The struggle against deadly microbes is endless. Diseases that have plagued human beings since ancient times still exist, new maladies like SARS make their way into the headlines, we are faced with vaccine shortages, and the threat of germ warfare has reemerged as a worldwide threat.
In this riveting account, medical historian Howard Markel takes an eye-opening look at the fragility of the American public health system. He tells the distinctive stories of six epidemics–tuberculosis, bubonic plague, trachoma, typhus, cholera, and AIDS–to show how how our chief defense against diseases from other countries has been to attempt to deny entry to carriers. He explains why this approach never worked, and makes clear that it is useless in today’s world of bustling international travel and porous borders.
Illuminating our foolhardy attempts at isolation and showing that globalization renders us all potential inhabitants of the so-called Hot Zone, Markel makes a compelling case for a globally funded public health program that could stop the spread of epidemics and safeguard the health of everyone on the planet.
About the Author
Howard Markel is an associate professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, and Director of the Historical Center for the Health Sciences at the University of Michigan Medical School.
“Even if threats like Asian flu and bioterrorism don’t keep you up at night, this 2004 chronicle of epidemics in America is worth reading purely for the historical dramas it relates.” —Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic“Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan, vividly describes six infectious outbreaks in the United States—tuberculosis, bubonic plague, trachoma, typhus, cholera and AIDS—that became associated with immigrants and triggered quarantines and deportations.” —The New York Times Book Review“Informative and important. . . . Thoroughly researched, well argued, and replete with insightful, nuanced interpretations.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch“Compelling. . . . Markel’s accounts are powerful and his documentation extensive. . . . Everyone who considers the United States a nation of civilized people should read this book.” —Wilson Quarterly“Markel is . . . an astute observer of the fierce historical battles between people and germs, and he reminds us that the war goes on and on. . . . Well-written and approachable.” —The Ann Arbor News“Markel writes beautifully, and his perspective as both a trained historian and a dedicated physician make him a writer like no other.” —Abraham Verghese“A critically important book for this historical moment. . . . A clarion call for the public (and the government) to recognize both the importance and the precariousness of public health as we enter the twenty-first century.” —Health Affairs“Deft, interesting and informative.” —The Roanoke Times“Dr. Markel is an epic historian, a wise scientist, and an elegant prose stylist. . . . Written with humor, grace, insight, and warmth, When Germs Travel is a discerning portrait of illness, a comment on the immigrant experiences of the past and present, and a reflection on what it means to be a doctor in a society ruled by fear of contagion.” —Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon
“Markel writes with great attention to the human side of the story. . . . A powerful, sweeping story about immigration, poverty, public health, scientific breakthroughs and medical failures.” —Chicago Free Press“Markel proves just how compelling medical history can be in these lucid, thought-provoking accounts of the complex intersection of immigration policy and public health.”—Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever“Highly readable. . . . Dramatic and graphic.” —Tucson Citizen
“A timely book. Markel, a medical historian and himself a physician, knows that the so-called general reader needs to be guided through the maze of technicalities, and he does the guiding in a text as readable as it is reliable. It reads like a thriller.” —Peter Gay, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University
“Solid information on a serious subject, delivered with great assurance and style.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Dr. Markel . . . is both passionate and compassionate about his subject and conveys this devotion in clear, precise, gentle prose that is in the tradition of such great doctor-writers as A. J. Cronin, Somerset Maugham, Sherwin Nuland, Lewis Thomas, and William Carlos Williams—doctors for whom the patient was the important part of the story most necessary for breaking the reader’s heart.” —Larry Kramer, author of Reports from the Holocaust“A crisp, brisk and matter-of-fact narrative that can be more chilling than anything Stephen King has ever committed to paper. . . .This important cautionary tale proves infectiously readable.” —Flint Journal
“Informative and important. . . . For each epidemic, Markel weaves a vivid description of the natural history of the disease with an account of how the disease entered the United States, spread and ultimately faded away. Markel portrays these events through engrossing stories of individual victims. . . . Enthralling. His ability to make medicine accessible and understandable to lay readers is remarkable.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch“In this very readable book, Markel chronicles yet another way in which this fear has played a critical role in the history of the U.S.—a nation built from collections of others. In addition to telling a fascinating historical story . . . this book reminds us all that prejudice, no less than science, often drives health policy.” —Jerusalem Post