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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashed Paperback – May 10, 2005
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In the diaries and memoirs of immigrants arriving during the early twentieth century, one repeatedly encounters evidence of the intense fear of the physicians at Ellis Island, the medical inspection process, and the potential for deportation.
In proving that radical responses such as quarantines are ineffective and not based on good science, Markel applies a personal perspective gained through his family's experiences as Eastern European immigrants as well as his own interactions with 21st century immigrant patients. The six epidemiological histories here are gripping, and Markel's style is reminiscent of Sherwin Nuland or Gina Kolata. Humanity is locked in an eternal war with microbes, Markel writes, and despite all efforts, "contagion cannot be confined to national borders." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
He juxtaposes the extremely egalitarian nature of deadly viruses with the decidedly discriminatory responses they evoke in human societies. The common knee-jerk reaction to the onset of disease is to blame the victims, who often are immigrants or 'Other' in some way . While Markel uses specific historical examples to illustrate this point, everything he discusses applies to current global health challenges, such as AIDS in Africa. This negative and unproductive reaction works against the protection of public health, to the detriment of all.
Markel cites other reponses, namely: public overconfidence in the ability to conquer disease; the fear and worry over relatively rare but frightening diseases versus indifference to the slower moving but more long-running and widespread ones; and the tendency to not think about allocating resources before major outbreaks occur.
The message is crystal clear for all those willing to heed Markel's words: global public health is purchasable, and most effective when bought in a preventative capacity.
I have some reservations about the book, however. Its format--discussing each diagnosis separately, in its own chapter--made the book seem choppy. This may be a compliment to the author, rather than a complaint: finishing each chapter left me wanting to know much more about the disease discussed. Also, I did not feel convinced by his argument for policies to contain future epidemics; this could have been flushed out better. And a small thing that didn't figure into my rating but is simply a personal gripe...there is nothing mentioned about the influenza epidemic of the early 1900s. But how many diseases can you fit into a good book?
I work at the hospital where Dr. Markel is based, and my coworkers and I are pleased with his success. We're definitely looking forward to more (and even better) books from his pen.
(Obviously I didn't read the subtitle)
What I got was even more interesting, and heart-breaking.
Markel tells the stories of Tuberculosis, Bubonic Plague, Trachoma, Typhus, AIDS and Cholera all through the lens of the immigrant experience.
The two stories that really hit me were the story of Haitians with AIDS caught behind barbed wire at Guantanamo Bay. As Markel details the ways the virus destroys cells from within, forcing host cells to continue replicating the virus making the host susceptible to other diseases, he juxtaposes those images with the story of one Haitian man and the horrible conditions he was forced to endure.
The other story that hit me was Typhus and the immigration and sanitation procedures set up along the Mexican-US Border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. Describing the bath mixture of gasoline, kerosene, etc that day laborers were enforced to endure just to cross the border (to kill typhus-bearing lice) was horrible.
So, in reality, this book taught me more about how race and prejudice contribute to questionable decisions about health care and public health more than it taught me about the science of the diseases themselves.
Very readable and engaging for me, a non-scientist, if difficult to read sometimes (not due to writing, but due to the nature of how the U.S. government has forced immigrants into quarantines and denied them needed healthcare or prevented them from entering the U.S. all in the name of public health). There were very few "happy" endings for the individuals in this book Markel chose as the "human face" for each disease.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a well-written book about the sociology and politics of public health, xenophobia, and epidemics. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Jeffrey Huntington
I was somewhat disappointed by this book. The focus is more on the politics, the attitude towards immigrants, etc rather than the history of the epidemics. Read morePublished 18 months ago by George
Howard Markel does a spectacular job retelling recent events involving the spread of infectious diseases. Read morePublished on December 30, 2012 by R. Rodriguez
The book arrived early and without multiple marking from hilighters and ink. However, I had no clue which book it was (since ordering 3 books for my summer class) because the book... Read morePublished on July 9, 2012 by Hawwah Haleem