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Murderous Contagion: A Human History of Disease

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  257 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Disease is the true serial killer of human history: the horrors of bubonic plague, cholera, syphilis, smallpox, tuberculosis and the like have claimed more lives and caused more misery than the depredations of warfare, famine and natural disasters combined.

Murderous Contagion tells the compelling and at times unbearably moving story of the devastating impact of diseases o
Kindle Edition, 479 pages
Published March 6th 2014 by Quercus (first published January 1st 2007)
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Sep 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I find learning about diseases old and new, fascinating and somewhat satisfying, and although Mary Dobson delivers, she only scratches the surface. The book tells us that this is about the story of different diseases, and although that is true, in some parts, I felt like I was knee deep in a dictionary.

Despite this, I would recommend this for anyone interested in diseases, as there are some interesting snippets of information in here, some not for the faint hearted, it would seem, but personally
Jun 11, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love diseases. It's a topic that fascinates me. So when I say I found this book difficult and unsatisfying to get through, you have some idea of my disappointment.

I this the crucial issue is that it is mis-pitched. Clearly Mary Dobson wants to share her passion with a general public, however rather than reading like other engaging pop-sci books (The Ghost Map, Parasite Rex, Level 4-Virus Hunters of the CDC), the disjointed style and 600 page length reads more like an encyclopedia. Like an ency
Ondrej Urban
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For a book that contains the most dead people possible - outside of certain planet-killing sci-fi stories - this is a pretty optimistic read, even though you'll be quite happy you're alive today and not two generations ago. It turns out that, for the most significant diseases, we've mostly managed to deal with them, pending the anti-vaxxer Darwin-award crowd.

The book goes through some thirty of the most significant diseases that mankind faces/faced in the past. This means that you barely scratch
Angela Smith
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it

Covers a wide range of diseases and it was interesting to read how they were dealt with. The Coronavirus was talked about in relation to Sers and Mers as of course Covid 19 wasn't about when the book was written.
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle
4 stars - very accessible and informative but a little dry

Murderous Contagion by Mary Dobson could maybe be described as a cultural history of the most impactful diseases and conditions humanity has struggled with.

It is organised in 4 main parts dedicated to deseases caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and other. She then goes on to dedicate one chapter to each desease, where we are given a summary of the impact of that disease from the past to the present, and the history of researching that
Martin Smith
Definitely worth reading, however falls uneasily between being the story of disease (which the blurb claims it is) and a reference guide, which results in a some very "chewy" parts which require pushing through to complete. In particular the chapters on Parasitic diseases could be collapsed down in something shorter, less repetitive and as a result more palatable.

Despite this obstacle, I feel everyone should read this book as it makes you appreciate living in the 21st Century in a country where
Emma Church
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
By rights I shouldn’t give this five stars, as there were some sections that I did find a little repetitive. Many of the diseases primarily affecting developing nations seem to have similar patterns of cure development and research investment etc., so there were some chapters where the later sub-titled sections were very similar to what had gone before.

BUT I found the read as a whole absolutely fascinating, and I was left with no feelings of disappointment at the end. I found the lifestyle disea
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was ok
A fascinating topic and the author makes a reasonable attempt at covering a wide range of conditions with a balance between the medical information and the more social context in which they sit. However, I thought it was rather poorly written and structured with a lot of repetition between sections. There was a lack of real critical analysis of the material and many important aspects were glossed over. Some of this is down to trying to cover so many different conditions but I really felt that th ...more
Took forever to read this, it was far too long and like wading through treacle. And for the love of all things sainted, stop listing birth/death dates after every name you mention. If you’re talking about a disease in the 1840s it’s a reasonably assumption that anyone working on it was born early 1800s. Better to have a list of names/dates at the back of the book or let the truly curious look it up elsewhere. It kept distracting me. Lots of repetition between chapters, sometimes waffling on unne ...more
Jul 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible interesting book. Not only the dry facts about the disease itself, but also its origins, its implications, its medications. I read this in two days (had to sleep sometime) and even when getting to illnesses I had never heard of, I still kept reading.
The chapters on Influenza and Sars were so reminiscent of the situation we are living through now (July 2020), it was uncanny.

I am not in the medical profession at all, but this was just plain interesting and very well written. I
Sep 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
With everything currently going on in the world, I thought this book would be an apt choose.
It was definitely a fascinating read, very informative and the writing was well done and (mostly) easy to understand. I had thought I might come across some complicated medical jargon but in the whole it was fine. I have dropped one star in my rating because I thought in places it seemed to go one a bit to long and in places for me it seemed to go off track of what the current subject was.
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
The one thing this book taught me conclusively as I read it in a pandemic is that there's nothing new under the sun. Diseases, including viruses, are very good at what they do, spreading and mutating. Human responses include bewilderment, panic, strictures. The book was written before our outbreak but clearly foreshadows it as inevitable; if there is consolation it is that many horrifying diseases have been conquered. ...more
Jul 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Not for the squeamish!

Good explanation of diseases and viruses throughout history up to 2014. Good descriptions of the many diseases and how they affect the human body. The book also goes into the various treatments and vaccines for each one. Good easy read doesn't get too technical.
Tracey Agnew
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
This got off to a good start (Plague!) but as I got into the book, it all became a bit 'samey'. Without wanting to spoil it, most disease could be impacted by improved hygiene and sanitation and a decrease in poverty - who'd of thought!
I gave up about half way. It was interesting, but not presented in an engaging enough way to really make me want to get through all the worm related illnesses!
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Four and a half stars really. There is some excellent writing mixed with some less than excellent. Especially good on the contagious diseases. Good historically anchored narrative. Prescient as to what happened with COVID 19.
Roisin Hassall
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating read
Sep 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun overview. Did not quite go in-depth enough for my tastes but thankfully a very handy “Further Reading” section was included at the end.
Belle Beth Cooper
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Very dense. Bit of a slog. Good to get an overview of lots of different diseases without going deep into any particular one.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars: interesting but very voluminous. Good for people interested in the topic discussed or if you like learning a bit of everything.
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction
Fascinating - I wonder what the author might say about COVID 19.
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Frankly, I did not finish reading it. The writing style is extremely dry, and all the stories are unrelated and don't follow a clear organisation, apart from the fact that chapters are divided according to the etiology of each disease (whether it's caused by a virus, a bacterium, a worm, etc).

The book is quite informative, but ir reads more like disparate Wikipedia articles about the history of the different diseases compiled into a single book.

I recommend the book still, and probably will still
C.M. Thompson
Apr 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A goood overview of the history, causes and cures for diseases. It is only brief and I found myself skipping over the diseases I was already familiar with but now have a better understanding of diseases like yellow fever and puerperal fever. A good book for anyone who is wanting to learn more about diseases but doesnt know where to start, also a good book to recommend anyone who doesn't believe in vaccinations, this will probably help change their minds. ...more
Jun 09, 2016 rated it liked it
I found this so compelling and expanded my appreciation of disease. Upon reflection, I think our generation has little appreciation for incurable disease, they assume there's treatment for everything. Not necessarily, and I am thrilled that I've had my yellow fever jab. ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was dense but an amazing read. I can't express how much I enjoyed this book. So educational and intriguing. I recommend for anyone interested in science, medicine or politics. ...more
Fee Fairy
Sep 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. there wasn't too much medical language, but at the same time it wasn't a dumbed down book.

some fascinating facts and almost haunting pictures.
May 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Not as good as other history books I've read but definitely a fascinating read on the history of diseases that have brought humanity to its knees. ...more
Cathryn Davey
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Dec 04, 2020
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Sep 21, 2020
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