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Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World

Author: Irwin W. Sherman1
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Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of California, Riverside, California;
Content Type: Trade
Publication Year: 2007

Category: History of Science; General Interest

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Diseases have significantly shaped the course of the world's history. From the fourteenth-century plague to HIV/AIDS today, diseases have fundamentally altered the shape of society, politics, and culture. In a sweeping, thoughtful account, considers the history of twelve important diseases: their impact, their consequences, their costs, and the lessons learned. Examining hemophilia, blight, tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, influenza, malaria, yellow fever, syphilis, porphyria, and AIDS, this book not only covers the diseases' histories but also addresses public health responses and societal upheavals. Historical perspectives on these diseases will be indispensable for a better understanding of how we and our forebears survived the onslaught of “plagues” and how we might avoid their devastating consequences in the future.

Crucial to this examination is exploring how past experience can help us to deal effectively with “coming plagues.” Whether attempts to control outbreaks were successful or not, lessons can be learned that are crucial for disease containment today. Most significantly, this book explains the lessons learned from attempts to contain past disease outbreaks and how that knowledge can be utilized in the future. Despite the challenges that a major epidemic presents, also details various past successes in which diseases were brought under control and social disorder was minimized.

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Doody Enterprises

18 February 2013

At A Glance

Diseases have significantly shaped the course of the world's history. From the fourteenth-century plague to HIV/AIDS today, diseases have fundamentally altered the shape of society, politics, and culture. In a sweeping, thoughtful account, "Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World" considers the history of twelve important diseases: their impact, their consequences, their costs, and the lessons learned. Examining hemophilia, blight, tuberculosis, cholera, smallpox, bubonic plague, influenza, malaria, yellow fever, and syphilis, this book not only covers the diseases' histories but also addresses public health responses and societal upheavals. Historical perspectives on these diseases will be indispensable for a better understanding of how we and our forbearers survived the onslaught of "plagues" and how we might avoid their devastating consequences in the future. Crucial to this examination is exploring how past experience can help us to deal effectively with "coming plagues." Whether attempts to control outbreak successful or not, lessons can be learned that are crucial for disease containment today. Most significantly, this book explains the lessons learned from attempts to contain past disease outbreaks and how that knowledge can be utilized in the future. Despite the challenges that a major epidemic presents, "Twelve Diseases That Changed Our World" also details various past successes in which diseases were brought under control and social disorder was minimized.

Description

This book examines 12 important diseases from a historical perspective. Each chapter provides a description of the disease, its origins, symptoms, how it is acquired, treatment, control measures, and its consequences. In these sections the author examines the impact of disease on humans, from social perceptions and stigmatization of those afflicted to changes in populations due to emigration and immigration. The discussions center on periods when each disease was at its height, as measured by either the greatest number of people affected (the plague), political upheaval (porphyria and hemophilia), or great changes in demographics (late blight of potato). The author also offers insights about the consequences of each disease addressing areas of lessons learned, current status, and chances for future outbreaks.

Purpose

The purpose is to present a historical account of disease and its impact on society. The book examines the nature of disease and the human response in terms of attempts to control its spread and limit its consequences. By focusing on the past, the author sets the framework for discussions on lessons learned so we may better understand how we may respond to future outbreaks.

Audience

The book is intended for general readers who have an interest in history and biology, biology students, and teachers who wish to include more information on the history and impact of disease in their courses. It should also be useful in microbiology courses as a supplemental reader as 10 of 12 diseases covered are microbial pathogens. The author, professor emeritus at the University of California, Riverside, has published numerous scholarly papers and four books in this area.

Features

Most of the diseases are caused by microbial pathogens, but two are genetic disorders (porphyria and hemophilia). Historical accounts of bacterial disease include cholera, the plague, syphilis, and tuberculosis. The impact of viral epidemics is illustrated by smallpox, yellow fever, the 1918 influenza pandemic, and HIV. The impact of disease on a population dependent upon subsistence farming is illustrated by the Irish potato blight, in which the causative agent was a water mold. Interestingly, this is also the only disease included that is not a human pathogen, but its effects were to drastically change the demographics of the United States in the mid-19th century. The story of the devastating effects of the protozoan parasite which causes malaria is also told along with the efforts to control it and its impact on Africa. The book is well written, but does not contain any figures or tables, data presentation, or any illustrations.

Assessment

The book is easy to read and enjoyable. However, it tends to repeat information from the author's previous book, The Power of Plagues (ASM Press, 2006). Many of the diseases discussed in that book (the plague, malaria, cholera, and syphilis, tuberculosis, and smallpox) appear here and in familiar format. There is extensive overlap in the author's general discussion of epidemiology or spread of disease in populations and the sections on the basic reproductive ratio of the disease (the disease multiplier, Ro), as well as explanations of how each disease is transmitted. However, in this book, the author focuses more on the changes and the impact of disease upon society, making it a nice complement to the previous work and a good read for those interested in the whole story behind some of the world's most tumultuous times.

Doody Enterprises

Reviewer: Erick Snellman, PhD (The Citadel)

Review Date: Unknown

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