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Plagues and Peoples 1st Edition
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Plagues and People helps history-interested readers appreciate some of the effects of plagues on civilization. But the detail overwhelms the big picture for much of the book.Published 12 days ago by Robert mossman
Great book. Just what I needed for my research. Fast delivery, too. A+Published 2 months ago by bullpen41
The author communicated a lot of good information and ideas, but his style of writing can be awkward at times. I found myself having to re-read a lot.Published 5 months ago by Amazon Customer
Excellent study of the relationship between human epidemics and human history both in the Old World and the New World in Ancient Times and up to the recent years of the 20th... Read morePublished 7 months ago by Mike Keepper
Can't go wrong with William H. Mcneill. Can't wait to read this.Published 8 months ago by Richard Garcia
Absoluetly, its a fine book I used in a college course many years agoPublished 10 months ago by Al Padavano
Well written and exciting; much personal detail, and so much more than simple statistics. Gives the reader a strong flavor of the times and the mores of the peoples of the long,... Read morePublished 14 months ago by left lane willy