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Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present and Future

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  260 ratings  ·  21 reviews
The story of viruses and humanity is a story of fear and ignorance, of grief and heartbreak, and of great bravery and sacrifice. Michael Oldstone tells all these stories as he illuminates the history of the devastating diseases that have tormented humanity, focusing mostly on the most famous viruses. Oldstone begins with smallpox, polio, and measles. Nearly 300 million peo ...more
Paperback, 383 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 1998)
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Nov 16, 2012 Mike rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
This is an educational book through-and-through. Yes, it’s true that I read a lot of what can be considered “educational” or popular science. I like science and its various branches (chemistry, physics, biology, cosmology, etc.) and math. I also like history and medicine. The author references more than one book that I remember reading when I was young and aspirations ruled the universe. For example, “The Microbe Hunters” by Paul de Kruif or books about Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur. (My middle- ...more
this book examines viruses such as yellow fever, measles and polio which have been eradicated or nearly so. It examines how these viruses changed history and how viruses such as AIDS and how a flu epidemic may change history. It has a few chapters dedicated to viruses, how they form, what they do to the body, etc. Those chapters were a bit repetative, and overall I was left relieved I had finished the book. It was an OK read, but a bit to heavy and out-of-date for me.
Steven Belanger
Very well-written, for a scientist. Though there were some very unreadable passages, these were not a distraction, but only made the reader want to challenge himself to read and comprehend, which I didn't completely succeed at. Very exact and detailed in the history of the illnesses; very comprehensive, yet specific; very scary in its descriptions and predictions. I read this for research for an as-yet-untitled novel about plagues or viruses.
Oldstone certainly has a command of the science, and he writes clearly. It's a good survey of various viruses, in that sense. But a few things stand out that prevent me from recommending this book:

1. The book repeats itself constantly, even in the same section. It could have used a more assertive editor.
2. I could have done with a bit less scientific triumphalism and moralizing. I know, vaccine-deniers are horrible (they are). But it just got to be a little much, and it sort of drowned out the s
I really enjoyed this book. It gave interesting insights into the world of viruses and their history. I have always been an advocate for vaccinations and this book helped to solidify my opinion. I really get disheartened when people say that they are not going to vaccinate because their immune system is strong enough to combat diseases or that vaccines make the immune response of the body weak. Vaccines are the only thing keeping the planet protected from horrible pandemics that have frequently ...more
Steven Williams
A good book, but not great. The book was pretty informative overall. It start with what seemed such promising beginning. However, I quickly discovered the dryness of Oldstone's prose—I was continually thirsty throughout. It just was not a gripping narative. For example: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen.
Susan Olesen
Not bad, lots of history, but not always dates when you want them. And so out of date they were still arguing over prion vs. virus for CFJ/Mad Cow. Interesting without bogging down, but there are now much more up-to-date books out there.
Jose lana
The notions of virology and immunology whith a extense history an descriptin of the anciet plagues:smallpox,yelow fever,measles,poliomieliytis and emerging diseases
Tippy Jackson
This was not my favorite general pathology book. It really wasn't very memorable. It's a little outdated. To be fair, I've studied/read about a lot of this stuff already. Still, that's because I find it fascinating and this book wasn't fascinating. It was really too short to explore everything the title suggests. If you're looking for a slightly out of date, but extraordinarily interesting pathology book, I recommend "The coming plague" instead. Good stuff there and even though some of the knowl ...more
solid descriptions of the histories and fights against "old world" diseases, but the emerging infection info is a little sparse (understandable for an older book). this is definitely not a pop sci read, but if you're very interested in the topic it's worth a shot. be warned - it's dense. not really for the casual reader, i think, but if you're into virology or public health overall, go ahead.
Ever wondered about measles, polio, yellow fever, ebola, lassa fever, hanta, or H1N1? This is the book to read. Accessible to readers of most levels though it does get a somewhat technical with viral natural history but still very interesting and kind'a scary! Ignorance is bliss but I don't think I want to be part of that group.
this was a fascinating book, but VERY poorly edited. i would have given it four stars if it weren't for the crap editing.

and, of course, the book is 10 years old, so some of the information was out of date.

however, it was still a good read for someone as intrigued by infectious disease as i am.
Basic info on viruses, what they are, how they infect. Also includes brief histories of diseases we've eradicated or severely limited (smallpox, measles, polio) and recently emergent viruses (AIDS, Ebola, Lassa, Hanta). Good if you're looking for a quick overview.
Betsy Curlin
This is one of the best books I've read on the subject of viruses. It covers the major viral outbreaks in recent history, including the 1918 - 1919 influenza epidemic and HIV. Concise and intelligently written this is an informative and enjoyable read.
This book discusses several very interesting subjects. It would have gotten four stars except that, as it is over ten years old, some of the information is out of date. It's still worth reading if the subject matter interests you.
Chris Pederson
Interesting read... gives a summary of how the immune system works and how we have discovered/combated diseases like small pox, yellow fever, polio, measles... too bad anti-vaxxers are making some of these come back.
This was a pretty well-written book on some of the major infectious diseases we've had/have and how we've conquered them. I thought it was a neat book, and it made me feel better about vaccinating my kids.
The key problem is that this author is a bad writer... that's it. The material is fascinating but his delivery is abysmal and for that the reader suffers through 342 repetitive, confusing pages.
Nothing I hadn't read before - Jared Diamond used the same logic - but there was an interesting section at the end, about present and future challenges.
Interesting content, terrible writing.
Jan 03, 2009 Jamie is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Ultimately unsatisfying, due to a style that doesn't achieve the excitement of The Microbe Hunters (as the author had attempted, based on his own words in the intro), and in fact doesn't really do much in terms of the history or the science.
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