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David Quammen’s ‘Breathless’ spotlights the scientists and researchers in “the race to defeat” COVID-19

David Quammen, author of ‘Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus’ (Simon & Schuster, 2022).
David Quammen, author of ‘Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus’ (Simon & Schuster, 2022).

This week on The Write Question, host Lauren Korn speaks with David Quammen, author of Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus (Simon & Schuster)—an in-depth, scientific look at the coronavirus pandemic that swept, and is still sweeping, the globe. Breathless is a book that questions the virus’s origins; it is, as many of David’s books are, an origin story.

David has appeared on The Write Question many times, including an appearance in special program that aired in April of 2020 in partnership with Humanities Montana (see below); in it, David speaks with Humanities Montana’s Samantha Dwyer about his work during and considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Listeners are strongly encouraged to listen to that conversation before or after this episode. At the time of this conversation, Breathless had just been shortlisted for the National Book Award for Non-Fiction.

About David:

David Quammen’s books include Breathless, The Tangled Tree, The Song of the Dodo, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, and Spillover, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and recipient of the Premio Letterario Merck, in Rome. He has written for The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, National Geographic, and Outside, among other magazines, and is a three-time winner of the National Magazine Award. Quammen shares a home in Bozeman, Montana, with his wife, Betsy Gaines Quammen, author of American Zion, and with two Russian wolfhounds, a cross-eyed cat, and a rescue python. Visit him at

David Quammen recommends:

Plagues and Peoples by William McNeill (Anchor Books)

No Time to Lose: A Life in Pursuit of Deadly Viruses by Peter Piot (W. W. Norton & Company)

The Origins of AIDS by Jacques Pépin (Cambridge University Press)

Lifting the Impenetrable Veil: From Yellow Fever to Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever and SARS by Charles H. Calisher (Gail Blinde)

The Evolution and Emergence of RNA Viruses by Edward C. Holmes

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War Iby Barbara Tuchman (Penguin Random House)

Lauren Korn recommends:

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W. W. Norton & Company) and anything written by David Quammen

The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)

The Write Question team for this episode was Lauren Korn, host, co-producer; Chris Moyles, co-producer; and Bryan Ramirez, sound engineer.

The Write Question logo and brand (2022) was designed by Molly Russell. You can see more of her work at and on Instagram @iamthemollruss. Our music was written and recorded by John Floridis.

Funding for The Write Question comes from Humanities Montana; members of Montana Public Radio; and from the Greater Montana Foundation—encouraging communication on issues, trends, and values of importance to Montanans.

The Write Question is a production of Montana Public Radio.

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Lauren R. Korn holds an M.A. in poetry from the University of New Brunswick, where she was the recipient of the Tom Riesterer Memorial Prize and the Angela Ludan Levine Memorial Book Prize. A former bookseller and the former Director of the Montana Book Festival, she is now an Arts and Culture Producer at Montana Public Radio and the host of it’s literature-based radio program and podcast, ‘The Write Question.’
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