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The authors of Disease & History point out that disease has been a crucial determinant that marks history. Frederick F. Cartwright, Department of the History of Medicine, and Dr. Michael Biddiss, Director of Studies in History at Downing College Cambridge, collaborated together to write this book. With Dr.
Biddiss extensive knowledge of history as a professional historian and with Cartwright's studies of the history of medicine they have written a book about the effects diseases have on history. Dr. Biddiss was both a writer and editor of the book. Biddiss and Cartwright discussed each chapter with each other. There have been many well-known victims of terminal illnesses. Some of these include Henry VIII, and Ivan the Terrible, who both suffered from syphilis.
Many other rulers and famous people of history have suffered from malaria, smallpox, and an assortment of maladies. England was so terribly weakened by the black plague disease that it had to call in Hengist and Horsa in the fifth century because it could not stand against the Scots and Picts. The Black Death alone in the fourteenth century nearly took away one half of the countrys population within thirty years. The population went from 4. 5 million in 1347 to only 2. 5 million in 1377. The Black Death destabilized the feudal system of England. It also cut the peasantry's tie to the land, and it weakened the Church and may have led the way to the reformation.
Disease can be divided into two basic types: organic disease, or somatic or purely psychiatric which is very rare. The depression, which follows the influenza, is a simple example. Usually a psychiatric disease accompanies a physical disorder. Henry VIII, for example, suffered from syphilis and its effects and history are obvious.
His arrogance and the power of his position exaggerated the effects of the disease. Henrys main trouble was somatic. Napoleon suffered from minor illnesses throughout his lifetime. Napoleon thought that he was meant to be the ruler of the world. In his thinking he was psychiatric ally abnormal.
Joan of Arc at the age of thirteen heard voices and saw visions of saints. In this Joan was abnormal, because normal people do not see visions of saints or hear supernatural voices. However, Joan of Arc was not mad or crazy as a lot of the people in her time thought she was. In fact she turned out to be a saint and was a successful woman. These are just a few examples of how the mental and physical diseases intertwine. Frederick Cartwright and Michael Biddiss illustrate all the ways in which diseases have posed as the Horseman of the Apocalypse.
In each chapter the authors visit different diseases and the effects they had on various cultures. They distinguish between diseases, which are from insects such as malaria, yellow fever, and sleeping sickness. They also describe diseases that are from bacteria and viruses. Some of these include smallpox, tuberculosis, cholera, and typhoid.
Cartwright and Biddiss also discuss what are referred to as acts of God. These are pandemics and the epidemics that are from the carelessness of human beings. Typhus is a dirt-based bacterial menace carried by the infected lice. Another is typhoid, which is from the bacteria of human excrement.
The authors also list the different subclasses of malaria with much detail. They are blackwater fever, tertiary and quartan ague. Then they list the different types of influenza, such as, the Spanish flu. They particularly identify the crucial plagues of history, which include that of Cyprian in 250 AD, and the Black Death of 1348 - 136 1 AD.
A lot of the ideas of the book cannot be doubted. No one would question the deadliness of the 1918 - 1919 -flu pandemic, which killed fifty million people. The First World War in comparison, only took ten million lives. Disease also helped many people.
It helped Cortes and the conquistadors to take over what is now Mexico. The population dwindled from twenty-five million to two million because of the spread of smallpox from Cortes people. Malaria also aided the great Victorian explorers to go through the tropics, which they called the Dark Continent. The authors also go into a large discussion on the origin of syphilis. It is thought to have come from either the West Indies or Africa.
The authors do stretch some historical evidence. They claim that they the plague in Athens in 429 BC won the Peloponnesian war for Sparta. This ignores the crucial factors such as the military catastrophe in Syracuse of 415 - 413 BC. It may also be the case that Christianity progressed as it helped to ease the fear of death.
This led many people to have faith in Christ as a healer. It is an overstatement to say that Christianity could not have won in the Roman world if malaria had not fatally weakened the empire. The authors also point out that they think that typhus was the main cause of Napoleons problems. It is true that typhus did have quite an influence of the French. Cartwright and Biddiss do acknowledge that the etiology of organic disease is mono causal, they do however, fall into isolating pestilence as the main destructive force within history. It may also be evident that the authors did not use the most updated research for their novel.
Science cannot say with certainty now that Napoleon died of cancer, it now seems quite on the contrary. Cartwright drew most of the information about diseases from historical books, which had been written in the 1960 s, which meant the information was accurate back then. However, after the revision of the book they did change some of the information, which had changed. For instance, it is now thought that the Athens epidemic of 429 BC was probably from smallpox and not scarlet fever. One of the most important books used for resource was The Genuine Works of Hippocrates, written by Williams and Wilkens. They also used Black Death, written by Collins for the chapter on the Bubonic Plague.
The authors used many different peoples opinions to create this book. I thought Disease & History was a very constructive book. The authors were very concise and to the point. The also kept the reader interested with trivial facts about the Black Death, syphilis, and other diseases. The authors developed their theses within introduction the first chapter when they wrote: This book does not pretend to be an exhaustive amount of the many ways in which disease has influenced the course of history. It is, in some measure, experimental for it became apparent quite early in the preparation of the manuscript that the subject could be covered only in a series of volumes.
This has necessarily entailed selection and, all too often, the rejection of much interesting material. Tuberculosis, for instance, is of great historical importance but the effects have been too widespread to be linked with a single accident or person. (Page vii) The authors have clearly covered the diseases and their effects on history very well. They could have, however, went into more detail about the effects of cyanide poisoning and the effects of pollution. This book is a fascinating recollection of historical diseases that relates to both history and biological study.
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