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Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today (FT Press Science) [Kindle Edition]

David P. Clark
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In Germs, Genes and Civilization, Dr. David Clark tells the story of the microbe-driven epidemics that have repeatedly molded our human destinies. You'll discover how your genes have been shaped through millennia spent battling against infectious diseases. You'll learn how epidemics have transformed human history, over and over again, from ancient Egypt to Mexico, the Romans to Attila the Hun. You'll learn how the Black Death epidemic ended the Middle Ages, making possible the Renaissance, western democracy, and the scientific revolution. Clark demonstrates how epidemics have repeatedly shaped not just our health and genetics, but also our history, culture, and politics. You'll even learn how they may influence religion and ethics, including the ways they may help trigger cultural cycles of puritanism and promiscuity. Perhaps most fascinating of all, Clark reveals the latest scientific and philosophical insights into the interplay between microbes, humans, and society - and previews what just might come next.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clark (Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun) argues that microscopic bacteria, viruses, and fungi have played an enormous and largely unacknowledged role in human history. Beginning with Attila's attack of Rome, which was likely stopped by dysentery, and continuing through modern diseases such as AIDS and the Ebola virus, Clark investigates a large number of illnesses and uncovers the ways in which they have impacted historical events. The same genes that provide humanity with protection against some endemic diseases, Clark argues, may also cause sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. With wit and humor, the author turns death, an ever-heavy topic, into an engrossing exploration of the course of mankind. Though Clark's lack of references will make it difficult for readers to gain additional information, there's much of interest in this chronicle of microbes through the ages.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Back Cover

“Clear, thoughtful, and thought-provoking,Germs, Genes & Civilizationmakes the case that infectious diseases have played a major role in shaping society. Clark argues that religion, morals, and even democracy have all been influenced by the smallest and most dangerous organisms on our planet. While you may not accept every argument, you will be stimulated, entertained, and enlightened.”

Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., M.D., President, Stony Brook University, and former Director of the Midwest Regional Center for Excellence in Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases Research


“Clark presents an insightful explanation of the invisible history all around us. He conveys the essential facts in a riveting and engaging manner that everyone, including the nonscientist, will find exceptionally interesting and revealing.”

Michael C. Thomsett, author ofThe Inquisition


Germs, Genes & Civilizationis a fascinating and well-balanced account of how a wide variety of different kinds of microbes have influenced human evolution, culture, society, and even religious thought. Written for a lay audience, the relationships between genes and disease resistance and susceptibility are clearly discussed, and the book concludes with a sober assessment of what may be in store for us in the future.”

Irwin W. Sherman, Professor Emeritus, University of California, Riverside, and author ofTwelve Diseases That Changed Our WorldandThe Power of Plagues


The Stunning Hidden Interconnections Between Microbes and Humanity


 AD 452: Attila the Hun stands ready to sack Rome. No one can stop him--but he walks away. A miracle? No...dysentery. Microbes saved the Roman Empire. Nearly a millennium later, the microbes of the Black Death ended the Middle Ages, making possible the Renaissance, western democracy, and the scientific revolution. Soon after, microbes ravaged the Americas, paving the way for their European conquest.


Again and again, microbes have shaped our health, our genetics, our history, our culture, our politics, even our religion and ethics. This book reveals much that scientists and cultural historians have learned about the pervasive interconnections between infectious microbes and humans. It also considers what our ongoing fundamental relationship with infectious microbes might mean for the future of the human species.


The “good side” of history's worst epidemics

The surprising debt we owe to killer diseases


Where diseases came from...

...and where they may be going


Children of pestilence: disease and civilization

From Egypt to Mexico, from Rome to China


STDs, sexual behavior, and culture

How microbes can shape cultural cycles of puritanism and promiscuity



Product Details

  • File Size: 413 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0137019963
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 5 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (January 8, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0032BW5CK
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #431,804 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly shallow March 27, 2011
By Molly
I loved "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and was looking forward to another exciting book on the impact of disease on history. Unfortunately, this is not it. There are some great stories in this book, but overall it reads like a series of undergraduate lectures delivered with minimal fact-checking to an uncritical audience. In a book intended for non-scientists, it's appropriate to omit citations within the text, but no sources are listed anywhere, even for whole chapters and the most controversial claims. As teachers, we plead with students not to take claims at face value, but to look at the evidence. Books are listed at the end for "further reading," but no research articles. There's not much 21st century updating- surely the lovely stories about Helicobacter and language co-evolution and the scary ones about XDR-TB belong here. Prof. Clark knows his microbiology, but is incurious about human genetics, anthropology, and HIV epidemiology, to name just three fields central to his speculations. We are told (p. 15) that the sickle cell mutation is found "only in Africans indigenous to regions harboring P. falciparum malaria". This is just not true. The same mutation is found at relatively high frequencies in Greek, Saudi Arabian, East Indian, and other populations exposed to falciparum malaria; it has evolved independently at least five times. He speculates that differences in sexual permissiveness account for Christian vs Muslim differences in HIV prevalence rates in subSaharan Africa. For several years it's been known that circumcision is highly protective and explains most of these differences. "in Africa...AIDS will thin out the promiscuous and malnourished, and favor the spread of religious puritanism, particularly Islamic sects..." (p. 253). Read more ›
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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Basic Overview of Epidemics & Civilization August 10, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A very generalized account of the history of epidemics and how they have changed civilization. Also, how these epidemics evolve and how we evolve resistance to them. Everything from malaria, Black Death, Mad Cow, Typhus, etc..

This is a very easy read with short chapters. I read where some reviewers criticize this book because of its lack of footnotes or supportive material. On this point I would agree, it is most definitely lacking in these areas. Though it may be accurate historically, it is rather hard to check up on the author's remarks.

That being said, I still found it generally informative even if it is somewhat speculative.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pox on all our houses August 19, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Mr. Clark has written a book that discusses basic disease transmission and the results thereof in a way for the layperson to understand. He goes over the plagues that hit ancient Rome, Greece, Persia, etc. The belief in many religions that disease came from sin or evil spirits (or both) is also expounded upon in short, easy-to-read subsections in the chapter. There is also some scrying going on at the end, where Mr. Clark attempts to divine what sorts of diseases may be born from technology and future populations.

The strengths of the book are its accessibility for someone who may be a history buff but not much of an epidemiologist, and it certainly has interesting facts aobut how diseases wax and wane as microscopic critters make their way through us, leaving trails of death, disfigurement, and stronger immune systems.

The weakness of the book would be some of the writing. The author repeats himself often, sometimes only changing one word in a similar sentence on a nearby page. The repetition should have been done away with by an editor who knows better. The book could easily be 1/3 shorter than it is if the repetitions were taken out.

I've never written a book, and I do not have the sort of big brain that would allow me to become a professor of microbiology at a university, so I hate to nitpick someone else's work, but I wish the editor had done a better job here and I also wish there were footntotes so we could see where the information is coming from.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
David Clark is a professor of Microbiology at Southern Illinois University. And he has written a literate, accessible volume on the interaction of genes, germs, and civilization. One early example: Rome was a huge, teeming city where disease took a toll on residents. On the other hand, many died from these diseases. On the other hand, over time, they developed resistance to the germs that they had been subjected to. So, when "barbarians" like the Huns approached, from rural backgrounds where disease was not as prevalent, they often fell prey to disease and were unable to complete their conquest of Rome.

The central theme of his book (Page 11): "Human typically labor under the illusion that they control their own destiny. However, I argue in this book that infectious disease has had a massive unrecognized effect on human history and culture."

A good, solid work that provides many examples of the linkages among genes, germs, and civilization. If you want a detailed academic tome, this will not be for you. If you want illustrations of the interactions noted previously, then you will get context, rationale, and examples. Among subjects covered: crowding and disease; irrigation, sewers, and disease; food and disease (e.g., mad cow disease); "pestilence and warfare" (the title of one of his chapters). The final chapter looks at emerging diseases and what the future might mold.

In the end, I believe that he does a solid job in addressing the following (Page xiii): "Disease has influenced our cultural and religious beliefs, as well as determined the outcome of wars and major historical events. I have tried to show how beneficial long-term effects have resulted from epidemics that were terrible tragedies to those caught up in them."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A basic handbook for the uninformed.
More than a little interesting.
Published 15 days ago by alice foust
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
This book covers how disease is spread and the impact disease has had in shaping history. It also presents a glimpse at future diseases and our continuing battle with microbes.
Published 4 months ago by Deborah A. Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars Well documented and easy to read
Well documented and easy to read. I finished each chapter with the satisfaction of having learnt something new about our world and our interactions with germs through the history... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Isidro Ferrer
4.0 out of 5 stars Eye Opening....
Not a total page-turner, but we'll worth the time to better understand history as mistaught in my school.
Published 6 months ago by fun5er
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting topic
This was an interesting book. The author does a good job in describing not only the basics of disease, transmission, and genetic mutation, but also the history of various diseases... Read more
Published 6 months ago by J. Oakes
5.0 out of 5 stars great defense against the media hype
After having read this work, not it only will you be more informed about world history and the impact of microbes upon it but you will have a defensive shield against the... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Walter
5.0 out of 5 stars Why We Survive the Flu (and other epidemics)
Dr. Clark presents a plausible explanation of the historical and current relationship between microbes and other disease-causing parasites vis-a-vis mankind. Read more
Published 6 months ago by R. Shank
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
The author presents a fascinating overview of the effect of disease on human civilisation - who'd have thought the world could change because of a bacteria! Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars A pretty good read
A pretty good read.
Published 11 months ago by rjon
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and long
An interesting look at the relationship between infectious diseases and the rise and fall of civilizations throughout time. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Robin P
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More About the Author

David Clark was born June 1952 in Croydon, a London suburb. After winning a scholarship to Christ's College, Cambridge, he received his B.A. in 1973. In 1977 got his PhD from Bristol University for work on antibiotic resistance. He then left England for postdoctoral research at Yale and then the University of Illinois. He joined the faculty of Southern Illinois University in 1981 and is now a professor in the Microbiology Department. In 1991 he visited Sheffield University, England as a Royal Society Guest Research Fellow. His research into the genetics and regulation of bacterial fermentation has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy from 1982 till 2007. He has published over 70 articles in scientific journals and graduated over 20 master's and PhD students. He is unmarried and lives with two cats, Little George, who is orange and Ralph who is mostly black and eats cardboard. He is the author of Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun, now in its third edition, as well as three more serious textbooks.

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