- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: Demos Health; 2nd edition (June 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 188879979X
- ISBN-13: 978-1888799798
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.7 x 8.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #815,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Plagues & Poxes: The Impact of Human History on Epidemic Disease 2nd Edition
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From The New England Journal of Medicine
Alfred Jay Bollet is a distinguished academic rheumatologist who has chaired the department of medicine at two medical schools. The first edition of Plagues and Poxes, published in 1987, focused on the waxing and waning of specific diseases and their impact on world history. Half of that edition was organized around the status of medicine as illustrated by the treatment of U.S. presidents or their family members. This new edition devotes more space to noncontagious diseases and traces the effect of historical events, in particular the use of diseases as terrorist weapons and the modern potential for such uses. Eleven chapters are either major or minor revisions of those in the first edition, and six chapters are entirely new. The writing is for a general readership, with explanations of the rather few anatomical terms and other technical references. The content is presented in an interesting fashion, with numerous bits of obscure information scattered throughout, often with a relevance that is more historical than medical. For example, the chapter on yellow fever relates that during the famous charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, Colonel Teddy Roosevelt was the only rider. The price of Scotch whiskey increased during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic because of a belief that the drink had therapeutic value. Regarding poliomyelitis, we learn that during Franklin Roosevelt's numerous railway journeys, the speed of the train was limited to 35 miles per hour to minimize his discomfort from the vibration of the car. "Spring fever" originated as a term of American colonists for the scurvy-induced lassitude that set in after a winter without fresh fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, I cannot determine the basis for some dubious statements because specific references are not given. For instance, bubonic plague was not called the Black Death in the 14th century but, rather, "the great mortality." "Black Death" came into use in 16th-century Scandinavia and was used in England in the 17th century. And, the author claims, "venereal urethritis . . . was known at least two millennia before syphilis appeared," even though no ancient description of involuntary urethral discharge mentions pain, making the diagnosis of gonorrhea doubtful before an English description in the 14th century. Also, the book states that "in 1831 . . . John Snow published a report suggesting that cholera was being spread by contaminated water," despite the fact that Snow would have made this report at the age of 18 years; it usually is dated to 1849. "The Ebers papyrus . . . recorded the effectiveness of extracts of the autumn crocus (the source of colchicine) for treating arthritis" is an unlikely statement that might have resulted from confusion between saffron (the dried stigma of Crocus sativus), which is believed to have appeared in the Ebers papyrus (although not in association with arthritis), and the bulb of another crocus, Colchicum autumnale, the source of colchicine. Names sometimes appear inconsistently, such as "Dr. Karl Landsteiner and his assistant, E. Popper" (Erwin), and the virologist Flexner's first name (Simon) should have been given to avoid confusion with his equally famous brother, Abraham. Of the rather few typographic errors, the most serious appears in a reference to Bacterial and Mycotic Infections of Man, supposedly edited by "Dubois, RJ" and published in 1848; Rene Jules Dubos actually published this book in 1948. Eighteen illustrations, all accompanied by descriptive text, are a new feature of this edition. References are given at the end of each chapter, mostly to secondary sources, and the index is adequate. Although not authoritative, Plagues and Poxes is entertaining and concisely offers much information that is not easily available. Thomas G. Benedek, M.D.
Copyright © 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.
"Plagues & Poxes is entertaining and concisely offers much information that is not easily available. -- New England Journal of Medicine
"The book will be useful to those wishing to gain the perspective of a distinguished scholar on the fascinating relationships of human behavior, disease, and history... The essays are well written, referenced, and filled with fascinating details of the people and events involved." -- Journal of the American Medical Association
"...for those who want to know the long-range history and what general progress has been made in the containment or treatment of many of the world's worst diseases, or for those interested in the relationship between human progress and the increase of certain types of disease, it would be a good choice." -- About.com
"Serves up a rich feast of disease, danger, and death... What sets this book apart is breadth wed to concision." -- Foreword Magazine
"Dr. Bollet's collections of essays...deals elegantly and excitingly with a wide range of topics... excellent accounts of the illnesses of various presidents of the U.S..." -- Medical History
"Bollet's book bring[s] a new perspective on disease to the general reader."-- Midwest Book Review
"Do not start this book at night unless you suffer from insomnia; the stories are spellbinding to anyone who loves history."-- Doody's Reviews
"An excellent medical-based survey which charts the rise and change of disease patterns throughout human history."-- The Bookwatch
"...well written and interesting...a perfect companion on a transcontinental flight."--American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
"A fascinating account of how diseases change as a result of both known and unknown factors." --Brit. J. Clinical Practice (Brit J. Clinical Practice 20100503)
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Consider the following passage from the chapter on anthrax: "Most naturally occurring anthrax strains are sensitive to penicillin, which historically has been the preferred anthrax therapy. Doxycycline is the preferred option among the tetracycline class of agents, because it has been proved efficacious in monkey studies. Other members of this class of antibiotics are suitable, and animal studies suggest that such prophylaxis should be effective. The floroquinolone antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin [Cipro®])should have equivalent efficacy, but no data are available..." Not only is this dull prose, it is unimportant to the thread of the story that Dr. Bollett claims he is telling. And this is only one of the most prominent examples of poor prose (besides making me wonder whether or not Dr. Bollett has any financial interest in Cipro).
According to the introduction, this book is a revised edition to an earlier book on the same subject. I didn't read the first edition but I have a feeling it is much better than this book. Mainly because the last three chapters on emerging diseases are the poorest in the book and are probably new to this addition. As are what I expect are new paragraphs near the end of every chapter that relates how every single disease in history could be weaponized. It is disturbing to see a book like this play on people's fears of bioterrorism.
It's unfortunate because the historical sections of the book which are the bulk of the first parts of each chapter are well done if a bit dry. Dr. Bollett has turned the traditional view around a bit by considering how human history has impacted epidemic disease rather than the other way around. If the book had stayed on this path it would have been decent, if not great. Somehow this new edition has lost its way.