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New Books That Look at the Pandemic and Its Consequences

Readers will likely come to this far-reaching cultural history of quarantine as a public health tool with more personal knowledge about its subject than Manaugh and Twilley anticipated when they began working on their book, long before our current pandemic.

The architecture and science writers marry the history of outbreaks both distant and modern (bubonic plague, yellow fever, H.I.V.-AIDS, Ebola) with anecdotes about their own research experiences. From traveling to Venice to understand how quarantines were deployed during the Black Death to watching the quarantine behaviors of social spiders with a Los Angeles researcher, the pair are friendly companions on a journey to understand what quarantine has been, and what it will become.

“We need a futurologist of quarantine,” one public health expert observes to the authors early on. If not quite futurologists, Twilley and Manaugh manage to remain forward-looking. The book introduces NASA officials, nuclear waste managers, architects and many others trying to reimagine quarantine. It also wrestles with the human-scale issues of emotion, connection and surveillance that we have become all too familiar with since 2020.

“Real-time infection-mapping and restricted-access technologies promise — or perhaps threaten — to make the whole world into a lazaretto, a virtual quarantine facility defined by regulations that force us to avoid the company of others,” the pair predict. “In the coming quarantine, you will be able to go anywhere — but you will be watched, measured and diagnosed the entire time.”

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