History in Review
How Microbes Shaped Our History.
By Dorothy H. Crawford. (Oxford University Press, New York: 2009. Pg. 272. B & W Illustrations, Maps, Tables.) ISBN: 978-0-19-956144-5.
Reviewed by Auggie Moore - May 18, 2009
Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History is an eminently readable and fascinating account of man's interrelationship with the microbes that surround us. This popular history was written by Dorothy H. Crawford, a Professor of Medical Microbiology and Assistant Principal for the Public Understanding of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh. She writes with acumen and authority, and she does so with a minimum of scientific and academic jargon. When the use of scientific terms is necessary, Crawford clearly explains their meaning, making the text comprehensible for even those with the most rudimentary of a scientific education.
This book was originally written shortly after the outbreak of SARS. However, its publication is perfectly timed to correspond with the buildup of current fears about the influenza A - H1N1 Virus (Swine Flu) becoming epidemic. This book will help interested readers to understand how diseases, including flu viruses, develop and mutate, and what gives rise to epidemics. Within the realm of human flu viruses, Crawford explains how pandemic virus strains of flu develop, how they are transmitted, and the role that pigs and birds often play in the development of these strains. Throughout, Crawford examines how microbes spread, the various diseases they can engender in humans, and how these microbes and their corresponding diseases have impacted human development and history throughout time. Crawford also details the various steps that many cultures have taken to combat these diseases and to halt their spread, and how modern man is still struggling to combat age-old foes such as flu and malaria, as well as new enemies such as SARS and AIDS.
Within the scope of this relatively short, but information-packed book, Crawford also examines how man has reacted and dealt with epidemics such as bubonic plague outbreaks of the middle ages, the Irish potato plight and ensuing famine, and the modern day Bird Flu which is still taking lives around the globe. She looks at how these epidemics have shaped our understanding of diseases and how they spread. She also highlights the necessity of studying past epidemics so we can better prepare for the next one that will inevitably arrive on our collective doorstep - we just don't know when.
Deadly Companions is essential reading for students of history seeking an introduction to how microbes have helped shape the development of human civilization, and for general readers seeking to gain an understanding of the role that microbes and disease play in our lives both as individuals and as members of the human race.
Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World, by Jessica Snyder Sachs.
This book presents a detailed overview of the "hygiene hypothesis" and the history of the development, use, and over use of antibiotics.
The Coming Plague, by Laurie Garrett.
Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance. This impressive book examines the potentially catastrophic dangers presented by viruses and mans attempts to control the uncontrollable.
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