Recommended Read: “Rabid” by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy
With the Halloween season just around the corner, I thought it would be fun in the coming weeks to highlight some of my favorite creepy books.
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Disease by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy is a fascinating book. It takes a look at everything from mankind’s epidemiological interactions with other animals throughout history, especially domesticated animals, and most especially dogs. To the symptoms and molecular mechanics of rabies. To the way the disease conceptually strikes at our primal fears, and its likely contribution to legends and literature since the dawn of civilization.
Are you pondering books to read and movies to watch with zombies, vampires, or werewolves during the spooky season? In large part, you can probably thank rabies for the rise of these legendary monsters by the way it turns its victims into slathering, hydrophobic, bite-happy conduits for its propagation. These and other aspects of its malignancy have contributed to shaping some of our deepest-seated cultural fears about disease and the broader unknown.
Being a horror author myself, I’m fascinated about why some things scare us, not just how. What I love about this book is that it gives serious consideration to the cultural impact of one very nasty disease. This includes everything from the ancient Greek myth of Lycaeon (where the term lycanthropic comes from), to the Bible’s generally negative symbolization of dogs, to modern day classics like I Am Legend, Night of the Living Dead, and Dracula. The disease even makes distinct appearances in modern literary works such as To Kill a Mockingbird, and Their Eyes Were Watching God.
My thoughts? Humans are highly sophisticated social creatures. Our deep social connectivity allowed us to evolve bigger brains, language, and a complex moral compass. At the heart of all things rabies is the very real horror of seeing either an affectionate and trusting pet or an intelligent human being–a loved one–reduced to an utterly mechanical or animalistic state of mind that can turn violent against us. While rare on the street and easy enough to vaccinate against today, the disease’s effects can be so utterly dehumanizing that it subverts the very foundation of our relationships. How do we deal with a raging pet that wants to bite us and likewise turn us into a raging mess of an animal? How do we eradicate such a disease or keep it under control? Rabies scares us because it throws some of the core aspects of our identity as an intelligent, rational, spiritual, and socially cooperative species into chaos.
If you’re interested in learning more about the fascinating and terrifying thing that is rabies, with an in-depth look at both the science and cultural impact throughout history, I highly recommend this book. I listened to the Audible version and enjoyed the narration by Johnny Heller.
You can find this book here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rabid-Cultural-History-Worlds-Diabolical-ebook/dp/B0072NWKG0
Or here on Audible: http://www.audible.com/pd/History/Rabid-Audiobook/B008K4B6JC