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

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  988 ratings  ·  140 reviews

In recent years, malaria has emerged as a cause célÃbre for voguish philanthropists. Bill Gates, Bono, and Laura Bush are only a few of the personalities who have lent their names—and opened their pocketbooks—in hopes of curing the disease. Still, in a time when every emergent disease inspires waves of panic, why aren’t we doing more to eradicate one of our oldest

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 6th 2010 by Sarah Crichton Books (first published June 29th 2010)
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3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  988 ratings  ·  140 reviews

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Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: malaria
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)
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
Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jay C
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
A very educational read for me, on a topic I admittedly knew very little about when I began reading. Almost a chronicle of humanity's naïveté or arrogance in the way that our imagined solutions to "the Malaria problem" continued and in many cases continue to be defeated. Even though we can "do the math" I think it's still hard for humans to fully appreciate the sheer numbers and "generational turnover" of our insect and parasite foes. Very thought-providing reading, leaving me wanting to learn m ...more
Paul Brannan
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 27, 2010 marked it as to-read
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
Feb 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 04, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Lorraine M. Thompson
Feb 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
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.
Feb 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-issues
VERY interesting exploration of malaria, its evolution through history, how it has affected humans, how we try to fight it, and why it's not working. Fascinating.
Apr 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting and engaging read. Ties together the biological, public health, political and economic elements involved in the history of malaria.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars

A very approachable history of malaria, one that integrates human behavior into the story more thoroughly than a more biology-oriented book would. Not that Shah skimps on the science; we do learn the basics of the parasite's life cycle, as well as the way it flourishes in only certain Anopheles vectors, which in turn are adapted to specific niches.

I think Shah makes a strong argument for her thesis; colonialism and imperialism were significantly impacted by the presence of malaria - con
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I listened to this book on Audible in January because I'm switching research tracks to mosquito and vector ecology, and listened to it again over the last month because I wanted to be able to remember more details. (We don't currently have malaria in my area, but Audible only has so many books about vector-borne diseases.) I loved it. There are no citations in the audiobook, so I'm giving Shah the benefit of the doubt that they appear in the print version. Assuming it's properly cited, this book ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this after it was recommended on This Podcast Will Kill You and I could hardly put it down. Moving backwards and forward in time, hopping from continent to continent, mixing personal and historical fact... the narrative moves like a mosquito, but unlike one of those damn insects, it's not hard to follow and you don't lose track of it.

The author does an excellent job with the finicky details of the life cycle of the malaria plasmodium. She also, very interestingly, manages to both impress
May 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
(3.5 stars) This book is a chronicle of malaria. The author goes into the history of the disease, its complex lifecycle and how it has factored into the course of human history. She also relates some of the progress and failures in controlling it. While I knew some of the facts, the author came up with some intriguing new insights. For example, malaria led to demise of Scotland as a separate country, and some of the less well known impacts of the disease on the United States and the building of ...more
Really 3.5 -- this is a pretty good read that traces the factors that influence and were influenced by malaria throughout the world and history. Ended up reading this in more fits/spurts than usual, so it could be I was just distracted, but while it covered a great deal of issues and intertwined them very well, there were occasionally little things where something came up and seemed to rely on prior knowledge (e.g. who Rachel Carson was), which was weird. Still a solid book and worth checking ou ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting to learn about the history of malaria and the effect it has on society. It hewed a little too much to editorializing in parts with a definite bias instead of showing both sides of the debate on how to control malaria.

Also, one thing that bothered me but was small is that her footnotes don't seem to follow a standard style and don't follow a standard format throughout the book. She also cites references in other books that reference even another book. That is just poor research on th
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle
History of Malaria. Current battles and how ridiculous they have been. And a nod also to the Gates Foundation and how it’s been at the forefront of bad ideas that have been tried before and found lacking. Of course, the solution is obvious right from the start - fund and empower local governments to deal with it so that they can also track it locally. A body sitting in NYC can hardly ensure success deep inside Gabon. But never happens.
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I had a vague idea of the role malaria plays in the modern world I had no idea how it evolved or what impacts it had in the ancient world. Now I can say I do know and am glad of it.

The author does an excellent job of writing in a way that makes what could be a dry and difficult work engaging and, in a way, entertaining, if that's the word for it.

If you have any interest in this ancient disease and its impact on human life I highly recommend this work!
Jonas Gehrlein
Feb 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book is a good explanation of malaria both historically and how we are dealing with it today.
The criticism of modern behaviour towards is mostly that we simplify some problems and ignore finding out if all the nets we give to people help anyone and measure improvement by number of nets given and ignore how the nets aren`t used correctly. The book biggest defect is that it writes about malaria as some scheming villain that no protozoan is.
Cameron Climie
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
A fascinating and incredibly well-documented history of one of the most tenacious diseases humanity has ever encountered. The individual sections are incredibly thorough, but I'm not entirely convinced that the chosen order works for weaving together a single coherent thread - it seems to jump around both chronologically and thematically.
Sally Fouhse
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Terrific book. I attended a talk by this author when this book first came out. Was amazed that Campbell Hall was not full - she was a good speaker, and the topic fascinating. Not to be a downer, but basically, we're doomed. The parasite adapts to our various defenses faster than we can invent them. Not only should you wear sunscreen, but bug spray, too!
Jun 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very enlightening and informative. I definitely have a better understanding of the Malaria virus, its transmission and the medications used to treat it. I am personally a fan of journalists who write non fiction books. I think they tend to be concise and don't spend unnecessary time pontificating. I enjoyed reading this book.
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fever is a wonderful book to read if you have any interest in malaria

And you should. It has been a major factor in human civilization over the last million years and continuous to resist our efforts to eradicate or at least manage it. Beware, it may be coming to you.
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Interesting topic. Well written
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Sonia Shah is a science journalist and prize-winning author. Her writing on science, politics, and human rights has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, Scientific American and elsewhere. Her work has been featured on RadioLab, Fresh Air, and TED, where her talk, “Three Reasons We Still Haven’t Gotten Rid of Malaria” has been viewed by over 1,000,000 people aro ...more