Friday, July 28, 2023

Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues (Jonathan Kennedy)

Conventional historical wisdom suggests that human progress has been due to intellect and technological superiority, ably outfoxing and outsmarting any threat to its existence from neanderthals to foreign powers. Author Jonathan Kennedy, however, argues that microbes win wars, topple empires, and hellp change the course of history.  

Pathogenesis: A History of the World in Eight Plagues tracks human history from the development of homo sapiens through COVID-19, diving into eight major outbreaks of disease that shaped the modern world. From the demise of the neanderthals to the Black Plague in the Middle Ages to European conquests of the Americans, viruses have often played a critical role in shaping the outcome of history. Kennedy notes how religions have become mainstream because of pandemics on more than one occasion, and also talks about the role of economics in shaping modern pandemic outcomes.

In general, Kennedy makes a lot of good points about how viruses and bacteria have been an unseen and, until now, underrated force in shaping our history. While little attention is given to improving human health in the future, Pathogenesis offers a strong case to show us that human health has had a strong role in shaping our overall story.


Monday, July 10, 2023

Letters for the Ages: The Private and Personal Letters of Sir Winston Churchill (Edited by James Drake and Allen Packwood)

Winston Churchill’s political career was full of peaks and valleys while he served many roles in Britain’s government for the majority of five decades. Churchill’s fame rose as a correspondent documenting his time in South Africa during the Second Boer War at the beginning of the 20th Century. Churchill’s prolific writing produced 40 books and also netted him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. In addition to the known works Churchill put together, there is countless correspondence to his wife, family, allies, and adversaries that many do not know about. Allen Packwood and James Drake have curated a selection of Churchill’s letters, including some that have never been published publicly, in Letters for the Ages: The Private and Personal Letters of Sir Winston Churchill.

Through 100 letters, Packwood and Drake offer relevant context to the events that shaped the correspondence. The reader learns how Churchill’s wife, Clementine, was arguably his strongest sounding board and non-political personal advisor. Correspondence between the two was intimate, often with Clementine advising Sir Winston on how to manage the personal side of politics in order to guide the country through challenging times. Additional correspondence includes various politicians and military leaders.

These letters open a window into Churchill’s mind and personality, his views on the issues of the moment, and his evolution as a leader and consequential politician in 20th Century Great Britain. Both Packwood and Drake offer clear, objective commentary to incorporate important details to the letters in this collection.