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Plagues and Peoples [Paperback]

William H. McNeill
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 11, 1977 0385121229 978-0385121224 1st
Upon its original publication, Plagues and Peoples was an immediate critical and popular success, offering a radically new interpretation of world history as seen through the extraordinary impact--political, demographic, ecological, and psychological--of disease on cultures. From the conquest of Mexico by smallpox as much as by the Spanish, to the bubonic plague in China, to the typhoid epidemic in Europe, the history of disease is the history of humankind. With the identification of AIDS in the early 1980s, another chapter has been added to this chronicle of events, which William McNeill explores in his new introduction to this updated editon.

Thought-provoking, well-researched, and compulsively readable, Plagues and Peoples is that rare book that is as fascinating as it is scholarly, as intriguing as it is enlightening. "A brilliantly conceptualized and challenging achievement" (Kirkus Reviews), it is essential reading, offering a new perspective on human history.

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Plagues and Peoples + Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History
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Editorial Reviews Review

No small themes for historian William McNeill: he is a writer of big, sweeping books, from The Rise of the West to The History of the World. Plagues and Peoples considers the influence of infectious diseases on the course of history, and McNeill pays special attention to the Black Death of the 13th and 14th centuries, which killed millions across Europe and Asia. (At one point, writes McNeill, 10,000 people in Constantinople alone were dying each day from the plague.) With the new crop of plagues and epidemics in our own time, McNeill's quiet assertion that "in any effort to understand what lies ahead the role of infectious disease cannot properly be left out of consideration" takes on new significance.

From the Publisher

McNeill's highly acclaimed work is a brilliant and challenging account of the effects of disease on human history. His sophisticated analysis and detailed grasp of the subject make this book fascinating reading. By the author of The Rise Of The West.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1st edition (October 11, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385121229
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385121224
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
85 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mankind - the Parasite and the Host January 7, 2002
Plagues and Peoples is an informative and very readable summary of the relationship between mankind and disease. The author consistently views disease as a parasite and describes the history of plagues in terms of a parasite interacting with a host population. The parasite and the host interact and, over time, reach an equilibrium within the population that allows the both the parasite and the host to survive.
The most interesting feature of the book is his portrayal of mankind not only as a host, but also as a parasite himself. He uses the term macroparasite to describe human institutions and phenomena that also drain energy and resources from producers. For example, very high taxes or rents, Medieval labor laws and practices, war, and forced migration all drain communities and nations as surely as disease. He provides excellent, while still brief, commentary on the interaction between microparasites and macroparasites and the resultant depopulation of certain areas during certain periods. One might argue that this is not a newly observed correlation, but it has certainly never been explained as clearly and succintly as it is done here.
McNeill covers a range of topics. There is, of course, discussion of the plague and mankinds response to it. There us also commentary on leprosy. Why for example, was leprosy, so common in Western Europe and the Middle East in biblical times, to dissapear in the Middle Ages. ( The answer is not what you think. ) Did syphillis originate in the Americas ? If so it may have been the Aztecs' revenge on the conquistadors. Why are there childhood diseases ?
McNeill's arguements are somtimes intuitive and are, in some cases, based on limited data, especially when he examines the history of disease in Asia and India.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will change the way you look at the world October 15, 2003
By A Customer
This is one of those handful of books that will change the way you look at our world. History will never seem quite the same when you finish.
Several earlier reviewers have done a great job of summarizing and analyzing the book. It is unfortunate that this book was given as a high school assignment, and then the students were asked to review it on Amazon. Is it any wonder they gave it 2 or 3 stars, and said it was difficult to understand? Most 15-year-olds do not have the background to fully appreciate this type of work, and unfortunately their reviews skew the book's rating.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars panoramic view of history June 25, 2003
History can be written from two major vantage points. From the top of a mountain, with broad brush strokes, showing the major streams and landmarks, the BIG picture. Spenser and Toynbee are such historians, so is this book. The other view is from the trenches, the pieces, the small connections that we find so fascinating and absorbing. I believe that the big picture view of this book is a result of how it came into being as an elaboration of a single constellation of ideas that the author discovered while working on _The Rise of the West_, he found they interesting and continued to build the structure around these ideas in this book.
The book is about a collection of related ideas:
Parasitism--as he defines two types macro and micro.
Micro is the form we are familiar with as disease, the times viruses, bacteria, protozoan begin to use us as their energy and food source, to our consternation. He further defines two flavors: epidemic and endemic. Epidemic is the form in bubonic plague that swept Europe for 500 years at regular intervals. endemic is the idea of a parasitic form like the liver flukes that effect irrigated agriculture the world over, or like the civilized childhood diseases that effect the body politic like measles, mumps, smallpox.
Macroparasitism is this author's contribution to the discussion, unique to him as far as i know. Those other human's that prey on the weaker, less organized, less mobile etc. Epidemic macro are the Mongols(which are the topic of what i think is the best chapter in the book) or those horseman like in the movie the "Seventh Samari" who sweep out of the steppes or mountains to seize the harvest.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An epidemiological McCluhan April 16, 1998
If you've been enjoying the rash of viral/epidemiological titles such as "Hot Zone", "The Coming Plague" or "Deadly Feasts", you'll find a real gem in "Plagues and Peoples". William McNeill, an author with impeccable credentials, is IMHO, the Marshall McCluhan of epidemiological biology. Like McCluhan, he published this work decades before the subject matter became mainstream. He also comes at the topics he investigates with a fresh and brain-stretching approach.
McNeill presents a history of mankind where every civilization is surrounded by a disease 'gradient'. These gradients interact with one another as one of the significant factors in inter-cultural dominance and expansion. The conquest of the New World takes on a new look as McNeill describes the impact of the European disease gradient on a defenseless North America. He contrasts this with the impact of the African disease gradient on Europeans.
Some of McNeills ideas, such as his analogies between micro-parasites (diseases, bugs, etc.) and macro-parasites (governments, barbarians, raiders, etc.) are still fresh and fascinating. Consider his idea that we accept a government as a low-level parasite so that we minimize the impact of rogue parasites like raiders and such in the same way we allow our bodies to be colonized by benign parasites like E.Coli so that we have fewer niches available to rouge germs like staph and strep. This book is filled with exciting ideas like this.
All in all, the book is very readable, adds greatly to any view of history and creates an excellent foundation for the recent titles in this area.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Plagues and Peoples
I am really looking forward to reading this book as I am very interested in the plague of the 1300s.
Published 2 months ago by Liza Kimball
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well reseacrhed
This is basically a medical and history book. I admire the research that went into this book. I found it interesting throughout. recommend.
Published 4 months ago by Upstate Girl
5.0 out of 5 stars I recommend it
If you are fascinated in learning about cultures different from your own and how much impact plagues can be on society, I would recommend this. It kept me interested.
Published 7 months ago by A.A.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast shipping and excellent condition
I was very pleased with the condition of the book (it was better than advertised). The book was shipped very quickly by Amazon Prime and I was happy with the price. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Christian Nelson
1.0 out of 5 stars BORING! Outdated!
The copyright date on this book is 1976! He gives a brief nod to HIV in his 1997 preface, but that is it for any recent 'plagues' and/or viruses. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Marilyn
3.0 out of 5 stars the effect of plagues on history
a slow read - very thorough but hard to stay with it. The subject is very important historically. It is a companion to Guns, Germs and Steel.
Published 14 months ago by Thomas A. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Really loved this one!
This book really explains how diseases shape not only the lives of individuals, but of how they impact and shape civilization. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Yvette D. Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars History through a Different Lens
McNeill's landmark book describes the impact of diseases on human history. His presentation is accessible and compelling, and the quality and quantity of research makes for a very... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Scott Cromar
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book Hardcopy 20 Years Ago; Bought a Digital Copy after...
One of a series of ground breaking books looking at history from the epidemiological, economic, agricultural perspective. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Holiday Trains
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
Great book and great service. I have just started reading the book, but find it in very good condition and exactly what I was looking for.
Published 16 months ago by Jim
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