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Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times

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A noted medical historian places recent outbreaks of deadly diseases in historical perspective, with accounts of other alarming and recurring diseases throughout history and of the ways in which humans have adapted. Reprint. 17,500 first printing.


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A noted medical historian places recent outbreaks of deadly diseases in historical perspective, with accounts of other alarming and recurring diseases throughout history and of the ways in which humans have adapted. Reprint. 17,500 first printing.

30 review for Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Did you know that the bacterium that causes the STD chlamydia in developed nations commonly causes a [non-sexually transmitted] blinding eye infection in crowded and impoverished third-world countries? Did you know that having type O blood can predispose you to falling victim to the h-pylori bacteria that causes stomach ulcers (and then sometimes cancer?) These are some of the things I learned by reading this book. I love reading books about diseases, especially of the infectious variety. Man an Did you know that the bacterium that causes the STD chlamydia in developed nations commonly causes a [non-sexually transmitted] blinding eye infection in crowded and impoverished third-world countries? Did you know that having type O blood can predispose you to falling victim to the h-pylori bacteria that causes stomach ulcers (and then sometimes cancer?) These are some of the things I learned by reading this book. I love reading books about diseases, especially of the infectious variety. Man and Microbes gives a fairly thorough review of the history of viruses, bacteria, and other microbes from the beginning of mankind to present day (well, almost -- book was printed in 1995.) It is fascinating to read the progression of diseases, how microbes transmit from one host to another, and to think about what yet awaits us in this world. Many of the diseases that killed millions of people in the past (like syphilis) seem to have mutated (along with their hosts) to become less deadly, but some have increased in virulence (like the staph and strep viruses.) The scariest thing I read was the possibility of the HIV virus mutating and becoming airborne, like the virus y-pestis did. The bubonic plague started with the transmission of virus from mice and their fleas to humans, which weakened and killed hundreds of thousands, but didn't become known as The Black Death until it's pneumonic form killed millions -- up to 1/2 of Europe's population at the time. I feel so fortunate to live in the era of antibiotics and vaccines. My dad remembers the great polio scare from the 1950's, and my grandma, who was born during the "Spanish Flu" outbreak of 1918, recounts that her father became very very ill but survived. My generation, living here in this corner of the US, only hears about such diseases as cholera and typhoid but doesn't worry about them too much because they afflict slums in India (not that I don't care about Indians - just an example) or people in "the olden days." But all it will take is a major disaster to cause the breakdown of social systems such as waste collection, water treatment, immunizations, and pest control, and all these "old" diseases can have a resurgence that we've never experienced. The one natural defense we have going for us that most people in times past didn't have is plentiful nutrition. Disease always strikes malnourished people the hardest. Eat your protein and your vegetables! My only criticism of this book is that it is kind of long-winded, and the author repeats himself a lot in a very circuitous manner. It seems like he could have made the timeline a little more straightforward. So far my favorite book on this subject is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    Interesting but lacking context and "story". Sometimes brushes over things in the assumption that the reader is already well familiar with them (the story of Typhoid Mary for example), and doesn't go into enough detail on some areas. An interesting book for the non-specialist.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Violet

    An engaging history of the relationship between humans and diseases and how our co-evolution has shaped our world and the course of history. Excellent bibliography for further in-depth reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    The basic premise is Man and microbes have evolved together throughout history. "Crowd" diseases became more frequent as man went from a hunter-gatherer culture to agricultural society. Microbes went from animal hosts to human hosts. In many cases the host was killed. The humans that survived became somewhat immune and often the microbe also evolved so the host wasn't killed. As Man progressed diseases altered or new ones arrived. As man urbanized epidemics and then pandemics arrived killing off The basic premise is Man and microbes have evolved together throughout history. "Crowd" diseases became more frequent as man went from a hunter-gatherer culture to agricultural society. Microbes went from animal hosts to human hosts. In many cases the host was killed. The humans that survived became somewhat immune and often the microbe also evolved so the host wasn't killed. As Man progressed diseases altered or new ones arrived. As man urbanized epidemics and then pandemics arrived killing off 'excess' population. With advances in technology and business practices variations of diseases have arrived.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    While a little dated (it was published in 1995, which is like 75 Science Years ago), this book manages quite well to convey the following themes: (1) suffering, scarring, and dying from infectious disease is the normal state of humanity; (2) we will always suffer, be scarred, and die from infectious diseases. It's pretty informative, rather dry, and a bit erratic in structure (the author repeats certain sentences verbatim from earlier sections - could've used a stronger edit). I enjoyed it, but I w While a little dated (it was published in 1995, which is like 75 Science Years ago), this book manages quite well to convey the following themes: (1) suffering, scarring, and dying from infectious disease is the normal state of humanity; (2) we will always suffer, be scarred, and die from infectious diseases. It's pretty informative, rather dry, and a bit erratic in structure (the author repeats certain sentences verbatim from earlier sections - could've used a stronger edit). I enjoyed it, but I work in the Ungodly Sciences.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Pancha

    Certain assertions here really show the author's bias, such smallpox being spread North from Mexico solely by refugee Indians and a stray shipwreck or two, and Europeans having no idea about contagion. People didn't know germ theory at the time, but they certainly understood the concept of plague blankets.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kim Jeonghoon

    라는 이름으로 한국어로도 2001년에 번역되어 나온 책. 인간이 나무에서 내려온 때부터 현재(1996년 나온 책임)까지 겪었던 수많은 전염병의 역사와 의미에 대해 쓴 책이다. 그 유명한 와도 비슷한 형식의 책인데 비유하자면 정도 될 것임. 내용이 정말 훌륭하고, 아주 읽기 쉽고 흥미롭게 풀어썼다. 특히 "구세계" 전염병이 "신세계"로 퍼지는 과정을 기술한 부분은 눈물이 날 정도로 참혹했다. 20년 전에 나온 책이지만 지금 읽어도 아주 도움이 되는 책이었다. 의료계 종사자들이 필수로 읽어야 하는 책이 아닌가 싶다. <전염병의 문화사>라는 이름으로 한국어로도 2001년에 번역되어 나온 책. 인간이 나무에서 내려온 때부터 현재(1996년 나온 책임)까지 겪었던 수많은 전염병의 역사와 의미에 대해 쓴 책이다. 그 유명한 <총, 균, 쇠>와도 비슷한 형식의 책인데 비유하자면 <균, 균, 균> 정도 될 것임. 내용이 정말 훌륭하고, 아주 읽기 쉽고 흥미롭게 풀어썼다. 특히 "구세계" 전염병이 "신세계"로 퍼지는 과정을 기술한 부분은 눈물이 날 정도로 참혹했다. 20년 전에 나온 책이지만 지금 읽어도 아주 도움이 되는 책이었다. 의료계 종사자들이 필수로 읽어야 하는 책이 아닌가 싶다.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Stefan

    Pulled this off the shelf for a re-read. Vital reading.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rizwan Khan

    Interesting book , somewhat pessimistic, humbling, easy to read . It is a broad topic so author couldn't go into too much detail but you learn enough to carry intelligent conversations

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sohvi

    Tl;dr: Useful if used critically, but in some cases both the content and the attitudes of the author have gotten old and should be revised. This is a bit old, so some knowledge is outdated (Especially for the parts about climate change being debatable. At least I hope they are outdated and do not reflect his current thinking, 'cause that would just be bad science). I also read the Finnish translation, so some things might be due to the translation, but I do think that authors own biases and prob Tl;dr: Useful if used critically, but in some cases both the content and the attitudes of the author have gotten old and should be revised. This is a bit old, so some knowledge is outdated (Especially for the parts about climate change being debatable. At least I hope they are outdated and do not reflect his current thinking, 'cause that would just be bad science). I also read the Finnish translation, so some things might be due to the translation, but I do think that authors own biases and problematic views coloured this book a lot. In many occasions he speaks about several indigenous groups with problematic attitude and wording. He also says that "multiculturalists" criticize Columbus only because he was a white man. (A line you would not expect to see in any academic text, and yet...) This should give you an idea about the level of critical thinking he applies to several historical questions considering ethnic minorities and colonization. The parts where he only speaks about the diseases seems to be mostly fine. But immediately when we get to the reasons for several epidemics or how colonialism has shaped the history of the diseases, we get into some very questionable attitudes. Still, there is a lot of useful information in this book if you are interested in paleopathology or history of medicine, but please remember to be critical. Also, no scientific notations. Gggaahh! If you write history, please use notations. It makes nerds happy. And check your biases. That is kinda important if you write history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Coralie

    What causes plagues? In Man and Microbes, author Arno Karlen talks about the biological and social causes of plagues throughout history, from typhus to AIDS. In our school, the nurse has been talking up hand washing, and throughout our area, Purell dispensers have been installed in all the schools in every classroom. Maybe this is helpful, but Karlen talks more about nutrition and how healthy eating can ward off sickness. He has great respect for meat, vegetables and fruit and not much love for What causes plagues? In Man and Microbes, author Arno Karlen talks about the biological and social causes of plagues throughout history, from typhus to AIDS. In our school, the nurse has been talking up hand washing, and throughout our area, Purell dispensers have been installed in all the schools in every classroom. Maybe this is helpful, but Karlen talks more about nutrition and how healthy eating can ward off sickness. He has great respect for meat, vegetables and fruit and not much love for grains. Karlen claims that primitive societies were healthier because they didn't eat grains grown agriculturally. He stresses nutrition first, then hygiene. However, he definately does stress hygiene. He also outlines the bilogical changes all diseases and viruses go through. Although this sounds technical, this book is pretty easy to read, easy to understand, and interesting.

  12. 5 out of 5

    DilanAc

    II only gave it 3 stars because this is not usually the type of book I read, (for history buffs perhaps it should be 4 stars). I am finding it far more interesting than I thought that I would. It is not just about diseases and plagues but about history and ancient civilizations. So far, it has challenged much of what I thought I knew about the black death, about the colonization of the Americas. It fascinates me when it details the various ways that humans have reacted to various diseases throug II only gave it 3 stars because this is not usually the type of book I read, (for history buffs perhaps it should be 4 stars). I am finding it far more interesting than I thought that I would. It is not just about diseases and plagues but about history and ancient civilizations. So far, it has challenged much of what I thought I knew about the black death, about the colonization of the Americas. It fascinates me when it details the various ways that humans have reacted to various diseases throughout history. It is also well written with a clear concise style that lends itself well to the material. The last couple of chapters were less intriguing perhaps because what plagues will mean to the 21st century is still unknowable.

  13. 4 out of 5

    James

    This is both an entertaining and enlightening history of some of the diseases that have plagued mankind over the centuries. I found the history of what are considered "childhood" diseases particularly interesting. Karlen discusses cholera, leprosy, cancer, AIDS, viral encephalitis, lethal Ebola fever, streptococcal "flesh-eating" infections and a host of other killers. He shows how the present wave of diseases arose with drastic environmental change, wars, acceleration of travel, the breakdown o This is both an entertaining and enlightening history of some of the diseases that have plagued mankind over the centuries. I found the history of what are considered "childhood" diseases particularly interesting. Karlen discusses cholera, leprosy, cancer, AIDS, viral encephalitis, lethal Ebola fever, streptococcal "flesh-eating" infections and a host of other killers. He shows how the present wave of diseases arose with drastic environmental change, wars, acceleration of travel, the breakdown of public health measures, and microbial adaptation. It is a fascinating study and tour through the history of man and the microbes that have changed his life.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    Who would have thought there were so many connections to microbes and history? This book is especially interesting now that our generation is facing an antibiotic crises; we thought microbes were easily obliterated with drugs!! This book is not a fast read but it is quite interesting even for a 'nonscience' type person. When you look at the famous graph for Napolean's march into Russia, you will have new appreciation for the events. How did microbes influence the Louisiana Purchase?? It is all r Who would have thought there were so many connections to microbes and history? This book is especially interesting now that our generation is facing an antibiotic crises; we thought microbes were easily obliterated with drugs!! This book is not a fast read but it is quite interesting even for a 'nonscience' type person. When you look at the famous graph for Napolean's march into Russia, you will have new appreciation for the events. How did microbes influence the Louisiana Purchase?? It is all right here.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Keith Brough

    Astonishingly entertaining and addictive! The evolution of microbes as if they were their own society, almost like watching a History Channel show on "The Visigoths" or somethin'! I don't read about science of health, but I like nonfiction. Each chapter was an utter delight presenting a story of a different microbe and how that disease evolved into what it is today. Feels like journalism. You will get hooked and read most of it in one day!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    I really liked this book, but then again, I am a huge dork and love this kind of stuff :) I learned a lot about the origin and history of many different infectious diseases. It was interesting to learn in what ways these diseases have not only had an impact on the course of life and society, but in some ways, how they have shaped us and our society.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mary Rice

    I really like reading about diseases. This book is written by a psychologist who dabbles in journalistic writing. I thought he did good job of telling the history of mankind through the communicable diseases that kill us. My favorite section was about polio.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bea

    Nice re-cap of diseases throughout human history. It was readable and covered a lot of ground. I love the interdisciplinary nature of epidemiology. Published in 1995, it is probably outdated, but still worth a read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Helinä

    Nicely put book for everyone. Easy reading - you don't have to be a doctor to understand. I would recommend it for everyone who is interested in diseases and biology. Good source of knowledge for high school students.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Allen Steele

    i loved the history

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    one of the scariest books you will ever read, it will also give you hope and a sense of how symbiotic our world really is.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Morgan

    Interesting content, poorly written

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul Otto

    Good read. Very interesting account of how diseases have evolved and appeared throughout history. Well worth it for anyone who loves learning about new pathogens.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cail

    Not for the paranoid.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nilendu Misra

  27. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  28. 4 out of 5

    Prajnya

  29. 5 out of 5

    Inuxwoof

  30. 4 out of 5

    Damian

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