Last month, in an appearance on the Daily podcast, I warned against assuming that the pandemic was over. The Delta variant was poised to potentially sweep across the United States. It might create a surge that might even require that the country return to masking and other measures to slow it down.

I sensed that the Daily host Michael Barbaro did not welcome the news. And I could sympathize. After months of mass vaccination and crashing cases, it was easy to believe that the coronavirus was now behind us. But by early July, there was plenty of evidence that the Delta variant might well push back those gains. It bore mutations allowing it to multiply quickly inside a host and then swiftly spread to new victims. It had already overwhelmed countries like India and the United Kingdom. Vaccines work well against Delta–especially against hospitalization from Covid-19–but only after both doses. Only about half of Americans are fully vaccinated, leaving the rest easy targets for the variant.  Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, August 13, 2021”

During the month of June, the pandemic took several different courses at once. In the United States, the overall average daily case rate continued its fall to levels not seen since March 2020. India experienced an even more dramatic crash. But other countries, from Russia to Indonesia to Liberia, experienced startling surges. The Alpha variant, which dominated the world in early 2021, ebbed away as the even faster-spreading Delta variant, first identified in India, swept across the globe. 

As a journalist, I spent June following some of the different courses that science took through the pandemic. Major trials for two of the most prominent vaccines delivered results. Novavax’s trial in the United States put it on par with the most effective vaccines such as Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Meanwhile, the German company CureVac, which I profiled in March, delivered dismal results, leaving experts to wonder if variants are a bigger threat to vaccine effectiveness than they thought, or if all RNA vaccines are not alike. Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, July 2, 2021”

I’ve been a fan of Atlas Obscura ever since it started out as a web site cataloging the world’s weirder places. Since then, it has grown into a far bigger operation, offering books, trips, and other features. Recently they’ve put together a series of online courses. I’m delighted to announce that next month I’ll be teaching a course called “The Meaning of ‘Life.'”

Here’s the course descriptionContinue reading “Friday’s Elk, June 4, 2021”

When my wife Grace and I moved to Guilford, Connecticut, 18 years ago, we were grateful that it was a town where you could walk for a reason. To go to the library. To get a pizza. To get your hair cut. To some people, those may seem like petty things. But for us, they meant a great deal.

Last March, our lives were disrupted in many ways. We stopped traveling by plane and train. Our time with extended families was mostly restricted to phone calls and Zoom sessions. But the nearby disruptions were just as bad. Trips into stores were quick, no-nonsense errands. The rest of our lives within walking distance began to lose out in our risk-benefit calculations. After a while, the isolation began to feel normal. Now that I’ve gained immunity, it takes effort to rediscover the town all around me. Continue reading “Friday’s Elk, May 7, 2021”

Lots to relay in this issue of Friday’s Elk, including news on two books. So let’s dig in!

I’ve written a new edition of A Planet of Viruses, which has just come out. It has the same micro-format of the original edition a decade ago: twelve essays on twelve of my favorite viruses. But I’ve updated it throughout with new scientific research. Most significantly, I’ve written a chapter on Covid-19, drawing on my reporting for The New York Times over the past year.

The book also has a new look, courtesy of an old friend. When I turned ten, my family moved to the rural fringe of western New Jersey, where I didn’t know a soul. Someone told my parents that a kid like me who was always writing stories and drawing comic strips should meet another ten-year old there named Ian Schoenherr, who drew pictures of Willy Wonka and such. We’ve been friends ever since. Ian has gone on to illustrate a long string of books, while I’ve been writing others. This is the first time he has illustrated a book of mine, and I couldn’t be more pleased. You can order the third edition here.

Life’s Edge: Podcasts and More

This weekend, the New York Times Book Review put Life’s Edge on the cover, with a review from Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of Emperor of All Maladies and The Gene. It’s a career first for me, so I’m inexpressibly grateful.

The Washington Post reviewed Life’s Edge as wellwriting, “The pleasures of Life’s Edge derive from its willingness to sit with the ambiguities it introduces, instead of pretending to conclusively transform the senseless into the sensible.” 

I also had an hour-long conversation with Meghna Chakrabarti, host of National Public Radio’s On Point. Listen here. Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Reviewhosted me on her podcast as well.

You can order the book here.

Not Missing My Shot

After writing for months about the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it’s weirdly elating to get their messenger RNA pumped in my shoulder. Looking forward to full immunization in mid-May. 

That’s all for now. Stay safe!

You can find information and ordering links for my fourteen books here. You can also follow me on TwitterFacebookGoodreads, and LinkedIn. If someone forwarded this email to you, you can subscribe to it here.

Best wishes, Carl

Originally published April 3, 2021. Copyright 2021 Carl Zimmer.