David Quammen is an award-winning nature, science, and travel writer. He travels all the way to the central parts of Africa to get first-hand information and facts about the topic he was to handle. The chimpanzee Quammen refers to in the title is Pan t. troglodytes, a hypothetical creature that transmitted the HIV-virus to a hunter. The river mentioned in the book is the Sangha River. The river is a hypothetical avenue, which the virus traveled towards Leopoldville and Brazzaville now known as Kinshasha from where the virus spread out to infect the world. It is paramount to explore the coverage of Quammen as depicted by the book.
In his book, the chimp and the river, he makes clear his goal in the introduction: tracing back the current HIV-AIDS pandemic to its origin and then following its progress through historical accident and epidemiology to its spillover. As such according to Quammen (2015), it is a saga involving three major characters: virus, chimpanzee, and human. The book is technically admirable; it is written in purely intelligent and elegant English. It contains 25 punchy and short chapters often characterized by cliff-hanging last sentences to keep the reader moving forward. Further, there are a total 129 endnotes and about 100 references that gives the reader an easier way towards following up on various points. The ten pages index is very useful and detailed.
Despite the book being an excellent explanation of the HIV-AIDS pandemic origins, it has several limits. The book lack illustrations, it does not even have a single map of the various key places of the journey that the author or the virus traveled. First, the evidence as presented by Quammen (2015) was only from Gombe, which is a very notable discrepancy considering that P.t. schweinfurthii in Tanzania is a different species from P.t.t in Cameroon. The author is also clearly committed to the narrative from which his evidence is from and made to fit. For instance, Quammen, in the book, never mentions the possibility of a transmission between animals and human as the alternative explanation. The idea is apparently ruled out mainly because SIV in the apes is said to be diverse and older than HIV. Apes preying on humans is less common compared to humans preying on apes, but in rare cases, the former do occur. Further, the SIV may be more varied compared to HIV-1, M-linage together with all its nine subtypes. It is thus perhaps not even clear who between the two infected the other. The author fails to explain for the reader to determine who infected the other contentedly. The story by Quammen is also out of date; it is the narration up to 2009 that revealed that chimpanzees in the wild do suffer from their AIDS version.
Even so, the book written by Quammen is a perfect reference regarding HIV-AIDS to various audiences. It provides a readable and succinct explanation regarding the origins story of SIV-HIV to which students among other readers can be referred to get the background readings. As such, the book offers a good base for obtaining crucial answers regarding the relationship between HIV-AIDS and chimpanzees. Further, the book reminds the reader that physical contact with both the chimpanzee and human blood is a risky undertaking however and wherever it may occur.
Quammen, D. (2015). The chimp and the river: How AIDS emerged from an African forest. Random House.
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