This is an excellent short history of viruses and infectious diseases that attack humans. Author Arno Karlen writes lucidly and with an economy that makes this book an easy and pleasurable read for lay people who are "serious readers." A highlight is the attention that Karlen pays to the process through which humans and microbes have co-evolved since ancient times. He takes care to frame the issues in the broad context of evolution and the pressures that human behavior change and technology have placed on microbes' natural selection, rather than viewing disease as a black-and-white battle between "us" and "them."
Also of note is the excellent bibliography. Karlen separates the bib into those works that are "core" to the subject and those that are supplemental reading, and he annotates the core selections to differentiate those that are primarily for scholars and those that are useful for the general reader.
I found this book very interesting and helpful to my overall understanding of a fascinating subject.
What did you think of this review?
Fun to Read
About the reviewer
Bonnie McEwan (BonnieMcEwan)
I own a communications consultancy in NYC called MAKE WAVES, which serves nonprofit organizations and foundations. I also hold a Visiting Lecturer position at Milano: The New School for Management & … more
Consider the Source
Use Trust Points to see how much you can rely on this review.
Whereas many popular books on microbes focus on contemporary pathogens and emerging epidemics, Arno Karlen'sMan and Microbesprovides a historical look at the coevolution of humans and microorganisms. Karlen speculates that infections are integral to the process of life itself, that the mitochondria in every animal cell, for instance, are likely descendants of infectious agents. He then traces the development of man from primitive hunter-gatherer to urban dweller to world traveler, pointedly analyzing how socio-ecological changes have contributed to the changing incidence of disease. With amazing detail, Karlen describes the origins of historical plagues (smallpox, cholera, influenza, polio, and others) as well as the emergence of scourges such as hemorrhagic fever (Ebola and its cousins), Lyme disease, Legionnaires' disease, and even the deep mysteries of retroviruses such as HIV.