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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashedby Howard Markel
Synopses & Reviews
The struggle against deadly microbes is endless. Diseases that have plagued human beings since ancient times still exist, new maladies like SARS make their way into the headlines, we are faced with vaccine shortages, and the threat of germ warfare has reemerged as a worldwide threat.
In this riveting account, medical historian Howard Markel takes an eye-opening look at the fragility of the American public health system. He tells the distinctive stories of six epidemics — tuberculosis, bubonic plague, trachoma, typhus, cholera, and AIDS — to show how how our chief defense against diseases from other countries has been to attempt to deny entry to carriers. He explains why this approach never worked, and makes clear that it is useless in today's world of bustling international travel and porous borders. Illuminating our foolhardy attempts at isolation and showing that globalization renders us all potential inhabitants of the so-called Hot Zone, Markel makes a compelling case for a globally funded public health program that could stop the spread of epidemics and safeguard the health of everyone on the planet.
"Markel (Quarantine!), a professor of the history of medicine at the University of Michigan and a practicing physician, argues that quarantines in the U.S. and other restrictive measures (such as mandatory kerosene baths at the Texas-Mexico border in 1917 to kill typhus-carrying lice) are based more on xenophobia than science. An outbreak of bubonic plague in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1900, for example, resulted in a complete cordon sanitaire around the district; the city's white merchants, however, could move freely within and outside of the area. Similarly in the early 1900s, trachoma, an infectious eye disease that was common throughout the U.S., became associated with Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. More recently, Haitian refugees in the 1980s were stigmatized as carriers of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Markel argues that though quarantines of immigrant populations may have lessened the chance of major epidemics during the early 1900s, such measures unfairly punish people for being poor and sick. And nowhere is this more important than in developing countries, where rates of tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, AIDS and other deadly diseases are highest. As increased travel continues to shrink distances and bring people together, germs will also travel more easily; the prevalence of infectious disease, therefore, is no longer a merely local issue. As Markel warns in this informative and important book, we must work to prevent and treat infectious diseases throughout the entire world because 'in public health terms, every city is a 'sister city' with every other metropolis on earth.' Agents, Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu. (May 11)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A wonderful look at how infectious diseases have shaped society and changed our world. Howard Markel writes beautifully, and his perspective as both a trained historian and a dedicated physician make him a writer like no other." Abraham Verghese, Director, Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
"A timely book. Markel, a medical historian and himself a physician, knows that the so-called general reader needs to be guided through the maze of technicalities, and he does the guiding in a text as readable as it is reliable. It reads like a thriller." Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
"Informative and important....Thoroughly researched, well argued, and replete with insightful, nuanced interpretations." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Compelling....Markel's accounts are powerful and his documentation extensive....Everyone who considers the United States a nation of civilized people should read this book." Wilson Quarterly
"Markel is...an astute observer of the fierce historical battles between people and germs, and he reminds us that the war goes on and on....Well-written and approachable." The Ann Arbor News
"A critically important book for this historical moment....A clarion call for the public (and the government) to recognize both the importance and the precariousness of public health as we enter the twenty-first century." Health Affairs
"Deft, interesting and informative." The Roanoke Times
"Dr. Markel is an epic historian, a wise scientist, and an elegant prose stylist....Written with humor, grace, insight, and warmth, When Germs Travel is a discerning portrait of illness, a comment on the immigrant experiences of the past and present, and a reflection on what it means to be a doctor in a society ruled by fear of contagion." Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
"Markel writes with great attention to the human side of the story....A powerful, sweeping story about immigration, poverty, public health, scientific breakthroughs and medical failures." Chicago Free Press
"Highly readable....Dramatic and graphic." Tucson Citizen
From medical historian and physician Markel comes a startling, revelatory book about the U.S. government's response to six epidemics that devastated 19th- and 20th-century America, and why the United States continues its tradition of blaming newcomers for many of its physical and social ills.
About the Author
Howard Markel is the George E. Wantz Professor of the History of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases at the University of Michigan, where he directs the Center for the History of Medicine. He is the author of the award-winning Quarantine! and numerous articles for scholarly publication, as well as for the New York Times, Harper's, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and National Public Radio.
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