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January 9, 1991

Expectations of Life: A Study in the Demography, Statistics, and History of World Mortality

Author Affiliations

School of Public Health University of Michigan Ann Arbor

School of Public Health University of Michigan Ann Arbor


by H. O. Lancaster, 605 pp, with 28 illus, $159, ISBN 0-387-97105-X, New York, NY, Springer-Verlag, 1990.

JAMA. 1991;265(2):283. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03460020141047

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A large number of books at various levels of sophistication have been written on the effects of disease and population change on world history. Thus, we are told that the Renaissance was an indirect result of the black death, and George Washington became the first president of the United States because of a typhus epidemic.

Expectations of Life is a different sort of book, one that is difficult to classify. It covers wide sweeps of biomedical knowledge, mainly from an historical approach and is thus heavily referenced. In fact, the 98 pages of references may be the most generally useful portion of this book. As stated in the introduction, the author has attempted not only to examine cause-specific mortality over time, but also to review microbiology, epidemiology, and economic history. So much is included that little is covered in detail, but the reader looking for more depth on a particular