cover image The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease

The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease

Charles Kenny. Scribner, $28 (320) ISBN 978-1-982165-33-8

Kenny (Getting Better), a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, contextualizes the Covid-19 pandemic in this cogent study of mankind’s fight against infectious diseases. Noting that “until recent decades, most people didn’t live long enough to die of heart failure,” Kenny celebrates modern medicine’s progress against such scourges as smallpox and polio. He also explains that hunter-gatherer societies were most likely too small and too geographically isolated for infectious disease to be a major cause of death, and documents how the growth of cities and the charting of global trade routes led to worldwide pandemics. After detailing how improved sanitation and vaccines, among other developments, have reduced global death tolls, Kenny turns to troubling recent trends, including the overuse of antibiotics by humans and on livestock, which has led to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria; the relative ease of developing bioweapons; and the anti-vaccine movement. Kenny offers a lucid assessment of successes (programs to enhance unemployment benefits and provide universal income support) and mistakes (late and overly long travel bans) in the global response to Covid-19, and calls for strengthening the World Health Organization and international agreements on drug quality and antibiotic use. The result is a worthy primer on a subject of pressing importance. (Jan.)