Professor Jonathan Kennedy argues that the myth of human exceptionalism overstates the role that we play in social and political change. Instead, it is the humble microbe that wins wars and topples empires.
[A] gripping premise ... Kennedy re-excavates the past, one in which we are much less significant than we think ... Kennedy, a sociologist, catapults the reader around the world ... Kennedy, for his part, wrangles an astonishing breadth of material into easily accessible, plain prose. He challenges us to think big and long about the enduring impacts of infectious-disease outbreaks ... The book gathers fiery momentum as it goes, especially from colonial plagues on ... Even readers familiar with the material will find fascinating how Kennedy arrived at some of these revelations ... Occasionally, the book overreaches ... Despite Kennedy’s seemingly demoralizing thesis, his narrative tilts toward hope and empowerment.
Three years after the outbreak of a devastating infectious disease with a staggering death toll, spending time with a book that vividly details the microbial richness of human history might not rank high on most people’s must-do lists. But those with enough of an epidemiological appetite to pick up Kennedy’s new book will be gratifyingly—if not necessarily cheerfully—rewarded with the knowledge that their read was at least well timed ... Kennedy’s book isn’t meant as revisionism; the broad strokes of history remain intact. But it gently sidelines humans—and, in doing so, humbles them ... ennedy’s book manages to end on a somewhat hopeful note. Yes, our trajectory is defined by microbes. But it’s also influenced by our reactions to them—and our acknowledgment of their power. This current pandemic may be tilting toward a slow end. As much as we may want the crisis to disappear in the rearview, the coda of one outbreak is an ideal time to prepare for the next, inevitably on its way.
His quick history of the world from the Paleolithic to the present day offers a different lens to view many of the big events of the past. Some of Kennedy’s conclusions are mere speculation ... Most of his observations are bolstered by more historical research and are more convincing.