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Ah-Choo!  The Uncommon Life

of Your Common Cold
2010, Twelve (hardcover)

On average, we spend five years of our lives suffering from colds.  Wouldn't it be a good idea to learn something about them?  Some colds are like mice, timid and annoying; others like dragons, accompanied by body aches and deep misery. Ah-Choo! explains just what a cold is, how it works, and whether it’s really possible to “fight one off.” Scientists call this the Golden Age of the Common Cold for good reason.  Americans suffer up to a billion colds each year, resulting in 40 million days of missed work and school and 100 million doctor visits.  Also, over the past decade we’ve learned much more about what cold viruses are, what they do to the human body, and how symptoms can be addressed.   This ode to the odious cold sifts through the chatter about treatments—what works, what doesn’t, and what can’t hurt. It dispels myths, such as susceptibility to colds reflects a weakened immune system. And it tracks current research, including work at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, a world-renowned center of cold research studies, where the search for a cure continues. 

Selected as a finalist for the 2010 Books for a Better Life Award


See the Ah-Choo! video  

What people are saying:

The common cold is far from being the stuffy subject one might expect. In the hands of gifted science writer Ackerman, the cold is addressed with dry wit while she covers every detail from soup (chicken, of course) to nuts (folk remedies). Only a science writer can find being intentionally inoculated with a cold virus and sequestered for a weekend entertaining."                                              Booklist (starred review)


 “God Bless You!—and this thoroughly delightful compendium of facts, fiction, and down-to-earth advice about the pesky viruses (200 and counting) that knock you down and drag you out . . . Ackerman parses the variety and durability of the cold, its well known miseries, paradoxes, and myriad mysteries with the thoroughness of a scientist, the doggedness of a journalist, and the verve of a thriller writer.                                Publishers Weekly


Ackerman leaves no germ unturned in her latest investigation  . . . Ah Choo! covers almost everything you need to know about the most irritating virus known to humans  . . . From her thorough review of the scientific evidence, combined with extensive interviews with experts in the field, Ackerman expertly guides us through the hoaxes, the placebos and the genuinely effective treatments  . . . Ah-Choo! is packed with interesting facts about colds, from how a sneeze sound is pronounced in other languages ("apchi" in Hebrew, "hakushon" in Japanese) to bizarre remedies from the past ("kissing the hairy muzzle of a mouse") . . . She is a gifted storyteller with the ability to simultaneously inform and entertain her readers. This, combined with the fact that on average a person will catch 200 colds in a lifetime (amounting to five years of symptoms and a full year in bed), makes Ah-Choo! relevant and enjoyable bed-side reading.” — Winnipeg Free Press

 Ackerman has a nose for the facts, and she sniffs out plenty of them here, including lots of surprising statistics, disgustingly fun facts, and the results of scientific studies. I like the way she dishes the dirt; in fact, just about every page contains something that will make your rheumy eyes crinkle with glee. I also like that Ackerman coughs up some remedy recipes at the end of this book. Whether you say apchi (Hebrew), apjo (Swedish), hakushon (Japanese) or apchkhi (Russian), you’ll enjoy reading “Ah-Choo!”. Ask for it by name. And Gesundheit.
Terri Schlichenmeyer, The Bookworm Sez

Ackerman, who loves to hunt and gather in researching a topic like this, discovered that the common cold served up a tantalizing array of good stories, such as the weird 'cure' endured by Calvin Coolidge (three days in a chlorine chamber).  The book is full of interesting facts (you're more likely to catch a cold from a simple handshake than from kissing or getting sneezed on) and busted myths (susceptibility to the cold does not require a weakened immune system)... Her little ode to the odious cold will leave readers with an infectious interest in the planet's most common infection--and also, solid knowledge of how to avoid catching these ubiquitous bugs in the first place.              —Kirkus Reviews


Read Jennifer Ackerman’s Op-Ed “How Not to Fight a Cold” in the New York Times

Additional press coverage:

Interview on NPR's Fresh Air (September 13, 2010):

'Ah-Choo!' Takes On Mysteries Of The Common Cold


The New Yorker’s The Book Bench Q&A:

Time Magazine’s Q&A:

Michael Humphrey's Q & A for

iVillage online slideshow about myths, remedies, and facts from the book:

Tablet Magazine's back-to-school round-up:

Interview with EarthSky:

Interview with "It's Your Health":

Radio National interview (Australia)






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