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Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox Hardcover – June 22, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0230274716 ISBN-10: 0230274714

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230274714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230274716
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,278,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2010 'Williams recounts the history of smallpox in a breezy, accessible style.' - Clive Anderson, New Scientist 'This extraordinary book brings alive the sheer horrors of smallpox and how mankind has managed to wipe it out using vaccination, pioneered by a Gloucestershire country doctor in 1796. This history has a very modern message, and this book needs to be read by everyone interested in public health today.' - Mark Horton, presenter of BBC TV's Coast and Professor of Archaeology, University of Bristol 'The Angel of Death is a fascinating account of the most terrible disease to afflict mankind. Smallpox showed no mercy: the young, old, poor and royalty all equally at risk; whole societies almost wiped out in its inexorable wake. 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of its final eradication; Gareth Williams charts this compelling story with a plot that weaves seamlessly between cultures and centuries. Written in a wonderfully flowing and engaging style, this is a must read for all lovers of history. Highly relevant for today as the fight lives on to banish other deadly diseases from the world.' - Sarah Parker, Director, Edward Jenner Museum, Gloucestershire, UK 'Filled with fascinating historical detail, this story resonates with contemporary concerns about epidemics and the fight against them. Gareth Williams effortlessly weaves together medical science writing and social history to tell the compelling tale of a battle against a deadly disease.' - Alice Roberts, Research Fellow in Archaeology& Anthropology, University of Bristol, UK 'In lively prose with unpatronising insight into past medical dilemmas, he dramatises the scourge and its treatment first by variolation (immunisation with live smallpox virus) then vaccination, but also shows how controversial smallpox vaccination was during the 19th century.' - The Lancet '...the author explores one of the most exciting success stories in the history of medicine. His book also gives original and engaging insights into the anti-vaccination campaigns which remain active today.' - The Guild of Health Writers ' engaging narrative, in which medical history is interweaved with social history and reflections on contemporary issues.' - BBC History Magazine 'Williams's account of our battle with the disease revisits historical accounts of its horrendous impact and the fascinating story of medical progress - including the pioneering use of vaccination by a country doctor in 1796 - and its relevance in the fight against modern epidemics.' - The Times Wonderful. Wonderfully-researched, vividly-written, an example of medical history at its absolute best.' - Michael Neve 'Williams has managed to bring to life one of the most enthralling, life changing success stories in the history of medicine' - Laboratory News 'A breezy, accessible account by a professor of medicine.' - The Week '...[a] well-documented book.' - CHOICE

About the Author

GARETH WILLIAMS is Professor of Medicine and Dean of Faculty at the University of Bristol, UK. He has authored or co-authored over 20 books, including the Textbook of Diabetes (BMA Book of the Year 1997), and contributor to over 30 others, including the Oxford Textbook of Medicine. He also writes regularly for mainstream media readerships (newspaper & magazine) and has appeared on national TV and radio.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Darryl R. Morris on March 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Smallpox was successfully eliminated from the human population in 1979, due to -- and in spite of -- the efforts of physicians, scientists, public officials and private citizens over the past four centuries to rid mankind of one of its greatest killers. The variola virus now exists only in two research centers in the United States and Russia, and it is guarded with the utmost security, as smallpox remains an untreatable and often fatal infection, ready to unleash a reign of terror if it were ever to fall into the wrong hands.

Gareth Williams, a professor of medicine at the University of Bristol, expertly and interestingly describes the history of smallpox from antiquity, when its telltale scars were found on Egyptian mummies, to the present day, where its legacy is most notable for the current anti-vaccination movement, particularly in the UK and United States.

The story of smallpox is intimately linked with the story of Western civilization and medicine. Its introduction to immunologically naïve native civilizations throughout the Americas decimated their populations and destroyed their cultures, permitting their easy conquest by colonialists. The "discovery" of vaccination by Edward Jenner -- which is widely attributed to him but was practiced throughout the world for many years -- saved millions of lives since its introduction, and led to the development of vaccines against other deadly pathogens. The study of smallpox was instrumental to the future understanding of microbes as the causative factor of many diseases such as tuberculosis, and the manner in which viruses infect human cells and convert them into virus making factories.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have a weak stomach or are easily upset, skip the first chapters of this book. It effectively bestows a sense of devastation and gruesome misfortune that followed in the wake of smallpox for many centuries. Thereafter, it is an encouraging history of man's discovery, refinement and dissemination of that modern marvel: the vaccine.

When I first read the book, I had a lot of friends who often warned me against vaccines (the flu shot, for instance) and I was fairly ambivalent on the topic. After reading this and "Rabid: A Cultural History of Rabies," I know on which side my bread is buttered. All hail vaccination!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an important book not because of its history of the fight against smallpox but because of the lessons this book teaches about the obstacles that will be faced by fighters against other diseases such as AIDS polio and malaria. The anti-vaccination lobby remains alive and well, will I think kill many more children than it saves yet is fuelled partly by some very serious scientific mistakes made by those who sought to rid the world of smallpox. Read this book!
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