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Quinine: Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World Paperback – August 17, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“An absorbing and superbly researched history of malaria and its cure.” (Sunday Times (London))

“Ms. Rocco tells her four-century saga briskly, with a confident blend of scholarship and memoir.” (Wall Street Journal)

“Lively, elegantly written and often fascinating” (Evening Standard (London))

“Snappy and sharp...it’s almost a crime that so heinous a disease should be treated to so grand a biography.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“An engrossing story...written with immense verve and confidence...crisp and fluent...a gripping and highly readable tale.” (New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Fiammetta Rocco was raised in Kenya. Her grandfather, her father and she herself all suffered from malaria. Ms. Rocco's investigative journalism has won a number of awards in the United States and in Britain. She lives in London, where she is the literary editor of the Economist. This is her first book.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (August 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060959002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060959005
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Harry Eagar VINE VOICE on April 26, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Subtitles about X "that changed the world" are off-putting, because most such books are superficial or narrow-minded, or both. Not "Quinine."

Although Fiammetta Rocco's approach is idiosyncratic, it is thorough. She visited many of the key places, from Peru to the Congo, and she read some of the original documents. Also, she has had malaria herself and comes from a family with an intimate association with the disease, from Panama to her childhood home in Kenya. In the hands of a less skilled writer, her discursive approach would not have worked. Here, it works charmingly.

Not that the story has much charm of its own. Not only is malaria a nasty disease, the men who found the cinchona tree and guessed it would treat the fever and who fought among themselves over religion and profits often, ended up half- to fully mad.

The whole thing is so improbable. Malaria existed only in the Old World, the fever-tree only in the Andes of the New World. The locals drank a powder of the very bitter bark to ease the shakes, which gave the idea to a Jesuit that it might treat the fever in Rome -- at that time, 1630, fever was thought to be a disease, not a symptom.

The intellectual battles over this cure helped to dismantle the belief in Greek medicine, and, much later, the investigation of the disease's transmission also opened up an unexpected area of natural history -- human parasites mediated by insects.

One word that does not appear in "Quinine" is "vaccine." Largish sums of money and very large hopes are being invested in finding a malaria vaccine. There are reasons to think this venture will never succeed. At any event, Rocco ignores this avenue to concentrate on the tried-and-true cure.
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Format: Paperback
This book was a great purchase on a couple of accounts. First, it provides the reader with a great deal of insight on the background and history of malaria. Second, it focuses on informing the reader through layman's terms rather than through medical jargon.

There is no denying that this book's content is more historical than medical. The author, Fiammetta Rocco, highlights the names of numerous individuals that helped advance our understanding of malaria. While the art of name dropping is respectful in most cases, this book's usage of names can be overwhelming at times. If you can move past the extensive name dropping, this book should exceed your wildest imaginations; however, if you are a stickler for names, this book may cause a few headaches in the process.

Malaria was heavily misunderstood during its early inception as the book mentions. There were no shortages of educated guesses as to what caused malaria, but eventually, the general consensus was that our lovely summer insect, the mosquito, was responsible for transmitting the malaria parasite. With this revelation, hospitals began to reinvent how they treated their patients, and more importantly, how they treated malaria.

While malaria was taking the lives of many people in coastal regions, missionaries from Europe were busy promoting the catholic faith in places like Peru. Concurrently, missionaries were expanding their knowledge of Peruvian medicine by means of interacting with the indigenous people of Peru. It was through this interaction that the missionaries discovered a cure to malaria. It was rumored that a certain tree bark, known as Quinine, helped cure common fevers suffered by the Peruvian population.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Books about things that "change the world," are still popular and relevant to the non-fiction reader. A classic example is Fiammetta Rocco's, Quinine: Malaria and the Quest for a Cure That Changed the World (Harper Collins, 2003), a book that traces the history of quinine from its discovery in the 17th Century by Jesuit missionaries in Peru to its use by expanding European colonial powers and its role in the development of modern anti-malaria pills. The priests learned of the bark of the cinchona tree, which was used by Andean natives to cure shivering, at a time when malaria, then known as Roman ague or marsh fever, was devastating southern Europe. The Jesuits eagerly began the distribution of the curative bark, which also helped European explorers and missionaries survive the disease as they entered new territories. The interest generated by Rocco's book is due to her delving into the relationship between man and plant and that as she demonstrates so well, a plant substance can be dealt with at a personal level. She also is the great-granddaughter of Phillipe Bunau-Varilla, a soldier and engineer and at one time the Panamanian ambassador to the United States. A genius in the art of lobbyist statecraft, he has been referred to as the "Inventor of Panama," and was called one of the most extraordinary Frenchmen to ever live, and he, like his granddaughter survived malaria, so Rocco knows about malaria and quinine from street level, so to speak. She also has the advantage of being a really good writer and having travelled or lived in many interesting places. Well-crafted, beautifully written, it is book well worth the read.
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