Epidemics and Pandemics: From Ancient Plagues to Modern-Day Threats

Greenwood. 2 vols. Jan. 2021. 741p. ISBN 9781440863783. $204. REF
As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, a work that helps to place it in historical context and understand the science is most welcome. Historians Byrne and Hays cover many scientific and societal aspects of disease, starting with types of pathogens and the body’s defenses against them, gateways that allow pathogens to attack, and signs and symptoms of disease. They also discuss historical theories of disease and historical methods of combatting illness. Covering ancient and modern civilizations from all over the world, the book points to the effects of migration and exploration on the spread of disease. Major advances of the late 19th and early 20th century (germ theory, antibiotics, the creation of international organizations) allowed some diseases to be controlled, but new ones (Ebola, HIV-AIDS) have emerged, and some old ones (tuberculosis, malaria, measles) have reemerged, demonstrating that the fight against disease is ongoing. The authors also address the impact of religion, war, slavery, colonialism, poverty, and racism in the spread of disease, as well as depictions of illness in media and art. Byrne and Hays examine specific disease outbreaks (among them, malaria in ancient Rome and a smallpox epidemic in eighth-century Japan) in detailed entries that cover historical significance, public response, and contemporaneous notions of the illness.
VERDICT With an excellent index, a glossary, and comprehensible and accurate explanations of disease throughout history, this is an outstanding reference source, suitable for all libraries.
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