A book by Paul Chrystal
Seeing that my state has slipped into yet another round of “masking up”, social distancing, and other aggravating features due to the seemingly never-ending saga that is the Covid-19 global pandemic, I figured reading a book historical plagues would be fitting. This book lists over 100 historical plagues, from all around the world, their causes, and other information anyone would expect from a book like this. I was mostly interested in the long distant historical plagues, with the earliest known being some 5000 BC. This book is fairly thorough and tries to be a combination historical book, and a virology/epidemiology book for better or worse.
“This revelatory book charts and explains the impact and consequences of successive pandemics, plagues and epidemics on the course of world history – all through the lens of today’s ongoing global experience of COVID 19. Ranging from prehistory to the present day, it first defines what constitutes a pandemic or epidemic then looks at 20 guilty diseases: including cholera, influenza, bubonic plague, leprosy, measles, smallpox, malaria, AIDS, MERS, SARS, Zika, Ebola and, of course, Covid-19. Some less well-known, but equally significant and deadly contagions such as Legionnaires’ Disease, psittacosis, polio, the Sweat, and dancing plague, are also covered.”
I somewhat wish that the focus of the book wasn’t through the lense of somebody dealing with Covid-19 -even though that’s literally me, it sort of dates the book a tad. Other things I was not fond of were the author’s insistence of using 2020 and 2021 media terms such as “fake news”. again tethering the book to references to a period of time that will likely not be relevant in a few years. Who knows, “fake news” could be stuck in our lexicon for years to come, but seeing that it’s directly tied to a time period most would prefer to forget. Jumping back in the early chapters to relate everything to Covid-19 was somewhat jarring, the entire time I wanted the narrative to move back to being a historical book. There is also an apparent Christian bias in the writing when discussing the church, but that could have just been the author’s use of historical fragments. Qualms aside, I did enjoy this book, but it’s far from perfect.
The information in this book is well-researched and annotated for clarity. Once it gets going, I enjoyed that the information was largely in sequential order, showing how certain pandemics would appear, fade away for decades, then come right back like nothing had changed. Hearing some of the “cures” for sickness in the past is always a cringe-worthy affair and makes the reader REALLY appreciate our modern medical system despite it’s numerous issues. Want to cure that pesky cold? How about sex with a woman that just started her period, that’ll do the trick!
I definitely recommend this book despite the problems, as those are just a personal taste of mine. I’ve read better books on “The Plague”, but as a historical overview on more than just the medieval, and most popular one, this books stands out a bit from the rest. The book was a valiant effort trying to document such a big topic, and I commend the author for that.
NOTE: I received a free preliminary, and likely unedited copy of this book from Netgalley for the purposes of providing an honest, unbiased review of the material. Thank you to all involved.