The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris

Mark Honigsbaum. Norton, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-25475-4
By focusing on nine major pandemics, from the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak to the 2015 Zika eruption, science journalist Honigsbaum (A History of the Great Influenza Pandemics) explores what has been learned about combating deadly disease over the past century. He offers a mixture of gripping storytelling and insightful science as he dissects the causes of and responses to each of these medical disasters. Whether it’s plague in Los Angeles in 1924, Legionnaires’ disease in Philadelphia in 1976, or the worldwide SARS outbreak in 2003, Honigsbaum argues that several important factors typically accompany pandemics. First, officials often mislead the public about what is actually occurring. Second, once the media catches on, it sensationalizes the outbreak, spreading panic. Third, medical researchers often “become prisoners of particular paradigms and theories of disease causation,” causing them to ignore impending threats. In today’s world, he argues, pandemics will likely be a growing problem, because human activity, from global warming-linked emissions to increased international travel, helps “microbes to occupy new ecological niches and spread to new places.” Despite all the problems he exposes, Honigsbaum also demonstrates that scientists have responded with increasing rapidity to each outbreak. Alternately chilling and optimistic, Honigsbaum’s reporting on a recurrent public health issue deserves wide attention. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 11/26/2018
Release date: 04/09/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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