A timely, lucid look at the role of pandemics in history.

A long-view look at how viral and bacterial illnesses have influenced the course of human events.

The bad news is that today, heart attacks and strokes are the leading causes of death. The good news, writes development expert Kenny, is that this “is evidence of humanity’s greatest triumph: until recent decades, most people didn’t live long enough to die of heart failure.” Indeed, life expectancy has more than doubled around the world in the last 150 years, in part thanks to better diets and medical advances. The Covid-19 pandemic notwithstanding, infectious disease is not the devastating killer that it has been in the past, though it still kills plenty of people. The author charts the courses of those diseases, pegging their rising importance to the development of agriculture and the settling of humans in villages, towns, and cities, packed together to make a convenient target for such things as measles and cholera. “The more humans are loitering about,” writes Kenny, “the greater the chance of illness.” Some illnesses, such as trichinosis, have been all but eradicated, though in the case of that malady, Kenny hazards, it made for good enough reason for certain religious traditions to forbid the consumption of pork. New treatment methods, such as oral rehydration, have helped mitigate diarrheal diseases. Today, outside of Covid-19, many pandemic illnesses are lifestyle-related. As Kenny notes, these days, Chinese adults are about as likely to be obese as their American counterparts thanks to the availability of cheap processed food—and, he adds, “two out of five Earthlings have elevated blood pressure.” The downsides of the current pandemic are numerous, but, as Kenny demonstrates, revealing his developmental interests, the old Malthusian effects of plagues in reducing inequality no longer apply. Though the author’s popularizing approach is less scientifically rich than, say, David Quammen’s, it still stands in a long tradition of informative plagues-and-people books such as Hans Zinsser’s 1935 classic, Rats, Lice, and History.

A timely, lucid look at the role of pandemics in history.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982165-33-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

A thoughtful program for eradicating poverty from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted.

“America’s poverty is not for lack of resources,” writes Desmond. “We lack something else.” That something else is compassion, in part, but it’s also the lack of a social system that insists that everyone pull their weight—and that includes the corporations and wealthy individuals who, the IRS estimates, get away without paying upward of $1 trillion per year. Desmond, who grew up in modest circumstances and suffered poverty in young adulthood, points to the deleterious effects of being poor—among countless others, the precarity of health care and housing (with no meaningful controls on rent), lack of transportation, the constant threat of losing one’s job due to illness, and the need to care for dependent children. It does not help, Desmond adds, that so few working people are represented by unions or that Black Americans, even those who have followed the “three rules” (graduate from high school, get a full-time job, wait until marriage to have children), are far likelier to be poor than their White compatriots. Furthermore, so many full-time jobs are being recast as contracted, fire-at-will gigs, “not a break from the norm as much as an extension of it, a continuation of corporations finding new ways to limit their obligations to workers.” By Desmond’s reckoning, besides amending these conditions, it would not take a miracle to eliminate poverty: about $177 billion, which would help end hunger and homelessness and “make immense headway in driving down the many agonizing correlates of poverty, like violence, sickness, and despair.” These are matters requiring systemic reform, which will in turn require Americans to elect officials who will enact that reform. And all of us, the author urges, must become “poverty abolitionists…refusing to live as unwitting enemies of the poor.” Fortune 500 CEOs won’t like Desmond’s message for rewriting the social contract—which is precisely the point.

A clearly delineated guide to finally eradicate poverty in America.

Pub Date: March 21, 2023

ISBN: 9780593239919

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2023

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