William H. McNeill makes a monumental contribution to the knowledge of humanity in his book Plagues and Peoples. He looks at the history of the world from an ecological point of view. From this viewpoint the history of human civilization is greatly impacted by changing patterns of epidemic infection. Plagues and Peoples suggests that "the time scale of world history...should [be] viewed [through] the "domestication" of epidemic disease that occurred between 1300 and 1700" (page 232). "Domestication" is perceived "as a fundamental breakthrough, directly resulting from the two great transportation revolutions of that age - one by land, initiated by the Mongols, and one by sea, initiated by Europeans" (page 232). This book illustrates how man's environment and its resident diseases have controlled human migration, as well as societal successes and failures. McNeill discusses the political, demographical, and psychological effects of disease on the human race. He informs his audience that epidemics are still a viable threat to society, and warns of potential future consequences.
Since Plagues and Peoples covers several subjects of knowledge, he helps the reader understand key concepts by fully explaining parasitism and its dependence on humans and animals. People in the field of history, which make up a majority of this books audience, would need more insight into epidemiology to grasp its key concepts. It would not be likely for a historian to be knowledgeable in a branch of medical science that deals with the incidence, distribution, and control of disease in populations.
There is a lot of information presented in the text. This is why McNeill has to be careful with the organization of concepts in his book. M...
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...ur current political, demographical, and psychological state will surely be altered.
McNeill's argument is important because it forces everyone to rethink humanity's role in history. His thesis enables one to take a step back from trivial details and truly examine the larger picture. History classes have always viewed life and events from a political and military point of view. They should consider teaching this approach to history as well. Plagues and Peoples is a very insightful book, that explains in fine detail the causes and events that built up the disease pool. Once reading Plagues and Peoples, history will never seem quite the same.
Plagues and Peoples. By William H. McNeill. (New York: Anchor Books: A division of Random House, Inc., 1976 and Preface 1998. Pp. 7 + 365. Acknowledgements, preface, map, appendix, notes, index.)
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