With the devastating effects of Covid-19 still rattling the foundations of our global civilization, we live in unprecedented times, or so we might think. But pandemics have been a constant presence throughout human history, as humans and disease have lived side by side for millennia. Over the centuries, our ability to react to these sweeping killers has evolved, most notably through the development of vaccines. The story of disease eradication, however, has never been one of simply science: it is political, cultural, and deeply personal. Ranging across continents and centuries, acclaimed historian Simon Schama unpacks the stories of the often-unknown individuals whose pioneering work changed the face of modern healthcare. Questioning why the occurrence of pandemics appears to be accelerating at an alarming rate, Schama looks into our impact on the natural world, and how that in turn is affecting us, all while interrogating how geopolitics has had a devastating effect on global health.
Eloquent, discursive ... Schama wisely avoids reportage, which is still evolving, and leans, instead, into the past, crafting a play in three acts: smallpox, cholera and bubonic plague ... Casts familiar and lesser-known figures in a fresh light ... Sterling cultural history, but it also reminds us that political concerns mold our choices as future pandemics brew.
The appearance of yet another enthusiastic and erudite history from Simon Schama is an event always to be welcomed ... A thinly painted veil of a biography of one saintly and only half-remembered scientist who battled two of the most wicked of the maladies, succeeding in both cases in stopping them in their tracks by his cleverly home-brewed vaccines ... The book ends with a flourish of well-directed support for the beleaguered Anthony Fauci, and with a fascinating and quite unexpected paean to the Atlantic horseshoe crab, and how its vividly blue blood has long played so crucial a role in the manufacture of modern vaccines. But these two tales seem more like phoned-in afterthoughts.
The author, a wide-ranging historian and an engaging television host, reconciles the weight of medical detail with the light-footed pleasures of narrative discovery. His book profiles some of the unsung miracle workers of modern vaccination, and offers a subtle rumination on borders political and biological.