Rats, Lice and History: The Classic Account of Infectious Disease and Human History
"Swords and lances, arrows, machine guns and even high explosives have had far less power over the fate of nations than the typhus louse, the plague flea and the yellow-fever mosquito."
Both shocking and entertaining, this masterpiece of popular science writing tells the tragic story of the struggle between humanity and its humble but deadly enemies, the organisms of disease.
Zinsser shows how infectious disease simply represented an attempt of a living organism to survive. While from the human perspective an invading pathogen was abnormal, from the perspective of the pathogen it was perfectly normal.
From the pestilence which contributed to the downfall of Rome to the dancing manias of medieval Europe, the aristocracy's fashion for wearing wigs and the role of typhus in the First World War, Zinsser reveals just how disease and epidemics have shaped human history.
Praise for Rats, Lice and History :
" Zinsser's account of lice and men remains a delight . Written in 1935 as a latter-day variation on Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy , Zinsser's book gives a picaresque account of how the history of the world has been shaped by epidemics of louseborne typhus... Zinsser's romp through the ancient and modern worlds describes how epidemics devastated the Byzantines under Justinian, put Charles V atop the Holy Roman Empire, stopped the Turks at the Carpathians, and turned Napolean's Grand Armee back from Moscow." Gerald Weissmann, Emerging Infectious Diseases
"This book... is listed among the best sellers. The style is delightful, and the subject matter very interesting... [It gives an] account of man's defeats and victories against epidemics... Those who have read Dr. Zinsser's articles will enjoy this book, and to others it will be a pleasant surprise." Elizabeth Hard, The American Journal of Nursing
" No one who buys this book will feel cheated ." H. M. Parshley, Nation
"This book will surely be studied with great interest by the lay reader... [I]t presents a fascinating blend of scientific and historical research, humour, and stimulating opinion ." The British Medical Journal
"I had the fun of editing Hans's book Rats, Lice and History, that unique account of what infectious diseases had done to change the fate of nations ." Edward Weeks, The Atlantic
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