Phil Bolton
Phil Bolton

Book: Art in Science: Selections from Emerging Infectious Diseases

Author: Polyxeni Potter

Reviewer: Phil Bolton, Global Atlanta publisher

Leonardo da Vinci would have loved Polyxeni Potter’s collection of essays titled “Art in Science: Selections from Emerging Infectious Diseases” — my choice for the most interesting book I have read in 2015.

Leonardo was famous for following around an individual with a strangely shaped head or any kind of deformity until he was confident that he could replicate the form with pen and ink.

The antithesis of a specialist, he applied his powers of observation to all fields — too innumerable to list entirely but including botany, architecture, civil and military engineering, town planning, hydrology, cartography, and so many others.

“Art and science were aligned harmoniously in Leonardo,” Mrs. Potter wrote in her essay on “vector-borne infections,” which is accompanied by the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Vector-borne? The term is most commonly used to describe an illness caused by an infectious microbe transmitted by blood-sucking insects (mosquitoes, fleas, lice and bugs) or arachnids (mites and ticks).

But what does the Mona Lisa have to do with vector-borne infections?

“The puzzles of our era — unknown pathogens, many of them vector-borne, emerging biological threats, ecologic disasters, antimicrobial drug resistance — can also benefit from meticulous observation, accurate recording, added perspective, and the interdisciplinary approach to knowledge,” is Mrs. Potter’s response. “Just as with Leonardo, the art is in the science.”

In a world where professionalism can be limiting to the narrowest specialization, one can only admire Mrs. Potter’s courage for merging wisdom of science and the paintings of the world’s greatest artists from all nations, from prehistory to the most contemporary.

As the managing senior editor of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s journal “Emerging Infectious Diseases,” she joined famous works of visual art to the journal’s contents featuring such topics as contagions, the emergence of new diseases and antimicrobial resistance.

Additionally, she places the scientific and clinical articles in their larger contexts by linking them to her essays divided among the themes of poverty and war, the hazards of global travel, natural disasters and human-animal interactions.

Today’s modern plagues are all accounted for as well as those re-emerging such as malaria and tuberculosis that were thought to have been vanquished.

And what amazing company these essays keep in this volume published by the Oxford University Press in 2014, from the best known artists such a Leonardo, Rembrandt and Renoir to unknown artists such as those who painted the scenes on ancient Greek amphoras.

Mrs. Potter is retired from her editorial post with the CDC. But she continues to live in Atlanta and serves as the honorary consul of Cyprus.

This book is masterfully crafted to create a bridge joining science and the humanities. It provided me with a heightened awareness of both.