I know enough about my fascination with viruses to know, as a non-scientist, my curiosity about them has more to do with philosophy than medicine but that may well be yet another reason for biologists (for just one group) to be equally ensnared by their subject.
The Virus, for its opportunism in the extreme (parasitical is too meager a description) and because its very nature is controversial (is it Life or isn't it? I agree with his footnote on the bottom of pg.8) can appear to be such a vast topic that no one author can be expected to resolve or ask or even comprehend all the questions. Wolfe, in his first 35 pages, does at least try - and it remains my favorite section of the book - his amazement with these microscopic life(?)forms is so engaging that if you didn't have a respect for them before you will have afterwards. And, if the next 300 or so pages that come after it were just "so-so" for me that is not the fault of Wolfe, he has a wide readership to appeal to and just because I am not particularly interested in bureaucracies, who got what grant to do what and where does not mean that these aren't valid sections for millions of others.
But those first 35 pages, yes, they are heady indeed, Wolfe is delightful in both his recognition of just what makes these viruses so shocking and where we fit in their world (ie."our bodies are their habitats," p.27), and his conclusion in the first chapter, (Viral Planet) says it all: the viral world is the "new world," the last frontier of undiscovered life on our planet."
Perhaps it is the Lewis Thomas phenomena, a flashpoint where scientist and non-scientist can co-exist in a mutual relationship of shared passion, be it horror or admiration, or both? There is much to admire in what a Virus is, or has been, or will be, and if I took nothing else away from Wolfe's book it is that "we" are (numerically) a speck of life within a planetary Viral soup. These life forms are so relentlessly efficient, competent and resourceful that even bacteria (which we tend to think of as quite accomplished all on their own) are covered in viruses! And it goes far beyond just the numbers, "we" are not as dominant as we like to think we are, and Wolfe's presentation of the Viral world inverted or turned inside out my naive and humanistic vanity that on this planet "we" are the masters. We survive because it suits the Virus to help or even make sure that we survive; even the health of the oceans and other aquatic regions are dependent upon viruses to reduce and recycle carbon by destroying bacteria there; as with carbon itself, without viruses "we" would not be here either.
Aside from these initial pages I also found worthy discussions on bioterrorism and "bioerror" (see chap.8 Viral Rush) and the Gentle Virus (chap.11) which just reinforces my analogy that we are closer to being the non-thinking but accommodating host than they are haphazard non-cognitive scraps of DNA/RNA parasite!
Give the first 35 pages a good read, and be prepared to lose that sense of superiority over these titans of the microscopic world.