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Book and Media Reviews
July 5, 2006

Infectious Disease History

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2006;296(1):100-105. doi:10.1001/jama.296.1.101-a

Thirty years ago, the University of Chicago historian William H. McNeill proposed that infectious diseases—especially plagues—have influenced the course of history in profound ways. In The Power of Plagues, University of California, Riverside, biologist Irwin W. Sherman reexamines the nature and evolution of plagues, in the hope that our past can inform and prepare us for future encounters.

The book's 17 chapters review plagues or survey specific infectious diseases known to cause plagues, eg, malaria, cholera, smallpox, syphilis, and tuberculosis. The first chapter, “The Nature of Plagues,” provides a general introduction to fundamental concepts, such as parasitism and epidemics. The second chapter explains the relationship between sedentary agrarian societies and the spread of infectious agents. Chapter 3 reviews six plagues of antiquity: Pharaohs' Plague (schistosomiasis), the Plague of Athens, Roman Fever (malaria), the Antonine Plague, the Cyprian Plague, and the Justinian Plague (bubonic plague). Chapters 4 through 9 and 12 through 14 present specific plagues.

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