Armies of Pestilence: The Impact of Disease on Historyby R. S. Bray
Infectious diseases put an end to the Golden Age of Athens, wrecked Justinian the Great's dream of restoring the Roman Empire to its former glory, and played the major role in virtually eliminating the Indians from North America. Yet, historians have minimized the role of infectious diseases---partly because they lack scientific knowledge of the diseases themselves. The result has been a distorted view of the past. Armies of Pestilence---the work of the distinguished biologist R.S. Bray, who here proves himself also an able historian---goes far toward correcting this view.
Dr. Bray surveys the principal epidemics in all countries from biblical times almost to the present, in each case discussing the origins of the outbreak, the symptoms, the mortality rate, and the social and economic effects. Where the disease cannot be certainly identified---as in the case of the plague in Athens---he reviews the best scholarly opinions and weighs them judiciously.
Bray gives special attention tot he infamous Yersina Pestis, the organism that caused both the plague of Justinian and the Black Death. He also includes multiple chapters on malaria, smallpox, typhus, cholera, and influenza. One of his themes is the role of war in spreading diseases that have often killed more people than the battles themselves.
With AIDS devastating Africa today, and the threat of old infectious diseases returning in mutated form, Armies of Pestilence---one of the most revelatory works of history ever published---is surely one of the timeliest as well.
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