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The origin of the AIDs epidemic has been one of the major scientific riddles of our time, and Edward Hooper's The River is a brilliant piece of scientific journalism that attempts to offer some worthwhile answers, and in doing so, raises some uncomfortable questions. "The biotechnological advances of the last twenty-five years hold out tantalising promises of human advancement and happiness, but they also confront us potentially with the greatest dangers our species has ever faced." Hooper certainly manages to clear the ground, demolishing a lot of the standard hypotheses on how the AIDs epidemic started. Instead, he produces one which has at the very least the merit of being directly falsifiable, however controversial and productive of litigation. In doing so, he raises important questions about the public ethical accountability of scientists, the use of human beings in experiments and the use of animals as the source for vaccines and transplants. If he is right, the attempt in the 1950s to tackle one major epidemic, polio, has inadvertently produced another even greater plague; and even if he is wrong, he has raised some important questions. This is not just a scientific investigation, of course; it is an important human story and Hooper's interviews with many of the scientists involved in tracing the origins of the epidemic are smart and humane. This is a crucial book which none interested in the issues it raises can afford to ignore. --Roz Kaveney [via]