Plagues and Peoples

by William H. McNeill

Sometimes you discover a book that feels like written especially for you. This was the case.

I was fascinated by the role of germs in human civilization since reading Jared Diamond in the early 2000s. I’ve learned more and more on this subject, picking new facts from various publications, and suddenly discovered this opus magnum.

McNeill describes whole, global history of our species from the point of view of microbes and viruses, profoundly changing the understanding of many events and their causes. It is slow, dense read, some may call the language dry, but I prefer to call it efficient — almost every sentence reveals surprising facts and links.

It is also very timely. As he writes, “the way infectious diseases have begun to come back shows that we remain caught in the web of life — permanently and irretrievably — no matter how clever we are at altering what we do not like, or how successful we become at displacing other species.”

And this book was written in 1976! It’s a pity it isn’t more widely known. I highly recommend it!

I am a voracious reader of non-fiction and popular science books. Here you will find my reviews.