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Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times

21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684822709
ISBN-10: 0684822709
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Editorial Reviews Review

Whereas many popular books on microbes focus on contemporary pathogens and emerging epidemics, Arno Karlen's Man and Microbes provides a historical look at the coevolution of humans and microorganisms. Karlen speculates that infections are integral to the process of life itself, that the mitochondria in every animal cell, for instance, are likely descendants of infectious agents. He then traces the development of man from primitive hunter-gatherer to urban dweller to world traveler, pointedly analyzing how socio-ecological changes have contributed to the changing incidence of disease. With amazing detail, Karlen describes the origins of historical plagues (smallpox, cholera, influenza, polio, and others) as well as the emergence of scourges such as hemorrhagic fever (Ebola and its cousins), Lyme disease, Legionnaires' disease, and even the deep mysteries of retroviruses such as HIV.

From Publishers Weekly

Karlen (Napoleon's Glands) has produced a disturbing, succinct, compelling report on the current global crisis of new and resurgent diseases. Covering cholera, leprosy, cancer, AIDS, viral encephalitis, lethal Ebola fever, streptococcal "flesh-eating" infections and a host of other killers, he shows how the present wave of diseases arose with drastic environmental change, wars, acceleration of travel, the breakdown of public health measures, and microbial adaptation. In the book's first half, he entertainingly charts humanity's relationship with microbes, from the earliest hominids' probable encounters with bubonic plague to hunter-gatherers' comparative good health, the explosion of sickness in Bronze Age cities and the spread of infections with trade, conquest and empire. Karlen concludes that today's epidemics are part of an ancient pattern-whenever people make radical changes in their lifestyle and environment, disease flourishes. He suggests that improved surveillance could help defuse the crisis we face now.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 22, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684822709
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684822709
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #959,609 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) on February 25, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So the author of revelation saw the lethal side of cities (quoted on page 48), or as Mr Arno Karlen better describes-"as farmers and villagers began crowding into cities, this immunologically virgin mass offered a feast to germs lurking in domesticated animals, wastes, filth, and scavengers" (page 48).
This book provides a reasonable overview of germs and social history. Mr Karlen traces the development of agriculture and cities to the development of 'crowd diseases', jumping ship from previous group species such as horses, pigs, ducks, rats, etc, or mutating from previously benign forms, or appearing and diappearing from nowhere, leaving little trace. As far as other species influence goes-that old friend the dog is suggested to have contributed no less than 65 diseases to homo sapien (page 39), with 45 from cattle, and 35 fom horses.
The reader will find discussion on the likely origins and developments of eg measles (possibly from distemper in dogs, although Diamond in the book "Guns Germs and Steel" suggests cattle), smallpox (dogs or cattle), influenza (pigs and ducks), common cold (horses?), scarlet fever, typhus, bubonic plague (fleas), syphilis, gonorrhea, cholera (lives in water), AIDS (probably chimps), malaria (mosquito), tuberculosis, leprosy, legionaires disease, and a host of others. Various historical calamities are described such as:
- Athens which lost 1 in 3 people in 430 BC, (unknown- possibly measles, typhoid, scarlet fever, smallpox), and which ended the so-called 'golden age' of Greece.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Anthony R. Dickinson on May 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
Published in the UK as `Plague's Progress: A Social History of Man and Disease', Karlen provides the reader here with an excellent introduction to the topic of the natural, as well as social history of the most common human life-threatening diseases. Covered here are all the usual (as well as some more unusual) suspects, from mediaeval plagues to AIDS and CJD; from soldiers not warring due to disease outbreak, to war outbreak being signalled by disease. Although there are some one-liners for conspiracy theorists with regards man-made disease vectors, the principal thesis of this book is that new pandemic and epidemic outbreaks of disease result from changes in human and other microbe host behaviours and the situated environment(s) in which these changes take place. For example, changes in land usage, habitat (as much in the `home' as in the field), species interactions, development & redevelopment, etc.., necessarily give rise to novel ecological niches available for exploitation by any number of host/pathogenic organisms and disease vector transmission pathways. Karlen is correct to further emphasise the point that such opportunist developments and novel disease situations arise from constructive events (aircraft transportation of secondary hosts, air-conditioner habitats and overuse of antibiotics) as much as from destructive events (deforestation and animal extintions give rise to traditional host-parasite species shifts). A useful summary table is provided of the time-line of recent life-threatening contagious diseases, but I found myself annotating the margin with a few more details concerning each (e.g., secondary host - rodent, cattle, insect; virus/bacteria/protozoan organism etc) - all of which was nonetheless available in the text of the book.Read more ›
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Spoering on February 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book briefly sketches plagues and infectious diseases, from ancient times and of earliest recorded writings, to the present day (1995). Some terrible times for humanity are included in this book, such as when 5000 people a day were dying in Rome around A.D. 251-266 from perhaps measles or smallpox plague, to present day AIDS.
Arno Karlen writes in a style very easy to read. The science in this book seems to be excellent, you can learn a lot about how diseases are spread, from animals and insects to us, and between people, and how diseases mutate over time and people adapt to them so they are sometimes less virulent later than when first encountered. Also covered is how diseases are spread thru behavior and when man alters his environment, two examples being cities and agriculture.
Many diseases are covered in this volume, if you are interested in reading more about any individual disease there are books on just about any one of them to learn more.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Tracy Davis on October 3, 2000
Format: Paperback
In Arno Karlen's "Man and Microbes", history is approached through the relationship of disease to mankind, starting with the first humans to the present. This is a fascinating examination of the microscopic world's impact on the macroscopic world. The origins of some diseases, such as cholera, the 'black plague' and AIDS is covered, as well as epidemics affecting only small parts of the world. Throughout the book, it is emphasized that we could be on the brink of new pandemics -- the most obvious example is AIDS -- that will not only dramatically reduce population, but change our world view and lifestyle. Modern pandemics and our responses to them are compared and contrasted to past pandemics, with the resulting opinion that although we live in a technologically savvy world, our reactions of fear and panic have not changed all that much. My only minor criticism by the last quarter of the book is too much repetition; I found my mind wandering and was a little confused by the end. However, I think that this is an excellent book for those interested in interdisciplinary (biology and history) studies.
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