PLAGUES AND PEOPLES

McNeill's global history of infectious disease and its effect on the political destinies of men is built on a stunning analogy: the "microparasitism" of viruses and bacteria—carriers of typhoid, malaria, et al.—is intimately bound up with the "macroparasitism" of human predators, be they Chinese warlords, Roman soldiers, or Spanish conquistadors. Epidemological upheavals produce disarray in political and social structures; conversely microparasitic stability which allows for population growth and food surpluses seems to be a prerequisite of macroparasitic equilibrium. McNeill develops this thesis initially by examining the "disease pools" of ancient China, the Indian subcontinent, and the Mediterranean. Rome's decay between 200 and 600 A.D. demonstrates that when a new disease (in this case smallpox and measles) strikes a previously unexposed population, catastrophic die-offs occur. Much later, the age of oceanic exploration (1450-1550) brought similar cataclysms to Mexico and Peru where the native Amerindian populations (who had no immunity to Eurasia's "common childhood diseases") died off by the millions. Nothing escapes McNeill's reckoning: the Hindu caste system; the impetus epidemics gave to early Christianity which stressed the evanescence of human life and—no small matter—the nursing and care of the sick; the lethal blow which the advent of the bubonic plague in 14th-century Europe dealt to the rational theology of Acquinas; the "disease barrier" which until the 19th century kept the technologically advanced "macroparasites" of European imperialism from effective penetration of Africa. To be sure the scanty and often indecipherable medical writings of the ancient world force McNeill to rely on a great deal of speculation, deduction, and even guesswork. The book will provoke arguments from countless specialists. No matter. Plagues and People, a glorious successor to The Rise of the West, integrates ecology and demography with politics and culture on a vast scale. A brilliantly conceptualized and challenging scholarly achievement.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 1976

ISBN: 0385121229

Page Count: 372

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1976

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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TO THE ONE I LOVE THE BEST

EPISODES FROM THE LIFE OF LADY MENDL (ELSIE DE WOLFE)

An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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