Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine (Hardcover)

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Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley have been researching quarantine since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. With Until Proven Safe, they bring us a book as compelling as it is definitive, not only urgent reading for social-distanced times but also an up-to-the-minute investigation of the interplay of forces–––biological, political, technological––that shape our modern world.

Quarantine is our most powerful response to uncertainty: it means waiting to see if something hidden inside us will be revealed. It is also one of our most dangerous, operating through an assumption of guilt. In quarantine, we are considered infectious until proven safe.

Until Proven Safe tracks the history and future of quarantine around the globe, chasing the story of emergency isolation through time and space—from the crumbling lazarettos of the Mediterranean, built to contain the Black Death, to an experimental Ebola unit in London, and from the hallways of the CDC to closed-door simulations where pharmaceutical execs and epidemiologists prepare for the outbreak of a novel coronavirus.

But the story of quarantine ranges far beyond the history of medical isolation. In Until Proven Safe, the authors tour a nuclear-waste isolation facility beneath the New Mexican desert, see plants stricken with a disease that threatens the world’s wheat supply, and meet NASA’s Planetary Protection Officer, tasked with saving Earth from extraterrestrial infections. They also introduce us to the corporate tech giants hoping to revolutionize quarantine through surveillance and algorithmic prediction.

We live in a disorienting historical moment that can feel both unprecedented and inevitable; Until Proven Safe helps us make sense of our new reality through a thrillingly reported, thought-provoking exploration of the meaning of freedom, governance, and mutual responsibility.

About the Author

NICOLA TWILLEY is co-host of the award-winning podcast Gastropod, which looks at food through the lens of history and science, and an award-winning contributor to The New Yorker. She lives in Los Angeles.

GEOFF MANAUGH is the author of the New York Times-bestseller A Burglar’s Guide to the City, as well as the architecture and technology website BLDGBLOG. He regularly writes for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Wired, and many other publications. He lives in Los Angeles.

Praise For…

“[An] engrossing examination of protective isolation . . . An island near Dubrovnik, NASA, Nebraska, and Venice are a few destinations on the authors’ itinerary . . . Quarantine provides a buffer and a delay, offering space and time, between the known (healthy folks) and the dangerous (potentially contagious people). Its complicated nature is adeptly explored, including ethical concerns, legal and moral questions, and enforcement challenges . . . Fascinating reading.”
—Tony Miksanek, BOOKLIST

"A riveting and timely look at how humanity has protected itself by isolating segments of its populations. . . Manaugh and Twilley cull their research into a concise and logical series of recommendations for future public health crises, grounded in a deep appreciation of the human impact of quarantining. . . The way forward, they write, will require design creativity, legal reforms that ensure “that the authorities making... promises will deliver on them,” and imaginatively thinking about quarantine as an experience that allows agency. This thoughtful study couldn’t arrive at a better moment."
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY (starred review)

"Captivating . . . Manaugh and Twilley meld a global view of a timely subject with vividly detailed accounts . . . But a larger charm of this smart book lies in their ability to bring potentially dry topics to life . . . An infectiously appealing overview of efforts to contain the potentially infectious.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)

“An engrossing study of the ways in which quarantines have changed social, emotional, and political life over hundreds of years, and a fascinating exploration of the perennial roles of fear, conspiracy theories, greed, and prejudice, to which we now add the threat of permanent digital surveillance in the name of public health. Perfect for our time and guidance for the future.”
—ELLEN ULLMAN, author of Close to the Machine and, most recently, Life in Code

“As Twilley and Manaugh reveal in this timely but timeless, ambitious and flawlessly executed account, quarantines have shaped our history—shifting geopolitical boundaries, fomenting racial hatreds, facilitating authoritarian control. The struggle to protect ourselves from invisible and deadly contagions is waged daily and largely out of sight—along borders and spore superhighways, in biosecure piggeries and nuclear waste facilities a half-mile underground. Quarantine: boring to live through, unbelievably interesting to read about.”
—MARY ROACH, author of Stiff and Grunt

"Until Proven Safe is the book of our historical moment—a provocative meditation on how society uses quarantine to define the boundaries of self and other when faced with the terrifying unknown. Startlingly timely, authoritatively researched, and electrifyingly written."
—STEVE SILBERMAN, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity

"Strap on your plague beaks and round up the loose women! In this intrepid, occasionally creepy jaunt through seven centuries of disease control, Twilley and Manaugh prove that the past is never dead; it’s just in quarantine."
—ALEXIS COE, New York Times Bestselling author of You Never Forget Your First: A Biography of George Washington

Until Proven Safe combines history, geography, epidemiology, and the ethics of space exploration—how can this be? Because, as the authors explain in a very entertaining and wide-ranging way, quarantine, ironically enough, crosses borders of space and time to make a complex knot of stories. Timely, eye-opening, provocative—you will see the world differently after reading it.”
—KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award-winning novelist, and author of Ministry for the Future

"What does it mean to isolate threats: people carrying diseases; the microbes, themselves; radioactive materials? For centuries the primary tool of isolation has been quarantine, and in this globe-trotting tale of history and today’s COVID-19 crisis, Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley offer answers that will make your jaw drop. Nothing about “quarantine” is as simple or straight-forward as you think."
—LAURIE GARRETT, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World out of Balance

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374126582
ISBN-10: 0374126585
Publisher: MCD
Publication Date: July 20th, 2021
Pages: 416
Language: English

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