Pandemics: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780199340071

Christian W. McMillen
176 Pages
122 x 173 mm
Pub date
Dec 2016
Very Short Introductions
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  • Describes all the major pandemics in human history, including plague, tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, cholera, and HIV/AIDS
  • Deftly combines scientific explanations with historical and cultural analysis
  • Deals with current discussions over epidemic disease, such as the recent Ebola epidemic, the Zika virus, and the continued concern about avian flu

The 2014 Ebola epidemic demonstrated the power of pandemics and their ability not only to destroy lives locally but also to capture the imagination and terrify the world. Christian W. McMillen provides a concise yet comprehensive account of pandemics throughout human history, illustrating how pandemic disease has shaped history and, at the same time, social behavior has influenced pandemic disease. Extremely interesting from a medical standpoint, the study of pandemics also provides unexpected, broader insights into culture and politics.

This Very Short Introduction describes history's major pandemics - plague, tuberculosis, malaria, smallpox, cholera, influenza, and HIV/AIDS - highlighting how each disease's biological characteristics affected its pandemic development. McMillen discusses state responses to pandemics, such as quarantine, isolation, travel restrictions, and other forms of social control, and pays special attention to the rise of public health and the explosion of medical research in the wake of pandemics, especially as the germ theory of disease emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Today, medicine is able to control all of these diseases, yet some of them are still devastating in much of the developing world. By assessing the relationship between poverty and disease and the geography of epidemics, McMillen offers an outspoken and thought-provoking point of view on the necessity for global governments to learn from past experiences and proactively cooperate to prevent any future epidemic.


Chapter 1: Plague
Chapter 2: Smallpox
Chapter 3: Malaria
Chapter 4: Cholera
Chapter 5: Tuberculosis
Chapter 6: Influenza
Chapter 7: HIV/AIDS
Further Reading

About the author: 

Christian W. McMillen is Professor of History at the University of Virginia, where he teaches courses on American Indian history and the history of epidemic disease. He is the author of Making Indian Law: The Hualapai Land Case and the Birth of Ethnohistory and Discovering Tuberculosis: A Global History, 1900 to the Present.

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