguished, the motel had become a quarantine facility. The lo-fi nature of the motel’s transformation was an unsettling indicator of just how improvised and ad hoc quarantine preparations seemed to be when a new infectious disease—known as COVID-19—first arrived in the United States. As this novel coronavirus spread exponentially and hospital beds filled up, public health officials realized that they had nowhere to put people who could not quarantine at home. Instead, buildings such as this roadside motel—purchased by Washington State health officials for $4 million—were hastily retrofitted, becoming part of the nation’s emergency medical infrastructure overnight. In this case, the motel’s rooms were already equipped with independent HVAC units, doors that opened to the outside, and seamless, easy-clean floors. All it took to complete the transformation was a coat of black paint.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anjie

    This book clarifies some the murkier, scarier parts of 2020/2021, and looks at why so many are innately resistant to this public policy. I liked that the authors interviewed healthcare leaders about lessons learned from the Ebola scare and what shocked them about the reaction to the current pandemic. The book also looked ahead to see how smart home/smartphone technology could be used to impose quarantine rules whether we want them or not. “Until Proven Safe”goes beyond this pandemic, though. In This book clarifies some the murkier, scarier parts of 2020/2021, and looks at why so many are innately resistant to this public policy. I liked that the authors interviewed healthcare leaders about lessons learned from the Ebola scare and what shocked them about the reaction to the current pandemic. The book also looked ahead to see how smart home/smartphone technology could be used to impose quarantine rules whether we want them or not. “Until Proven Safe”goes beyond this pandemic, though. In fact, it’s not even all about humans. I learned a lot about animal and plant quarantines… something you might be curious about if you are an international traveler. And one chapter heads to NASA, where there is a unit devoted to making sure we don’t contaminate other planets and alien life forms don’t contaminate us. An absorbing read that conveys a lot of information without feeling like an anatomy or biochemistry dissertation.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    Husband and wife, Manaugh and Twilley, trace the history of quarantine, the idea and practice of holding people, merchandise and food in isolation for a period of time to determine if they are safe. They also explore the future of when and how we will use this technique in the future. Why I started this book: Listened to the authors talk about their years of research on quarantine, that unexpectedly lead them to be writing this book during lock down last year on a podcast last month, and immediat Husband and wife, Manaugh and Twilley, trace the history of quarantine, the idea and practice of holding people, merchandise and food in isolation for a period of time to determine if they are safe. They also explore the future of when and how we will use this technique in the future. Why I started this book: Listened to the authors talk about their years of research on quarantine, that unexpectedly lead them to be writing this book during lock down last year on a podcast last month, and immediately preordered the book. Why I finished it: Fascinating, and I appreciated the authors' care in distinguishing between intent and outcome for quarantines... showing how marginalized people can be targeted and punished. It was also enlightening to learn that quarantine is always on a basis of uncertainty. When you don't know if you have the disease or not. When you do know, its isolation. It may look the same from the outside, but the legal and social implications are different.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anita Elder

    What a timely book! The research was started before Covid-19, so when the pandemic hit, it was easy to incorporate it in this book. Many scientists and leaders were already asking questions before the pandemic, but they weren't coming up with answers about what to do when one hit. It's like nobody learns from history and past mistakes...It's no wonder it continues to spread! Anyone, whether they believe in quarantine (or masking) or not should read this book to learn about the history, what worked What a timely book! The research was started before Covid-19, so when the pandemic hit, it was easy to incorporate it in this book. Many scientists and leaders were already asking questions before the pandemic, but they weren't coming up with answers about what to do when one hit. It's like nobody learns from history and past mistakes...It's no wonder it continues to spread! Anyone, whether they believe in quarantine (or masking) or not should read this book to learn about the history, what worked in the past, what didn't, etc.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    Until Proven Safe by Geoff Manaugh is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early July. This book goes into instances of personal and makeshift institutional quarantine, how other countries accomplish it (or not accomplish it while its citizens watch out for themselves), its history (both willingly and by force), research and post-scientific studies, paranoia, public opinion, and a manifestation of symptoms and sickness. Altogether, it's scattershot with poorly organized statements about differen Until Proven Safe by Geoff Manaugh is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early July. This book goes into instances of personal and makeshift institutional quarantine, how other countries accomplish it (or not accomplish it while its citizens watch out for themselves), its history (both willingly and by force), research and post-scientific studies, paranoia, public opinion, and a manifestation of symptoms and sickness. Altogether, it's scattershot with poorly organized statements about different points in time and really could use 2 or 3 more editing passes.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Drea

    Fascinating!! Quarantines have existed throughout history and have altered the social, racial, economic, and political course of our lives. Through interesting examples, the authors describe the how greed and fear and political greed have often driven the process of protecting our public health. So interesting and timely as the world is engaged in this process as I read this book. Learned so much. Excellent. Thank you to MCD Books for the copy of the book. I’m grateful!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    This was an enjoyable, informative, quick read. The writing in the first chapter was very annoying to me in a way I can't articulate now, and the last chapter was the sort of token overview of what big data and machine learning and wearables have to say about the future of the topic, but everything in between was very interesting! This was an enjoyable, informative, quick read. The writing in the first chapter was very annoying to me in a way I can't articulate now, and the last chapter was the sort of token overview of what big data and machine learning and wearables have to say about the future of the topic, but everything in between was very interesting!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Riccardo Lo Monaco

    Not a tiresome COVID-19 book. This is an excellent history and prophecy, and does a lot to explain human mentality and the will for the survival of our species. It’s a great book for those who are interested in more than the right now.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Unintentionally timely and really excellent. I enjoyed the parts where they discuss other quarantines that are less obvious (foods, space dust, radioactive waste, the mail!) and how These Times are acknowledged but don't overwhelm the book Unintentionally timely and really excellent. I enjoyed the parts where they discuss other quarantines that are less obvious (foods, space dust, radioactive waste, the mail!) and how These Times are acknowledged but don't overwhelm the book

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

    The authors started writing this book several years before the appearance of Covid-19. The book covers the history of quarantine, from lazarettos to quarantine islands, the quarantining of plants and animals, space quarantine and the future of quarantine.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Timely and interesting

  20. 4 out of 5

    NormaJean

    TNY 8-2-21 review

  21. 5 out of 5

    MayorEmma

    Interesting. I would rather not have a smart home that locks me in my house if it suspects I am ill. I wonder if that will in fact be something that takes place in the future.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    Super well-written and engaging. I learned so much from this book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Fascinating and incredibly relevant to 2020-1. I learned so much about how much infrastructure it takes to keep us all (mostly, kinda) safe where we live.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

  26. 5 out of 5

    Haley

  27. 5 out of 5

    Arthur

  28. 4 out of 5

    Callifer

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jancee Tabacnic

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