Book Review: Plague

Plague, by Lizabeth Hardman

A book like this is fascinating if you read between the lines.  The author, in a rather short book of less than 100 pages, manages to discuss a few areas of great interest to any student of the plague.  Among the many subjects discussed here is the history of the plague as well as pandemics (like the pandemic of typhoid fever during the time of Pericles of Athens) that appeared to have been the plague before they were investigated fully.  The author hints about the possibility of plague in the Bible and speaks a fair amount about the plague of Justinian that drastically harmed the revival of the Byzantine army.  The book makes at least some speculations that are more than a little dubious, such as the usual global warming scares trying to argue that the plague will spread more if the earth warms, even if that is somewhat in contradiction with what the book had said earlier about the spread of plague mainly resulting from cool summers rather than warm ones.  I suppose consistency would be too much to ask from an author like this one who wants to write a popular book about the plague for low-information audiences, though.

This book is a bit less than 100 pages and is divided into five chapters.  The book begins with a foreword that expresses the desire of a series to write about all the diseases that have captured the interest of people.  After that the author discusses the plague as the scourge of mankind (introduction), which it has been during several notable pandemics which have raged over the earth from time to time.  The author then discusses what is plague (1), something that has been known largely after the fact given the way that the plague was only isolated in the second half of the 19th century.  The author discusses the plague in ancient times (2) in a bit of a speculative manner since a lot of what has been recorded was done without the sort of DNA evidence that people would prefer to have, and also discusses the notable Justinian plague.  The author then discusses the Black Death (2), which was the second and most famous of the pandemic periods for its effects during the Middle Ages and periodically for centuries after that (3).  The author then discusses the little known third pandemic in the 19th century which was a combination of Hong Kong rat plague and Manchurian marmot plague (4).  The author then discusses the plague today and its potential to be a threat in the future before various supplementary material fills out the rest of the book.

What is perhaps most fascinating about this book, though, is not what it says directly but what it implies.  The author’s faith in science and scientific development is stated outright with her praise of a noted Chinese official whose thought to cremate bodies is praised as being vital in stopping the Manchurian marmot plague, one of the more fascinating aspects of medical history, albeit an obscure one.  What is said between the lines, though, is of even greater interest, as the author discusses the lack of safety as well as the lack of efficacy of various vaccines against the plague that have been attempted over the last century as well as the problem of contamination that vaccines can suffer that can make them positively lethal to those they are meant to help.  This is the sort of book that, if read by someone who is prone to be skeptical about the value of certain vaccines, would increase that skepticism considerably, which is not something that the author may intend but which can come naturally from the contents of the book.  Besides that, the book is full of fascinating information about the costs of denial when it comes to dealing with pandemic and the way that people were always keen to shift blame for such disasters on others, something that continues to this very day.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Plague

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Very, Very, Very Dreadful | Edge Induced Cohesion

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