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.