The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years
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The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years

3.77 of 5 stars 3.77  ·  rating details  ·  404 ratings  ·  91 reviews
In recent years, malaria has emerged as a cause célèbre for voguish philanthropists. Bill Gates, Bono, and Laura Bush are only a few of the personalities who have opened their pocketbooks in hopes of eradicating the scourge. How does a parasitic disease that we’ve known how to prevent for more than a century still infect three hundred million people every year, killing nea...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 21st 2011 by Picador (first published June 29th 2010)
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I'm going to start this review by noting that I am a malaria researcher, myself, and thus am already familiar with much of the material Shah presented in this book. This, of course, affects the way I read the book and my perception of it.

My first gripe with the book is that, to me, the story seemed to be set up in a strange way. The author seems to have broken the book up into a short discussion of the parasite (Plasmodium species), a moderate length discussion on the host (humans, in this case)...more
Malaria is a complex disease that cannot be summed up in a slogan or sound-bite. Ms. Shah does a good job of covering both how malaria affects people and the larger impact on history. She explains why control of malaria is much more difficult than for other diseases.

For me the book bogged down a bit in the middle as she reported battle after battle in wars over thousands of years where the outcome was determined by malaria. Once she made that point and moved to the science and politics of moder...more
My colleague Katherine Robinson recommended this book. Exquisitely researched, it brings to light the way malaria has shaped human history, politics, and economics. The book is quite comprehensive and a bit depressing, since this virus seems to outwit us at every turn: and the few times we might have had the upper hand are squandered among competing interests (no surprise there!). Very, very nice.
Jul 27, 2010 Richard marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Richard by: New York Times
The New York Times reviewed The Fever on July 26, 2010, in Drama! Intrigue! A Mystery? No, Malaria’s Story .

With global warming climate change, malaria will undoubtedly return to the United States, so this looks like a good book to preview coming attractions. As the New York Times reports, Dengue fever is already back in Florida and likely to move up the eastern seaboard, and — astonishingly — the United States Centers for Disease Control is closing its “vector-borne” disease branch:
The disease
Sonia Shah hates mosquitoes, as do I.

I have occassion to help diaganosis Malaria, in an east coast medical center. When a patient is diagnosed, it is usually someone who was originally from a malaria infested area who has been living in the US (legal or otherwise). He or she goes back for a visit; and as they had not used anti-malaral medicines in their youth, they see no reason to spend the money. And when they come back they are sick with fever. Before reading Shah's explaination of limited lo...more
good history and easy-to-digest science regarding why malaria has been so devastating and so resistant to eradication efforts. Because a couple of my nephews went to a high school run by Jesuits, I was interested in the anecdote that Oliver Cromwell and other Protestants derided cinchona as "Jesuit's powder" and refused to use this malaria treatment, in Cromwell's case at the cost of his life. Jesuit missionaries had seen the cinchona bark work in South America and tried to bring it to Europe. O...more
Disclosure: This follows on the heels of Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World and The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, and I am an avid consumer of epidemiological histories, like And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (an all-time favorite book of mine) which indubidably biased my reading of The Fever.

The Fever suffers from being too short. I trying to be too many things in 240 pages+footnotes: a cultu...more
Paul Brannan
You know you’re into something special when you open a book randomly and find something compelling on every page.

Sonia Shah performs a great balancing act in delivering the complexities of malarial science while keeping the storytelling brisk and riveting.

The long history of the disease also provides her with rich pickings and some great anecdotes like that of Oliver Cromwell.

He spurned one of the best and most effective treatments of the day, the ground-up bark of the cinchona tree, because it...more
Lorraine M. Thompson
This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in malaria, its history and the world's current approach to treatment. I will give a more thorough review once my notes and I are in the same room. For now, I must say that this was one of the most well-written and well-researched book on malaria that I have read in a long time. Kudos to the author. The one thing I would encourage the author to do is to include drawings/ diagrams / photos which could have greatly facilitated the reader's understan...more
I thought at first this would be a dry book about the history of malaria. Far from it - an interesting survey of malaria - its symptoms, history, treatment. Malaria, through mosquitoes, has always been intertwined with human history, its politics, warfare, social aspirations. What the author seems to emphasize, and I agree, is that there is no ultimate cure or vaccine for malaria. It's always going to be with us, apparently, and progress against (both because of the adaptability of the parasite...more
My family did not want to indulge me in discussing this book (because they are very fragile), but I swear this isn't some scare-your-pants-off Hot Zone thriller. It's just an interesting look at a disease that's been with us and shaped our civilizations and cultures since we were more great ape than human. Informative if a bit scattered in organization.
I really liked this book. I felt like I was learning but I wasn't bored for a second. However, I am not despondent about ever eradicating malaria. People are too stupid, selfish and greedy to all work together to get rid of it. I am angry at the world.
Marc Murison
Shah is a journalist, not a science type, and it shows in her descriptions of the workings of Plasmodium. Aside from that relatively minor criticism, though, her book is well worth reading. The real value is not in the microbe porn but in the account of the ghastly public policy failures of the past century. I had no idea it was such a terrible tale (or that some of the key players were such pricks). And we continue to repeat the same damned mistakes. With the recent resurgence of malaria awaren...more
I like this book less than I thought I would. It is exceptionally well-researched, and I think it does a better job than the Yellow Fever one weaving an interesting narrative, it's nowhere as compelling as the Emperor of All Maladies. While I got a lot of information from reading the book, I did not come away with a really good idea of what malaria looks like to someone who is infected. There were a lot of statistics, and a lot of brief stories that ended with "and then the soldier got a fever a...more
I really liked this book and felt like it was a nice, light, interesting look into the world of Malaria. It talked about the history of Malaria (which I was totally unfamiliar with and found very interesting), the vector (anopheles mosquitos) and the parasite (plasmodium). I really quite enjoyed (I forget what chapter) but that the author points out how many Africans are mystified as to why the western world is so concerned with one small fever that they get sometimes when there are far larger,...more
There are many types of malaria and types of mosquitoes that transmit it. There is not one size fits all solution to the problem. DDT didn't work, choloquinine didn't work-The surviving mosquitoes has defenses and have since become resistant to the disease. In North America, development left nowhere for the malaria mosquito to survive and thus it has almost disappeared. Places live Malawi and Panama are unlikely to get rid of it that way. Malaria stats are suspect as it is sometimes hard to tell...more
Fascinating story of malaria - a history of the relationships of the Plasmodium parasite, the Anopheles moquito, and humans' attempts to understand and mitigate the disease. Shah points out the shortcomings of every attempt at a cure, including quinine and chloroquine. Malaria used to be quite prevalent in the US, especially the South. Malaria was eradicated from the US in 1951.

The author talks about the extensive use of DDT in an attempt to eradicate malaria worldwide. In presenting the negativ...more
This book covers a herculean amount of material, from how malaria helped contribute to the fall of the Roman Empire, to the failed attempts of Eastern Europeans settling in Panama, to how Scotland lost its independence to Great Britain. She even covers how Malaria played a significant role in the civil war. It’s hard to imagine that an annoying little mosquito can do all this but that’s what they do.

Sonia Shah cites that during the Civil War Union troops suffered 1.3 million cases leading to 10...more
I heard the author of this book on Fresh Air and she was so interesting, I was convinced to read this book that I likely would have otherwise passed by. This is an interesting distillation of the long history of the malaria parasite, Plasmodium, and the impact it's had on civilization in terms of language, migration, colonization, economy, the environment, and the spread of HIV. It's killed some famous people like Alexander the Great (probably), Dante, Lord Byron, King Charles II of England. And...more
This book was very interesting and enlightening for me. I don't often read popular science books so it was a change of pace. The beginning of the book was a little slow; the author starts by writing about her travels to malarious countries and it sort of feels like an editorial in a newspaper rather than a nonfiction book. However, it doesn't take long before she begins talking about the history and evolution of malaria which was fascinating. The last chapters of the book focus heavily on modern...more
I belong to two book groups and one of the reasons I do so is so that I can encounter books that I would never pick up otherwise. Occasionally, I don't like what my group reads, but I am rarely sorry for the opportunity to try something new.

I really had no interest in malaria. Once I realized that it was not a concern for my trip to Vietnam, I really didn't see any reason to learn more about this disease.

However, this was our discussion for November, so I thought I would try it. What I have lear...more
A good read for epidemiology buffs. Malaria is scary stuff--but it's been around so long and is endemic to so many places that it doesn't get the big headlines that outbreaks of Ebola fever and the like command. Plus, malaria has outwitted just about every treatment or preventive measure that has been created. Smart little parasite! The author's insights into the cultural aspects of malarial areas, and how they have contributed to drug resistance, are interesting. After all, people live with mal...more
How bizarre - I thought I would be reading a book about how horrible Malaria has been for humanity, and the heroic efforts of erradication workers is making life better for sufferers. But, this is a much more nuanced book. In some areas, erradication efforts have ended up making life worse for locals, in other areas malaria is so endemic that people consider it to just be a normal annoyance, and in others getting rid of malaria has made things much better. I didn't realize that the US used to ha...more
David James
This one deserves six stars. A brief but amazingly informative account of a disease that has plagued humanity throughout our history. Shah explores the parasite's evolution, how it entered the human bloodstream, the various ways it has impacted the course of human events, and the continuously frustrated efforts at curing it or bringing it under control.

By the end of this book readers will realize that while we may think of ourselves as marvels of evolution, Plasmodium is arguably quite a bit mo...more
I'm reviewing this a month after having read the book, and I'm not sure why I gave it three stars. I remember coming away from the book with the knowledge that the fight against malaria is a losing battle since every effort to eradicate the mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasites is just as effective as every effort to eradicate the parasites themselves: sooner or later the organism being fought will develop a resilience to the pesticide or drug used against it. The author also covers the po...more
The book is excellent - the author effectively summarizes the life cycle of the plasmodium parasite, the history of malaria and the people it has infected, and a number of interesting factoids that I never knew, all in the first 3 chapters and very accessible for the lay reader. After reading the whole book, it seems like it will take a miracle to rid humanity of this disease. I'm kind of surprised that we don't have an issue with it here in the USA. It is tragic to picture a million people a ye...more
Overview of malaria's working throughout the world. Historical information interesting. Illustrating the scope of the problem is probably the best thing this book accomplishes. The writing is accessible and it reads faster than one might think. There's a lot of Latin names thrown around that will mean very little to the general reader, other than some mosquitoes cause more problems than others, depending on where you are and when.

The only detraction I could say of this book is its obvious and un...more
Sam Lee
Malaria is often presented as a monolithic, yet simple disease that continues to terrorize the developing world due to willful negligence or capricious ignorance. Shah does an admirable job showing that the plasmodium parasite, the mosquitoes that carry it, and the people who suffer are anything but simple.

Shah was able to present a great deal of information and history with a good narrative voice thorough without becoming overly dry. I would highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in...more
A fascinating history of malaria and the effect it has had on the development of the world and human civilization. Shah covers the biology, the envrionment, the culture and politics of our very complicated relationship with Malaria. It is thorough, up-to-date and provocative. You will learn a great deal about the economic impact of epidemics, the impact of disease on economics and social development, the war within science over the nature of malaria and how to respond. Shah asks a series of hard...more
Interesting story of malaria and its role through history. Surprising how widespread the disease was and is how it affected world events such as war. I thought the most interesting chapters were the ones about malaria and ecology and the chapter about the experience about patients with the disease -- in some countries people tolerate it more like the flu instead of a scourge that must be eliminated from the earth. It also points out some downsides of the current foundation-driven focus on the di...more
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