Avoiding the hyperbole that contemporary media relished, Honigsbaum mixes superb medical history with vivid portraits of the...



Powerful accounts of a dozen epidemics from the last 100 years.

Journalist and medical historian Honigsbaum (Arts and Sciences/City Univ., London; A History of the Great Influenza Pandemics: Death, Panic and Hysteria, 1830-1920, 2013, etc.) begins this lively, gruesome, and masterful book with the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected 500 million people and may have killed more than 100 million. Many that followed, including AIDS, Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease, SARS, and Zika, are familiar to most readers. Lost to history—but no less terrifying—were the Los Angeles plague epidemic of 1924 and the wave of parrot fever that swept the nation after 1929. All mobilized the best scientific resources of the time, with results ranging from dramatic to ineffectual. Fortunately, all eventually died out, but more are inevitable as humans crowd into cities as well as into the wilderness and jungle, where new organisms await; douse our bodies’ bacteria with antibiotics; and exchange viruses with pets and domestic animals. “Time and again,” writes the author, “we assist microbes to occupy new ecological niches and spread to new places in ways that usually become apparent after the event. And to judge by the recent run of pandemics and epidemics, the process seems to be speeding up. If HIV and SARS were wake-up calls, then Ebola and Zika confirmed it.” Most pandemics arrived without warning. Physicians and epidemiologists quickly described what was happening, often wrongly at first but eventually getting it right after massive research, brilliant insights, and no lack of courage. As Honigsbaum amply shows, politicians and journalists often ignored bad news until they couldn’t and then opposed measures that might harm the local economy. Since even medical experts tended to overreact at first, the media can be excused for proclaiming the apocalypse, but they showed no lack of enthusiasm.

Avoiding the hyperbole that contemporary media relished, Honigsbaum mixes superb medical history with vivid portraits of the worldwide reactions to each event.

Pub Date: April 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-25475-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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