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The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has in The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has influenced pandemic disease. Extremely interesting from a medical standpoint, the study of pandemics also provides unexpected, broader insights into culture and politics.


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The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has in The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has influenced pandemic disease. Extremely interesting from a medical standpoint, the study of pandemics also provides unexpected, broader insights into culture and politics.

30 review for Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra X feels sophisticated living in Manhatten

    What is a pandemic? The criteria for an outbreak of a disease to be defined as a pandemic are that it should be distributed over a wide area, that it should be extremely contagious - as it travels from one person to another, most people are infected as there is minimal immunity and it should be an extremely severe disease with major mortality. If it is limited in area, it is an epidemic. If it is limited in both area and numbers of people affected, it is an outbreak. The book details the major pa What is a pandemic? The criteria for an outbreak of a disease to be defined as a pandemic are that it should be distributed over a wide area, that it should be extremely contagious - as it travels from one person to another, most people are infected as there is minimal immunity and it should be an extremely severe disease with major mortality. If it is limited in area, it is an epidemic. If it is limited in both area and numbers of people affected, it is an outbreak. The book details the major pandemics throughout history. Plague, tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, cholera, the various forms of influenza, Spanish flu and recently Avian flu, and HIV/AIDS. When you look at that list, there are treatments for all of them but none of them, except smallpox is extinct. Some diseases are the result of poverty and therefore more prevalent in the third world - particularly malaria and cholera. All of them require first world treatments that the developing world often cannot afford given the rapaciousness of drug companies. One disease, tuberculosis, which is easily prevented with vaccination and curable with medications, has seen a resurgence because of HIV/AIDS. The major ways of dealing with a pandemic, which was the strategy with ebola that contained it as an epidemic, is quarantine for those infected, isolation of areas with the disease, travel restrictions and and , as in the quarantine, isolation and travel restrictions. To really limit a pandemic in this day and age of world travel is for governments to co-operate, learning from past experience not just of disease and treatment but of local cultures too. Many diseases are still active in a dead body and many cultures have burial rites that require mourners to actually touch the corpse. Vaccination, a contentious issue among poor governments, conspiracy theorists and those who do not believe in Occam's Razor is by far the best way of preventing disease and keeping outbreaks from developing into epidemics or worse, pandemics. Vaccinations work by the overwhelming majority of a local population being innoculated and therefore immune to a disease, which then cannot spread or travel, and is therefore self-limiting. I thought this would be good to read after finishing Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. I was right. It is a good book and gave me a greater understanding of world health and the need for governments health departments to be above conflict of any kind with other nations.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    A solid, accessible introduction to pandemics in world history, with a case study of seven major pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, TB, flu, and HIV/AIDS. Christian McMillen does a good job of using each case study to illuminate a different aspect of how pandemics spread, with the discussion of failures in public health/governmental responses to malaria and HIV/AIDS perhaps the most illuminating in the present moment. Reading the epilogue (written in 2016), which in just a fe A solid, accessible introduction to pandemics in world history, with a case study of seven major pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, TB, flu, and HIV/AIDS. Christian McMillen does a good job of using each case study to illuminate a different aspect of how pandemics spread, with the discussion of failures in public health/governmental responses to malaria and HIV/AIDS perhaps the most illuminating in the present moment. Reading the epilogue (written in 2016), which in just a few paragraphs predicts most of the failures in governmental/global health reaction to COVID-19, is quite the trip.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Seema Singh

    Great read. Very relevant due to current Covid 19 situation. It's more of a historical overview but touches on the political & socio economic effects of past pandemics Great read. Very relevant due to current Covid 19 situation. It's more of a historical overview but touches on the political & socio economic effects of past pandemics

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jackson Cyril

    A quick, but important look at a phenomenon that should be given more attention to (as it has killed, and continues to kill, large numbers of people). McMillen surveys a few important diseases (Influenza, AIDS/HIV, Cholera etc), moving on to chronicling the history of treating these diseases in the past, and ends with our current responses to these diseases. He concludes ultimately, that we haven't learned a damn thing from the past, and this is why our current efforts to combat pandemics are so A quick, but important look at a phenomenon that should be given more attention to (as it has killed, and continues to kill, large numbers of people). McMillen surveys a few important diseases (Influenza, AIDS/HIV, Cholera etc), moving on to chronicling the history of treating these diseases in the past, and ends with our current responses to these diseases. He concludes ultimately, that we haven't learned a damn thing from the past, and this is why our current efforts to combat pandemics are so pathetic.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rona Akbari

    quick pandemics 101 with what i thought was p good critical commentary. he kind of roasts the WHO, too. i do wish there was more science involved, like scientific explanations and stuff, in the book. using this as a starter book towards other pandemic readings, i’d recommend it as such!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barry Welsh

    4 stars. Scary...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Fantastic overview, emphasizing that pandemics aren't solely natural events — they're conjunctions of evolution and human social and economic structures, where patterns like urbanization, poverty, coordination, and the production and dissemination of knowledge create the circumstances in which maladies new and old can arise and thrive. Fantastic overview, emphasizing that pandemics aren't solely natural events — they're conjunctions of evolution and human social and economic structures, where patterns like urbanization, poverty, coordination, and the production and dissemination of knowledge create the circumstances in which maladies new and old can arise and thrive.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erin Cook

    Medicine is racist, colonialism killed millions and we're all gonna die Medicine is racist, colonialism killed millions and we're all gonna die

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Interesting and readable introduction to pandemics - which you might've guessed from the title also. Interesting and readable introduction to pandemics - which you might've guessed from the title also.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Syed Muhammad

    It is a kind of book one should read nowadays for very obvious reason. This book has definitely helped me a lot to understand pandemics and global health. I would say this book is a historical narrative of pandemics; nonetheless, it also covers myriad of factors which are influenced by Pandemics in the course of human history; such as, economy, society, science, and politics. Moreover, this narrative presents how humans have dealt with or dealing with pandemics. Besides, it clearly suggests that It is a kind of book one should read nowadays for very obvious reason. This book has definitely helped me a lot to understand pandemics and global health. I would say this book is a historical narrative of pandemics; nonetheless, it also covers myriad of factors which are influenced by Pandemics in the course of human history; such as, economy, society, science, and politics. Moreover, this narrative presents how humans have dealt with or dealing with pandemics. Besides, it clearly suggests that pandemics are going to be a part of human lives in near future, and developing world is more vulnerable to them. It is a not a thick tome, it is hardly 100 odd pages; nevertheless, the writing style is purely academic. If you cannot read the whole book, please read at least introduction, and last chapters on Influenza, HIV/AIDS along with epilogue.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Hank Hoeft

    This is an excellent primer about seven of the worst pandemic diseases in human history: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. McMillen, taking each disease in turn, describes its effect on its victims, gives a brief history that focuses on pandemic outbreaks from its first known occurrence up to present day, and discusses "the cultural, economic, political, social, and demographic effects" as well. Also, while not doing so overtly, the book teaches a lesson This is an excellent primer about seven of the worst pandemic diseases in human history: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. McMillen, taking each disease in turn, describes its effect on its victims, gives a brief history that focuses on pandemic outbreaks from its first known occurrence up to present day, and discusses "the cultural, economic, political, social, and demographic effects" as well. Also, while not doing so overtly, the book teaches a lesson in hubris, the over-weaning pride and arrogance of scientists who have asserted over and over in the past two hundred years that humans are on the brink of reining in and controlling, or even eradicating, disease.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Timothy

    This really is a very short and very handy introduction to pandemics. I enjoyed this brief but interesting account of plague, small pox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDs. The author livened up the prose with quotes from people who lived through these infectious terrors. At 123 pages this book could easily supplement any course in disasters, history medicine, or world history. Also, it is easy to read in one sitting. I may include it next time I teach natural disasters.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sharon C. Robideaux

    Very helpful As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, we need to arm ourselves with information. McMillen's Short Introduction is a good place to begin. Only rarely does the author lapse into technical medical jargon. For the most part, the book is accessible and concise. Its publication predates COVID-19, so I hope there will be another edition once we survive this current pandemic. Very helpful As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world, we need to arm ourselves with information. McMillen's Short Introduction is a good place to begin. Only rarely does the author lapse into technical medical jargon. For the most part, the book is accessible and concise. Its publication predates COVID-19, so I hope there will be another edition once we survive this current pandemic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Highly recommend Easy read with really important lessons from past pandemics. Choosing to downplay the influenza over fear of panic? Thinking medicine has advanced to the point that no bacteria or virus can last long enough to cause worldwide devastation? Unfortunately, we are making those mistakes all over again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Murilo Silva

    An endemic is generally considered to be an unexpected, widespread rise in disease incidence at a given time. A pandemic is best thought of as a very large epidemic. Due to WHO's classification of a pandemic during the 2009 H1N1 crisis, several infectious disease specialists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came up with broad framework that a pandemic has to meet 8 criteria: wide geographic extension, disease movement, high a An endemic is generally considered to be an unexpected, widespread rise in disease incidence at a given time. A pandemic is best thought of as a very large epidemic. Due to WHO's classification of a pandemic during the 2009 H1N1 crisis, several infectious disease specialists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) came up with broad framework that a pandemic has to meet 8 criteria: wide geographic extension, disease movement, high attack rates and explosiveness, minimal population immunity, novelty, infectiousness, contagiousness, and severity. The plague is caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis, transmitted by the bite of an infected flea. It first appeared in 541 in the Egyptian port city of Pelusium. It has had three pandemics: the Plague of Justinian (probably originated from the interior of Central Africa through trade networks), the Black Pague (started in 1347 and the first wave lasted until 1353, but it remained to assail Europe occasionally and sporadically until its last outbreak in Russia in 1770), and the Third Pandemic (started in China in 1890 and lasted until WW1). Many reacted in horror to the plague, as Giovanni Boccaccio so vividly documents in The Decameron. Based on Boccaccio’s experience in Florence, The Decameron is an unparalleled literary representation of the plague’s reception. Italian city-states such as Venice and Florence were the first to create sanitary commissions, despite not being very helpful. The Death Plague decimated between 30 and 60% of Europe's population. However, wages went up due to the scarcity of labor afterwards, leading to a likely relative increase in living standards for peasants. revolution. At the very beginning of the pandemic in 1894, Alexander Yersin, a Swiss-French scientist, and Shibasaburo Kitasato, a Japanese researcher, working independently, discovered the plague bacillus within ten days of each other. Next, as the pandemic made its way around the world, so too did the idea—first proposed by French scientist Paul-Louis Simond while working in Bombay in 1898 — that plague was transmitted through fleas living on rats. Debates over who gets plague and why and how it was transmitted came to an end. Evidence from Egyptian mummies is tantalizing but not definitive; it is possible that the Plague of Athens, beginning in 430 bce and so memorably described by Thucydides, was caused by smallpox. The African slave trade and settler colonialism brought smallpox to the New World, where it and other diseases reduced the indigenous population by as much as 90 percent. Before the middle of the seventeenth century, smallpox was not an especially virulent killer. Then, somehow, smallpox changed. By the eighteenth century it had become the continent’s major killer, surpassing the plague in the public imagination and mortality. Inoculation, and later vaccination, began to change that. Inoculation involved introducing a small amount of the disease into a cut to induce a low-level reaction. If all went well, the patient would experience a mild form of smallpox and would become immune for life, just as anyone who had caught disease and survived. In 1796, when Edward Jenner prevented smallpox in a young English boy by inoculating him with a small amount of cowpox, rather than human smallpox via variolation, it signaled the beginning of the end. (The term “vaccine” comes from Jenner, who called cowpox variolae vaccinae, or smallpox of the cow.) Two years later he announced his discovery to the world. While others had inoculated with cowpox before him, Jenner’s innovation was proving that it worked by subsequently infecting a patient with smallpox and demonstrating immunity. Vaccination with attenuated cowpox was quickly accepted as superior to inoculation with smallpox. By the 1830s, the Hudson’s Bay Company had vaccinated good portions of the native population of western Canada; in Guatemala colonial doctors began to inoculate the Maya in the 1770s, even adopting Mayan medical techniques like the use of obsidian knives. In the United States, vaccination efforts among American Indians were generally too little, too late—hence the horrible epidemic on the Missouri. In 1980, after the 1970s Smallpox Eradication Program (SEP), the WHO declared the planet smallpox-free. Malaria originated in Africa and is caused by an infection with a parasitic protozoan of the genus Plasmodium. Because it so often kills its host and does not live long in the human body—unlike tuberculosis, which can remain dormant for a lifetime after infection—malaria needs a constant resupply of hosts. This requires a dense population, which emerged slowly when the forests of central Africa began to be cleared for agriculture four to ten thousand years ago. Lots of mosquitoes are required. And mosquitoes need particular living conditions: those made available when farmers cut down vegetation and cleared the absorbent soil, creating pools of water ripe for mosquito breeding. For much of the nineteenth century, malaria, along with cholera, was the quintessential miasmatic disease. Germ theory changed that. After Alphonse Laveran detected the malaria parasite in human blood in 1880 and continuing advances in the technology of pathology allowed more and more people to literally see, and thus accept, that malaria was caused by a protozoan, miasma theory no longer prevailed. Next came the vector. Near the end of the century, in 1898, Ronald Ross in India and Giovanni Grassi in Italy proved that anopheline mosquitoes transmitted malaria. In 1955, the WHO officially announced the Malaria Eradication Program (MEP). Despite Africa having the vast majority of the world’s malaria cases, the MEP, other than in a few demonstration projects, did not even attempt to rid it of malaria. The infrastructure was too weak and the problem too great; eradication on the continent would be impossible. Finding a technological solution to the malaria problem, whether it be bed nets or more effective drugs, has been the dream of malaria control since the end of the nineteenth century. But by the middle of the twentieth century it seemed like all the pieces were in place to achieve what seemed the far easier goal of eliminating the vector via technology instead of eliminating, or mitigating, the conditions that help malaria flourish in the first place. Cholera is a horrific disease acquired by ingesting water contaminated with infected fecal matter. For centuries no one knew how to treat it. Then, in the 1960s, medical researchers and clinicians working in Bangladesh determined that a combination of salt, sugar, and water could replace the fluids lost to cholera (and diarrhea generally). Oral rehydration therapy has since saved millions of lives. There have been seven pandemics, and we are in the middle of the seventh one. Where did cholera come from? Beginning in the early 1830s, most thought the answer was India—Bengal, specifically—and Asia more broadly. Research into cholera’s natural history in recent years has made its origins less certain, but the association of India with cholera has forever stigmatized that country. René Louis Villermé’s demographic research in Paris in the 1820s established that one’s economic standing, and not environmental factors, explained the ill health of the residents of Paris’s poorest arrondissements. Villermé’s British counterpart, William Farr, revealed similar connections in the urban centers of England. Cholera appeared as the result of poverty brought on by the rapid industrialization and urbanization spreading across much of the West. This way of thinking could comfortably accommodate contagion and miasma. The association between a given place and cholera (and ill health generally) was most heartily embraced by Edwin Chadwick, who in the 1830s was a bureaucrat managing Britain’s Poor Laws. Fascinated with the relationship between poverty and illness and committed to the utilitarianism of philosopher Jeremy Bentham, Chadwick teamed up with several physicians. Chadwick's report became the bible of the British sanitary movement. Villermé thought that an unjust economic system created stark differences between the rich and the poor; Chadwick, a committed miasmatist, only saw dirty and clean places. There was no need for large-scale social and economic restructuring; cities simply needed to clean themselves up. Chadwick’s vision, which would take a half century to fully implement, would be, along with Paris’s sewer system, one of the great engineering feats of the nineteenth century. And while clean water certainly resulted in healthier cities, concerns over the health of the poor were not always, or even often, the primary driver behind the clamor for clean water. Consumer and industrial interests demanded it. John Snow and Robert Koch were also important in finding the causes and transmissions. Cholera, more than any other infectious disease, is the product and symbol of social inequality. It simply does not exist where there’s a reliably clean supply of water. Climate change will likely make this worse as cholera’s reach will expand into those places most affected by and unable to mitigate the effects of rising sea temperatures—temperatures at which cholera can thrive.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    The book introduces the history of seven pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. Author Christian McMillen details the ways people have responded to pandemics in the past, and the general failure for hard-won knowledge to persist when the next pandemic rolls around. As I write this in 2020, we are seeing some of this sad history repeat itself with the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the Trump horror/comedy show. McMillen lamen The book introduces the history of seven pandemic diseases: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. Author Christian McMillen details the ways people have responded to pandemics in the past, and the general failure for hard-won knowledge to persist when the next pandemic rolls around. As I write this in 2020, we are seeing some of this sad history repeat itself with the SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 pandemic, especially with the Trump horror/comedy show. McMillen laments that: "These lessons are not new; the history of epidemics and pandemics has been teaching them for centuries. That there seems to be no historical consciousness is frustrating, but not just because I am a historian. It is frustrating because it is wasteful and inefficient." George Bernard Shaw famously wrote that all professions are conspiracies against the laity. A less cynical view is that each profession rightly sees itself in possession of some valuable knowledge the public lacks, and to the public's detriment. The problem, of course, is the enormous amount of work required to gain the perspective of a specialist like McMillen - who can possibly have the time and energy to learn everything they need to know? We all suffer harm by failing to know everything known by doctors, computer experts, engineers, historians, and every other field of learning. For the World Health Organization to gain this historical perspective, someone who has that perspective has to dedicate their career to infiltrating that organization and informing/persuading the people already there. They aren't just going to quit whatever they are doing now to take a few years off and read history books. And of course it's somewhat odd for McMillen to hold organizations like the WHO to account for their failure to obtain the best knowledge and act on it, while he makes no such demand on the individual. The people getting and spreading diseases have something in common with the people tasked with preventing people from getting and spreading diseases: they are all people. In theory, they are all capable of reading books. If it's frustrating that the WHO lacks historical consciousness, what of the general public that bears the direct cost of ignoring history and the latest science? This is especially true of the last pandemic covered in the book, HIV/AIDS, which is even more linked to individual behavioral choices than the others, as it is not spread by casual contact nor by contaminated water nor by mosquito vectors (factors that are difficult for individuals to control). I don't understand the author's seeming assumption that people who work for the WHO are responsible for their behavior, and we should feel frustrated at them, while for example people who choose to become intravenous drug users or condom-refusing johns should be viewed as more of a natural phenomenon like the weather - as if they have no agency. Who knows, maybe it's just as hard for folks at the WHO to defy their institutional culture as it is hard for drug users to defy their drug culture. Or maybe it's not - but McMillen should justify his decision to treat different groups as if one has agency and the other does not. McMillen seems to have his own bit of limited perspective when it comes to poverty and climate change. He rightly and frequently decries the contribution of poverty to the burden of disease. He then mentions in a couple of places that man-made global warming threatens to become a new cause of disease, for example by spreading cholera from coastal flooding, and by expanding the ranges of vector species such as mosquitoes. But nowhere does he mention that the solution for poverty - prosperity - is also the main cause of man-made climate change. The more prosperous people are, the higher their carbon footprints are. To solve problems like cholera, we have to increase economic activity, for example to pay for all the water and sewage treatment systems, which for the foreseeable future means burning more fossil fuels, thus trading one problem for another. Of course there are ways to address these problems more efficiently, but so far there is little interest in doing that. To get the clean water supply of a country like the USA, you pretty much have to have the enormous American per capita GDP and climate-destroying lifestyle. No group of people have shown a tendency to only invest in clean water supplies and public health - to get those goodies, you have to make people rich enough to have shopping malls, jet-powered holidays, spacious homes, superhighways, and all the rest. Only a tiny fraction of wealth ever gets directed to eliminating the causes of disease. Elsewhere McMillen shows an unwarranted certainty of the future, when he declares: "The [HIV/AIDS] pandemic also made it clear that we will never live in a world free of disease." Never is a very long time. If by "we" he means "we who exist now" then he's probably correct, although maybe not given that some infants alive today could live more than a century. But if he means never ever for all time, then his claim demands more evidence than the past failures he documents in the book. Science can make some impossibility arguments - for example, we know that faster-than-light travel is impossible even in theory. We can also rule out time travel into the past from the future for the masses, because our current world is not overrun by infinitely many time traveling tourists from the infinitely long future. Other things are possible in theory, but we simply lack the technology to do them at present, such as to cure all diseases. We know diseases are all curable or eradicable in theory, because no disease kills everybody. Individuals vary in their susceptibility to every disease. Therefore, "all" we have to do to cure any disease is to figure out what is different between those who never contract it, or those who survive a mild form of it, and those who succumb to it, and impart whatever that advantage is to the people who don't currently have it. For example, if one person is genetically resistant to HIV infection, then we can figure out how to give everyone else the same genetic advantage. This requires fundamental advances in science and technology from where we are now, but we know of nothing that makes such advances impossible in theory. If McMillen knows, he did not share that knowledge. The history of technological progress shows that people tend to overestimate the potential of progress in the short run while underestimating it in the long run. That's because technological progress tends to follow exponential curves, while people tend to think in straight lines. The book itself illustrates this pattern without explicitly calling attention to the underlying reason - exponential progress. For example, compare where we are with respect to plague today compared to where we were in the 1400s. Where might we be on other diseases 600 years from now? It's as hard for us to say anything meaningful about what people might be doing in 600 years as it would have been hard for people 600 years ago to comprehend where we are today. Assuming that man-made climate change doesn't collapse civilization and halt scientific progress, of course.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bojan Tunguz

    As I write this, the World is ten months or so into the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, and this Pandemic has been one of the most life-changing events for most people around the Globe. Naturally, the interest in pandemics has been insatiable, and it has helped sales of books on the topic - such as this short introduction. When I first considered buying it it was sold out on Amazon, and took months to get my own copy. The book is a very readable historical account of the seven major global pandemics - Pl As I write this, the World is ten months or so into the 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic, and this Pandemic has been one of the most life-changing events for most people around the Globe. Naturally, the interest in pandemics has been insatiable, and it has helped sales of books on the topic - such as this short introduction. When I first considered buying it it was sold out on Amazon, and took months to get my own copy. The book is a very readable historical account of the seven major global pandemics - Plague, Smallpox, Malaria, Cholera, Tuberculosis, Influenza and HIV/AIDS. It goes into detail describing the main events and people's reactions to these pandemics. Many of these pandemics have been extremely deadly, but are now eradicated to the point that we don't really know for sure what sorts of disease vectors they were based on. The others, however, are still with us. The book does a great job of detailing the treatments and reactions to these diseases. However, its one biggest shortcoming is that it is almost completely devoid of the actual biological considerations regarding these diseases, and especially their microbiological and epidemiological details. The science of the microbes that are responsible for thee pandemics is very fascinating, but unfortunately the reader will not find much information about it in here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bernie Gourley

    This book explores disease pandemics through the lens of History. I open with that because this is a topic that can (and has) been addressed through many different disciplines, and a reader expecting biological or epidemiological insights is likely to be disappointed. However, if one is interested in questions of how, where, and with what impacts various diseases spread, this book provides a concise overview of the seven selected pandemics: The Plague, Smallpox, Malaria, Cholera, Tuberculosis, I This book explores disease pandemics through the lens of History. I open with that because this is a topic that can (and has) been addressed through many different disciplines, and a reader expecting biological or epidemiological insights is likely to be disappointed. However, if one is interested in questions of how, where, and with what impacts various diseases spread, this book provides a concise overview of the seven selected pandemics: The Plague, Smallpox, Malaria, Cholera, Tuberculosis, Influenza, HIV/AIDS. This book belongs to Oxford University Press’s “A Very Short Introduction” series, a massive collection of brief guides outlining a wide range of scholarly topics. This title complies with general guidelines of the series, presenting the basics of a subject in a manner accessible to a neophyte, citing sources and providing recommendations for further reading, and offering graphics to support the text where beneficial. As mentioned, the book delves into the seven pandemics listed in the opening paragraph, and does so in the order in which they are listed. Each disease is presented in its own chapter – so the book consists of a prologue, seven chapters, an epilogue, and back matter (i.e. citations, recommendations for additional reading, and the index.) Obviously, these seven pandemics don’t represent a complete history of disease pandemics. The book was published in 2016, well before the COVID-19 pandemic (though readers will certainly read some prescient-sounding statements -- particularly in the epilogue,) but not even all past epidemics classed as pandemics are addressed. [It should be noted that there is no perfectly agreed upon dividing line between epidemic and pandemic.] Still, this book includes the biggest and most globally-widespread pandemics, but it also covers a diverse collection of diseases, including: contagious, vector-borne, and water-borne illnesses, as well as bacteria- and virus-induced diseases. It’s worth noting that The Plague is a worthy first case not only because it’s one of the diseases that has most shaped human history, but also because there’s not a great deal known about disease before then. (During the relatively recent 1918 “Spanish” Flu pandemic, the medical community still didn’t know anything about viruses, and so one can imagine how little ancient people would have understood about these causes of death.) As the book shares information about the pandemics and their impact on the world, it also teaches one something about how medicine and science progressed as a result of these events. This is famously evident in the case of Cholera, a disease whose unusual characteristics with respect to spread baffled doctors until a clever investigator learned that cases were tied to a common water well. The case of Cholera is a prime example of how changing one’s approach can resolve a stubborn question, looking at the cases spatially offered an immediate insight that other modes of investigation had failed to present. I found this book to offer interesting insight into pandemics. If you are looking to understand the history of disease pandemics, this is a great book with which to start one’s study.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Natascha Eschweiler

    A very informative but incredibly depressing read in these times.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gabriel Avocado

    i liked this one a lot. it was written very unfortunately before the current pandemic but the warning is loud and clear: capitalism cannot handle pandemics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul Waring

    An excellent but concise book about pandemics - useful reading given the current situation (it was published a few years ago so does not cover covid specifically, but it does cover influenza). The further reading section also has a number of recommendations for specific diseases and pandemics in general.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Livia

    Ok, I consider knowledge of the history of disease to be VERY important to combating the dangerous rise in vaccine hesitancy. For this reason I struggled with how to rate this. I've previously read Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History which is much longer and covers pandemics and epidemics (the same as in here and more) in chronological order rather than by disease, and Viruses: A Very Short Introduction which includes discussions of some of the pandemic diseases caused by viru Ok, I consider knowledge of the history of disease to be VERY important to combating the dangerous rise in vaccine hesitancy. For this reason I struggled with how to rate this. I've previously read Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History which is much longer and covers pandemics and epidemics (the same as in here and more) in chronological order rather than by disease, and Viruses: A Very Short Introduction which includes discussions of some of the pandemic diseases caused by viruses. I do think that any historian writing about disease should really only write WITH an epidemiologist (not sure if that has happened, so I'm reading what I find) to guide the accuracy, and I think any discussion of disease really needs to include a scientific explanation of the pathology, prevention, and cures by an epidemiologist. This book reinforced that opinion. I was enjoying this in the beginning. The impact of smallpox in North America makes this worth reading alone, (Epidemics and Pandemics left that out, irresponsibly and for biologically implausible/ahistorical reasoning). However, once I got the chapter on Cholera, I found the author's tone to be increasingly unprofessional, arrogant, judgmental, etc. He seemed to think himself the moral authority with his ivory tower career and 20/20 hindsight, judging medical professionals, world leaders, and what felt like everyone else by the epilogue. He also has an irresponsibly written section implying deliberate spread of HIV in Africa in the 1950's and 60's (surely not his intent since he had literally just written that the disease AIDs was not even recognized until 1980's and HIV discovered even more recently) which can't be true because of the timeline of the discovery of the disease and then the virus. I would recommend this to someone seriously seeking to learn about epidemiology and pandemics who has a good grasp of disease, vaccination, etc. If not for the author's awful tone, I would rate in a 4, if it had the important disease information that I mentioned about, I would give a five. I would keep this away from the average person, especially a vaccine hesitant person, I feel that both his tone and the lack of the explanation of disease, cures, and prevention would tend to increase their hesitancy.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Olatomiwa Bifarin

    Reading Pandemics VSI is akin to taking an undergraduate crash course in the history of pandemics/epidemics over ~140pages of engaging materials. Prof McMillen started off by stating a useful categorization of pandemics: pandemic as an event (comes and goes) and persistent pandemics; the 1918 flu pandemic, the plague and the small pox are examples of the former while tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS are great examples of the latter. . 10 chapters were devoted to 10 major pandemics/diseases starting wit Reading Pandemics VSI is akin to taking an undergraduate crash course in the history of pandemics/epidemics over ~140pages of engaging materials. Prof McMillen started off by stating a useful categorization of pandemics: pandemic as an event (comes and goes) and persistent pandemics; the 1918 flu pandemic, the plague and the small pox are examples of the former while tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS are great examples of the latter. . 10 chapters were devoted to 10 major pandemics/diseases starting with the first identifiable pandemic in history - the Justinian plague (Yestinia pestis) that took place in the mid 6th century, historians were quick to point out that this plague contributed to the downfall of the Byzantium empire. And it showed up in two more waves (pandemics) in various parts of the world wreaking havoc. Small pox, with the earliest trace to the 430BCE plague of Athens. Malaria, a nasty persistent pandemic which still kills hundreds of thousands (majority kids) every year. Cholera, categorized in 7 waves (pandemics); TB; Influenza; and HIV/AIDS... . Today we face the coronavirus pandemic, and there are lessons we continue to fail to learn from the past: 1) downplaying threats, calculating 'likelihoods' - when the cost to a system is high (say, ruin), neglecting probability is perfectly rational . 2) In most part of the world sanitation and healthcare infrastructure unfortunately still remain terribly poor. Pandemics are very unforgiving to these duo conditions.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Xiang Yang Ng

    Make no mistake, this is not a book about the medical intricacies of diseases, but rather it is a book about the historical accounts of the responses of humanity towards these diseases. I find it particularly interesting because the main lesson is that history repeats itself. What we are seeing right now as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to destroy lives and livelihoods is actually not so different from what happened in the past. Body counts piling up, rise of racism or discrimination against m Make no mistake, this is not a book about the medical intricacies of diseases, but rather it is a book about the historical accounts of the responses of humanity towards these diseases. I find it particularly interesting because the main lesson is that history repeats itself. What we are seeing right now as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to destroy lives and livelihoods is actually not so different from what happened in the past. Body counts piling up, rise of racism or discrimination against minorities, quarantine measures, political toxicity, massive sense of ignorance and underestimation towards the diseases etc are the same themes played over and over again in history. The sad part is that it is only when the severe consequences in terms of casualties and economic damages are realized that people would finally wake up to the realization that the calamity has been staring at us in our eyes.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dave Reads

    When this book was written in 2016, one couldn’t imagine how a new pandemic would impact our lives. I was struck by the author’s conclusion, “For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus the patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly.” A new edition about Covid-19 will now need to be written. The book devotes a chapter to each one of the previous seven pandemics: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, in When this book was written in 2016, one couldn’t imagine how a new pandemic would impact our lives. I was struck by the author’s conclusion, “For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus the patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly.” A new edition about Covid-19 will now need to be written. The book devotes a chapter to each one of the previous seven pandemics: plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, and HIV/AIDS. We learn why each was different and their similarities. The author lists eight criteria for a pandemic: wide geographic extension, disease movement, high attack rates and explosiveness, minimal population immunity, novelty, infectiousness, contagiousness, and severity. The book would have been frightening prior to Covid-19. Now as we work through our new fears, “Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction” provides a historical perspective on these medical challenges.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Wing

    Penned by a professor in history, this short book explores the social, political, and economic aspects of the many pandemics that societies have endured - bubonic plague, smallpox, malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza and HIV/AIDS. It shows why and how ideology matters. Arrogance and naïveté are a deadly pair that engender wastefulness and inefficiency, not to mention avoidable human suffering. Perennially timely. Four stars.

  27. 4 out of 5

    جاسم كلمد

    "This book will introduce readers to the rich history of pandemic and epidemic disease and suggest that much of the way we confront such things now has been shaped by the past. (...) For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly." "This book will introduce readers to the rich history of pandemic and epidemic disease and suggest that much of the way we confront such things now has been shaped by the past. (...) For very often history is forgotten or rediscovered only when we confront contemporary epidemics and pandemics, and thus patterns from the past are repeated thoughtlessly."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Taylor

    A fine historical overview of pandemics Diseases are arranged by chapter. So plague, smallpox, flu, etc. Given the current COVID-19 epidemic, a good starting point to learn which parts of the past we will revisit. Short and well done.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rex Libris

    The title pretty much sums it all up. A quick look at various pandemics, including the plague, cholera, influenza, TB, and HIV/AIDS. Interesting, but not for the faint of heart or hypochondriac.

  30. 5 out of 5

    tisasday

    Can’t wait for the next edition.

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