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Dread: How Fear and Fantasy have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu Hardcover – April 14, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586486187
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586486181
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. According to Alcabes, an essayist and expert in public health, "epidemics fascinate us"; hopeful projection or not, his study provides enough gruesome details and unexpected sidelights to captivate history fans. Looking first at the plague that swept Europe in recurring waves from 1300 to 1700 ("the model for the epidemic"), Alcabes sorts through the widespread confusion over its cause and method of transmission. Rubbing up against theories of "contagion, intemperate air, poisoned water, astrological influence" and "deviltry," accounts of brutal pogroms and apocalyptic dread, Alcabes makes the science behind the history-as in a description of infected fleas regurgitating the plague bacteria into a victim's system-just as gripping. Cholera reached epidemic proportions in England in 1831, when efforts to clean sewage from the streets poisoned the Thames; at the time, experts were focused on foul air, not foul water. Turning to the present, Alcabes chastises the use of "epidemic" for behavioral issues like obesity or teen sex, and the panic over isolated events like the Anthrax outbreak (only 22 cases), while 9 million cases of tuberculosis go untreated every year. Showing how even epidemics hinge on societal attitudes and expectations, Alcabes presents an engrossing, revealing account of the relationship between progress and plague.

Review

Helen Epstein, author of Invisible Cure: Why We Are Losing the Fight Against AIDS in Africa
"In this richly detailed and fascinating book, Alcabes explores the meaning of epidemics throughout history, and what our fears of them tell us about ourselves. Like Susan Sontag, he reminds us just how hard it is to see these diseases for what they are."

Barry Glassner, author of The Gospel of Food and The Culture of Fear
“Exceptionally insightful and persuasively argued, Dread is at once a chronicle of the uses and (more often) abuses of the term epidemic and an antidote to the modern tendency to transmute fears of strangers and societal and personal failings into diseases.”
 

Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
"Dread is an insightful education in how art and science inform each other in a cultural synergy that, even today, keeps us from discerning what is medicine and what is myth. The word “genius” has been debased by frequent use, but this is a work of undeniable genius in the most exalted sense. What Stephen Jay Gould did for natural history, Philip Alcabes has done for public health."
 

SEED Magazine, April book pick
“With its analysis of historical and modern epidemics, both real and imagined, Dread convinces that the fear can be worse than the disease.”
 

Publishers Weekly, STARRED review 3/30
“An engrossing, revealing account of the relationship between progress and plague.”

BBC’s Focus Magazine
“The horrifying notion of epidemic disease is so ingrained that you will be halfway through this intriguing book before you realize just how hysterical we all are.”

Spiked
“(This) spookily timely book, published just as the swine flu panic kicked in, does a brilliant job of exposing the social factors behind our dread of disease and encouraging healthy scepticism towards claims of ‘epidemics’… Dread is an invaluable – dare I say, infectious – read.”


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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
Philip Alcabes is an extremely gifted writer.
Hissarlik
This is a great book filled with great insights on a great subject.
V. Ducat
This seemed to be what he was getting at, at times.
Brett

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By J. Yovanoff on April 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed Dread - it presents a clear and convincing argument that many of our fears are disproportionate to the risks they pose. Touching on many topics from the black plague, to AIDS, to obesity, Dread offers in-depth information in a way that is accessible and understandable to me. The book explains why our lifestyle, and everything from the news, to health officials and the CDC often drive irrational fears about disease and our environment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Karen P. Crisalli on December 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is dense, often difficult to read, and sometimes suffers from serious gaps in logic.

If you can get through that, though, it has a lot of really interesting things to say.

He does a terrific job of exploring how our cultural use of the epidemic concept is used as a form of social control and commentary. Many of our current "epidemics" are speculations about the future, not actual current crises. (We have plenty of actual current problems, but we often don't call them epidemics.) It consists almost entirely of forecasting future harm. And since future harm is unknowable and uncontrollable, this lends itself to pretty simple social control.

He also does a fantastic job of criticising germ theory. His basic concept is that germ theory is correct, but misleading. Disease and epidemic emerge when a number of different factors converge. Germs are only one of those factors. Our obsession with getting the "bad guys" (germs) has led us to disregard those other factors. Disease isn't simple.

This book would benefit from a rewrite, some quality editing, and perhaps a second author to add some other perspectives. But the ideas in it are definitely worth pondering.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By V. Ducat on April 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book filled with great insights on a great subject. We don't realize how much extra baggage we bring to the subject of disease in our public discourse---but Alcabes does and offers perceptive perspectives on the subject. . As a mother of children with autism, I was particularly interested in Alcabes' take on autism, his view that we fear autistic people because they aren't able to recognize other people's points of view and thus reaffirm those individuals. Also Alcabes argues that we fear the autistic because they don't fit into our world of multi-tasking and instant communication. Great insight!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By David S. Wellhauser on April 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent primer for the subject of the history of disease, medical science, and the popular reactions to epidemics and pandemics. If you are well acquainted with the history it may read as redundant but for those new to the topic it is highly recommended.

Accessible, intelligent, adroit, enlightening, and entertaining.

Highly Recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hearing Alcabes on the WNYC radio show The Takeaway this morning (re Cholera in Haiti), reminded me how brilliant this book is. Alcabes gives us a way to understand disease in the context of our social and political systems. It's simultaneously comforting and disturbing. Most of all it's worth reading.
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