Writing a book is a feat that many people dream of.
While this may be a dream for many, only a small percentage are able to dedicate themselves to the grueling process required to accomplish this goal.
Biology Professor Joshua Loomis was able to do this, and the scope of his novel, “Epidemics: The Impact of Germs and Their Power Over Humanity,” covers not only biology, but also topics in history, sociology and religion.
He also explores a total of ten epidemics in his book.
“I’ve always kind of been fascinated by these little stories that we rarely give the microbes credit for anything in terms of impacting this war, or changing the human genome,” Loomis said. “And when you really dig deep, you see how much human identity could be traced back to these viruses and bacteria that have affected us for as long as we’ve been humans, essentially.”
He explained how millions of people dying from epidemics inevitably changes society.
Some examples were critical care coming about due to the polio epidemic, and that sewers were created because of cholera making the water dirty.
One inspiration for writing this book was that his students remember these types of stories the most.
They may forget some of the finer details of microbiology, but they always remember the ways epidemics have impacted the world in ways that are still present.
He also wanted to show some of the recent epidemics that are often excluded from textbooks.
The last few sections in the book covers the HIV epidemic, which just happened in the 80s, and also the anti-vaccination movement that is making headlines today.
“Some books go all in on one disease, which are great, those are amazing books that do that. There are whole books about ebola, for instance,” Loomis said. “But I just find that people may be interested to know a little about everything. It was hard picking the ten worst.”
Moments of self-doubt would inevitably come in writing a book over 300 pages.
There were times when Loomis thought about giving up. He kept on going despite any struggle that he faced.
“I never told myself I was a good writer,” Loomis said. “I was always a great technical writer. I could write research papers like there was no tomorrow, but any time where you had to tell a story, and create a mental picture for people as they were reading it, I didn’t really grow into that I think until I was in grad school.”
He also had moments of self-doubt when he sent his book to different publications.
He thought they would only be interested in a book that covers one epidemic.
But his publisher told him that the clarity of his writing is what sold them to publish his book.
His book covers more than the horrific symptoms of different diseases.
The most shocking discovery during his research was how badly people treated each other in the midst of these epidemics.
Often, there were targeted group for each epidemic. Christians were prosecuted by the Romans for smallpox, just as homosexuals were targeted during the HIV epidemic.
“Going back to the plague in the 1300s, HIV in the 1980s, they were still doing the same things, different groups of people, but still persecuting these people because of the disease,” Loomis said.
“That, I think, to me was pretty shocking.”
Surprisingly, the United States and the Soviet Union came together when smallpox was rampant through the world.
They were the two biggest eradicators when it came to eliminating of smallpox as a major factor, despite facing each other in the Cold War.
“It was what they called the great tormenter,” Loomis said. “That was the nickname of smallpox. From our history, ancient Egyptians when they dug up some old pharaohs, they found pox marks on their mummies. It’s been tormenting us for our entire history, and they had the chance and they took it, and it was successful. It wouldn’t have worked without either one of them.”
He actually didn’t tell many people that he was writing a book when he was going through the process.
He felt like it would have put more pressure on him. The only people that really knew were his daughter and his wife, and they were his two biggest supporters.
He also credits his publisher and agent as people who supported him throughout the writing process.
He would get jolts of inspiration at certain times, as well.
“There would be stories that would revitalize me, like ‘Oh, this is an awesome story. I’m excited to tell it.’” Loomis said. “That kind of kept me going I think.”
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