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Review - Versatile Vaccines - Parvinder Chawla
Vaccines have the potential for making a very interesting popular science book, as they combine a good historical story, a very important medical defence against some terrible diseases, and are going through interesting times at the moment.
Parvinder Chawla's book makes a useful contribution by explaining the origins of vaccines, and giving details of how they work. Separate chapters are dedicated to key diseases where the struggle for a vaccine is still under way - for instance, malaria and HIV.
On the whole, the book puts the information across in a simple, easily understood fashion, though it does plunge into quite a lot of depth suddenly when describing the mechanism of vaccines, though it soon recovers its gentle style. The text itself sometimes reads a little stiffly - for example, we are told that edible plant vaccines "pose to be impressive". It's not that the writing is bad, but it sometimes has a rather uneven feeling. The book is heavily illustrated with a good set of plates in the centre. The line drawings through the book seem to be split into two distinct types. Some are rather amateurish, and put across the message in a way that seems more aimed at children; others match the text better in style and are better executed. It would probably have been better without the former.
On the downside, although the book uses the people-centred approach of popular science, the historical components are rather shallow, and the descriptions of diseases and the different vaccines sometimes feels more like a textbook than a book to be read for personal interest. The biggest omission is a commentary on the big issues in the vaccination world, particularly the difficulties programmes face in some countries where vaccination is regarded with great suspicion, often thought to be concealing some kind of birth control programme, as a result of which some terrible diseases that should be on the way out are proving near-impossible to control.
Not a bad book, by any means, and available at a good price in India, but could have been a little more rounded for the popular science market.
Only in paperback.
Reviewed by Peter Spitz
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Last update 05 June 2007