- File Size: 1742 KB
- Print Length: 354 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385121229
- Publisher: Anchor; 1st edition (October 27, 2010)
- Publication Date: October 27, 2010
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0047747QK
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,100 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
Plagues and Peoples 1st Edition, Kindle Edition
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But I keep loaning my copy of Plaques and Peoples to others, who then pass it to others and so I end up buying myself another copy to keep on my shelf and periodically reread. I get more from it each time I revisit the book or a chapter, because McNeill brings together history, infectious disease, societal changes and development, combining all to show how we got where we are and how infectious disease continues to have its influence.
This book changed my view of history from being little more than memorising dates of battles for an exam in school courses, to a fascinating perspective of interconnections. I would highly recommend everyone in high school and adulthood read William McNeill's Plaques and Peoples.
William McNeill attempts to engender this more just perspective by tracing what he believes are the likely developments in the spread of infectious disease from the birth of man through migrations around the world, up to the present day. The author introduces the concept of Macroparasitism as a means of explaining the spread of disease. This concept parallels the idea of microparasitism which is basically the germ model of disease, to characterize human systems of interaction as macroparasitism. McNeill characterizes the development of civilization as “fulminating macroparasitism.” By this he means that the specialization of individuals in civilization requires the agricultural members of society to produce sufficient excess to support city-dwellers in what can be described as a parasite/host type relationship.
McNeill explains population migration, war, trade, political upheaval and social development as examples of macroparsitic imbalance. In response to these imbalances, efforts to find equilibrium within the system explain many of the sweeping changes in man’s history.
McNeill contends that there were four major developed disease pools at the beginning of the Christian era: The Middle East; The Mediterranean; China; and India. Within these disease pools existed urban areas or concentrations of people in sufficient density and quantities to sustain endemic disease. The author then goes on to characterize many of the historically known outbreaks of epidemic disease either in terms of contact between these disease centers, or a breakout of a parasitic disease agent from its existing environmental niche.
The author posits that infectious disease played a great role in history, suggesting for example that the rise of Christianity and Bhudism in China may have benefited from epidemics as both traditions offered some explanation that served as a psychological salve where previous pagan traditions failed to explain the seemingly random but widespread devastation.
McNeill’s arguments in favor of disease as major catalysts for history are more thoroughly documented as the book progresses through the centuries to the present day. He points out that plague in the 17th century killed one million people in Spain and likely played an important role in the diminution of Spain’s economic and geopolitical power.
McNeil’s description of the role that disease played in the Spanish conquest of Latin America is compelling. A few hundred Spaniards ultimately subjugated parts of two continents. Disease killed 90% of the Amerindian population within a few decades of the arrival of the Spaniards. The lethality of diseases like Smallpox, to which the Europeans were largely immune, but the Amerindians had no immunity, not only decimated the population, but also destroyed institutions, belief systems, and the will to resist.
Infectious disease played an important role in American history too. Not only were the native populations decimated by diseases like smallpox, making room for new settlers, but infectious disease was an important factor in geopolitical developments as well. Notably, Napoleon agreed to the Louisiana purchase for a pittance because he had just lost 33,000 troops to Yellow Fever in Santo Domingo, and misguidedly subscribed to the miasmatic theory of disease (rather than the germ theory). Because Napoleon believed there was something infectious in the foreign soil, he sought to quickly reduce his foreign commitments.
In the end the book offers believable explanations not only for the global spread of infectious diseases, but also for those diseases playing a more formidable role in the history of man than most other historians accord. It is not a text replete with prima facie evidence, but because the assertions are very plausible explanations for events, it should be taken seriously enough to try and disprove the assertions with more rigorous scientific and academic research.
But overall, this book is in dire need of a better editor. I read a lot of heavier nonfiction and understand that such topics won’t read like fiction. Even so, this was hard to read. I rarely ever quit on a book but seriously considered doing so about 50 pages in. Thankfully, the last 3/4 of the book are better.
* ended up not reading all the first. Halter, scientifically it is woefully out-of-date (written in the 1970’s) we know a LOT more about anthropology & archeology, not to mention DNA since then. The author or publisher should update that chapter. The rest appears interesting, I did not know the biological basis for the caste systems & his theories on the northern & southern regions of China. Interesting he refers to us humans as Macroparasites & germs & virtues & parasites as micro parasites.. I am half through the book & have learned a few new things & theories. Any book that informs me about a new fact or theory is a plus experience (I am BTW a retired RN)
Top international reviews
William McNeill schreibt in seinem Standardwerk "Plagues und Peoples" einen großen Teil der Geschichte wenn nicht neu, dann zumindest unter einem ungewohnten Blickwinkel: Immer wieder haben Mikroparasiten (Viren, Bakterien, Plasmodien) Kriege entschieden, entweder indem angegriffene Völker den fremden Keimen nichts entgegensetzen konnten (s.o.), oder indem sie die Angreifer (McNeill hat hier den passenden Begriff "Makroparasiten" geprägt, den er auch auf Landesherrscher, Steuereintreiber und Grundbesitzer anwendet) entscheidend geschwächt haben: Noch im Krimkrieg starben zehnmal mehr britische Soldaten an der Ruhr als im Gefecht. Die für die Betroffenen sehr ähnlichen, fatalen Auswirkungen von Mikro- und Makroparasitismus sind übrigens ein wiederkehrendes Thema des Buchs.
An zahlreichen Beispielen erläutert McNeill, wie sich Parasiten und Menschen (und häufig Zwischenwirte) oft innerhalb weniger Generationen aufeinander einstellen, warum manche Seuchen kommen und wieder verschwinden, und warum eine hohe Bevölkerungsdichte gegen viele Krankheiten resistent macht, gegenüber anderen dafür anfälliger.
Natürlich wurden tödliche Krankheitskeime nicht nur durch Eroberungsfeldzüge und andere Völkerwanderungen ausgebreitet, sondern auch durch neugeknüpfte Handelsbeziehungen oder durch den Tourismus. Letzterer wird im Buch allerdings nicht thematisiert, denn der spielte im Erscheinungsjahr 1976 längst nicht die Rolle wie heute. AIDS wird in einem kurzen Vorwort von 1998 behandelt; Schweine-, Hühner- und sonstige Grippen, die heute in die Schlagzeilen kommen, finden wir, ohne dass sie namentlich genannt werden, in einer recht düsteren Prognose am Ende des Buches wieder, in der er es für nicht unwahrscheinlich hält, dass, salopp teleologisch formuliert, Mutter Natur schon etwas einfallen wird, das Wachstum der Menschheit gründlich auszubremsen.
Leicht zu lesen ist das Buch nicht; Wortschatz und mitunter Thomas-Mannsche Satzbauwerke erfordern volle Konzentration. Das liegt vielleicht daran, dass McNeill Historiker und kein Naturwissenschaftler ist - umso bemerkenswerter deshalb die große Detailkenntnis, mit der die biologischen und medizinischen Zusammenhänge erklärt werden.