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Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (New Approaches to the Americas) Paperback – January 11, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0521459105 ISBN-10: 0521459109 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: New Approaches to the Americas
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (January 11, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521459109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521459105
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Brilliant. Ranging freely across the 'Greater Caribbean' ... McNeill makes a riveting case that the primary driver in the colonial conflicts there was not political or economic but microbiological."
Charles C. Mann, Wall Street Journal

"J. R. McNeill's new book does more than exhibit his usual gifts - breadth of range, mastery of material, depth of insight, freedom of thought, clarity of expression. It has changed the way I think about empires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and will challenge many readers' assumptions about the limits of human agency in shaping great events."
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

"In this authoritative and engaging book, J. R. McNeill argues convincingly that disease played a pivotal role in many of the momentous events of Caribbean history. He shows how the region's disease ecology changed following the advent of European colonization and how this served and then subverted the interests of the Caribbean's oldest colonial powers. Mosquito Empires is indispensable to any student of Caribbean history or the history of disease."
Mark Harrison, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

"Who would have guessed that the mosquito played such a vital role, shaping the fate of empires and revolutions, in such a vitally important part of the world? This provocative book is an eye-opener, written with great verve and wit."
Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

"For most of the last five centuries, the Atlantic empires - European and North American - wrested, fought wars, and killed thousands of citizens and slaves for possession of the wealth swaying in the fields of the Caribbean islands and coastlines. The dominant factors in the long conflict, no matter what the protagonists claimed, were not political or religious or even economic but septic, that is, the microbes of yellow fever and malaria. J. R. McNeill's book is by far the clearest, best informed, and scientifically accurate of the accounts available on this sugary conflict."
Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

"Drawing on an enormous documentary source base, culled from many archives and texts in several languages, and ranging effortlessly across military history and medical science, J. R. McNeill's book is a major achievement. Henceforth, histories of empire, warfare, and international relations that neglects the environmental context of the events they recount will be seriously deficient."
Gabriel Paquette, Times Literary Supplement

"... this is a truly impressive book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Greater Caribbean and beyond."
Matthew Mulcahy, William and Mary Quarterly

"McNeill's seminal and path-breaking new study will surely play a leading role in providing a clear historical understanding of colonization and its aftermath in a vast area of the Western Hemisphere."
American Historical Review

"This ambitious work is an enjoyable, convincing read. Highly recommended."

"... a valuable addition to the historiography of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Caribbean."
Mariola Espinosa, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"... a welcome addition to maritime and imperial history."
Paul Webb, International Journal of Maritime History

"... a fine study that will be read and admired for generations to come."
Paul Kopperman, The Journal of Southern History

"In his compelling new book, J. R. McNeill asserts that over the course of two centuries historical events in the Americas shifted on tides of fevered sweat and black vomit."
Jennifer L. Anderson, European History Quarterly

"... gives a valuable framework for understanding the biology of colonization and independence in the Americas."
Lynn A. Nelson, Florida Historical Quarterly

"... a wonderful book, as fun to read as it is thought-provoking and informative."
Molly A. Warsh, Journal of World History

Book Description

This book explores the links among ecology, disease, and international politics in the context of the Greater Caribbean in the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Yellow fever and malaria attacked newcomers, which helped keep the Spanish Empire Spanish in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth century, these diseases helped revolutions to succeed by decimating European troops.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By ccmann on December 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I know the author slightly, so readers may want to take this recommendation with the proverbial grain of salt. But I thought this book was terrific -- full of interesting ideas and things I didn't know about, all written in wonderfully clear prose. This story, the product of 20 years of research, tells how malaria and yellow fever came to the Americas, and the mind-boggling stuff that happened afterward. McNeill is an exceptionally careful, understated writer, always making sure the reader knows what is documented and what is speculation, and constantly stressing that the two diseases are not the *only* cause of the events he is describing. Nevertheless, it is clear that they played a big role in matters as weighty as the creation of American slavery and the Revolutionary War and as weird as the attempt by Scotland to seize Panama and the fact that Barbados was (briefly) one of the richest places in the world. Some of the events that McNeill recounts are astounding, and as he writes the reader can detect the barest hint of his raised eyebrows. Knowing McNeill a bit was how I first heard of this book, but not why I enjoyed reading it so much.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Horst Wagner on February 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
I have taught courses on imperialism for decades and regret that John McNeill's latest masterpiece was not available earlier. His writing is compelling as always, well informed and interspersed with his dry humor, and explains the decisive role of pathogens in the rise and fall of empires to students, teachers and everyone interested in this topic.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Anson Cassel Mills on October 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
J. R. McNeill gained my confidence immediately with a first chapter displaying a proper balance of confidence and humility about his thesis: roughly, that ecological changes created by Europeans in the Atlantic coastal regions of the New World increased the prevalence of malaria and yellow fever--which in turn helped to determine the outcome of later military conflicts in the region. McNeill is the master of his extensive research, yet he writes simply and clearly. Few books these days are both academically sound and easily approachable by the general reader. Bravo! May McNeill's tribe increase.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 25, 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a very interesting book on the interaction between infectious disease and the history of European empires in what McNeill terms the Greater Caribbean, the region from the Carolina coast, the Caribbean proper, and the littoral of Central America and Northern South America. Some of the general and specific phenomena discussed by McNeill are known well. Examples are the transmission of important infectious diseases to the western hemisphere from Europe and Africa and the importance of Yellow fever in securing the success of the Haitian Revolution. McNeill provides an unusually thoughtful and thorough analysis of the influence of epidemic disease on the dynamics of empire formation and persistence.

McNeill focuses particularly on Yellow fever and Malaria, though dengue is mentioned as well. In an interesting combination of epidemiology and social history, McNeill discusses not only that contact with the Old World transmit these diseases to the Greater Caribbean but also how specific features of colonization, incluiding planatation development and the introduction of Old World domesticated species, favored the spread and persistence of these diseases. As the initial colonizers, the Spanish were able to establish their empire prior to the emergence of these diseases in the Greater Caribbean. Yellow Fever appears to make its first major appearance in the mid-17th century.

The populations of the established Spanish colonies usually enjoyed some protections from Yellow Fever and Malaria and this was a huge advantage in fending off the efforts of other European powers, notably the British, to conquer the Spanish American empire. By the 18th century, Spanish military planners were aware of this fact and incorporated it into defense plans.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Lamb on June 28, 2014
Format: Paperback
Finished this and it was a good read. Though sometimes overly technical on the breeding cycle and transmission of the disease for my tastes, the book is carried along by the author's amused cynicism - that great professorial tone that made some classes in college fun to attend - about those caught up in a perfect storm of ecological change, medical ignorance, and vanity and greed.

In fact I was reminded a number of times of Krakauer, Junger and other modern-day "disaster authors" as each chapter serves up fresh boat loads of European armies bent on conquest that end up mostly dead in or near Caribbean ports where outbreaks were the worst.

Each account relies on journals, diaries, and letters of contemporaries who were on the scene, and conducts a forensic investigation to determine which disease (there were many at the time) was the root cause.

From a military history aspect there's a decent amount of information on 17th and 18th century state craft and siege strategy. Defenders began taking into account the disease cycle and played for time so that they could use Yellow Fever as a confederate. The telling of America's War of Independence from a disease framework was revealing for me.
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