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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashed
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When Germs Travel: Six Major Epidemics That Have Invaded America and the Fears They Have Unleashed

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  167 Ratings  ·  28 Reviews
The struggle against deadly microbes is endless. Diseases that have plagued human beings since ancient times still exist, new maladies like SARS make their way into the headlines, we are faced with vaccine shortages, and the threat of germ warfare has reemerged as a worldwide threat.

In this riveting account, medical historian Howard Markel takes an eye-opening look at the
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Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 10th 2005 by Vintage (first published May 11th 2004)
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Kathryn Bergeron
Summary: Markel walks you through epidemics that have occurred in the US since 1900 and how they have impacted both public sentiment and public health procedures.

Why I Read This: I ask our staff to have him to the library. He seemed pretty darn awesome.

Review: This may be my favorite book that I've read all year. It was fascinating. Granted, I skipped some of the parts that were like, "and this is how typhus affects your intestines". But most of the book is about the history of that disease, the
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ShanTil
Jun 11, 2017 marked it as didn-t-finish  ·  review of another edition
Read the first chapter on TB as research for a story idea I have. (Is that morbid? It might be morbid. Moving right along.) This isn't the kind of thing I would ever read for fun. Obviously. But Markel made medical history quite fascinating and eye-opening to me. May come back and finish later.
Kate Fernandez
I actually read this book when taking a class led by Howard Markel at the Residential College at Michigan. It was an interesting read, for sure. But super awkward discussing a book in class that your professor wrote!
Jennifer Collins
Markel's work here is not just about what the title proclaims--and in fact, I imagine that's led to some disappointed readers--instead, it is as much about history, immigration into America, and fear as it is about disease, science, or epidemics. Yet, in bringing all of these topics together, it's a powerful look into the subjects and into the way populations have come to understand a variety of diseases which we're still working against today.

By splitting the book into six different chapters to
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K. Bird Lincoln
Sep 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I opened up When Germs Travel thinking I'd get a more general description about disease, vectors, bacteria, and how human culture influences transmission.

(Obviously I didn't read the subtitle)

What I got was even more interesting, and heart-breaking.

Markel tells the stories of Tuberculosis, Bubonic Plague, Trachoma, Typhus, AIDS and Cholera all through the lens of the immigrant experience.

The two stories that really hit me were the story of Haitians with AIDS caught behind barbed wire at Guantana
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Celina
Aug 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: virus
When Germs Travel is a wonderful journey into medical anthropology, documenting six major epidemics that have struck the United States as a result of immigration: tuberculosis, trachoma, typhus, bubonic plague, cholera, and AIDS. Markel looks compassionately upon how abysmal homeland conditions and travel conditions exacerbated these epidemics, as well as how the American reaction to the epidemics resulted in policy changes throughout the last century.

It's a fascinating read, and it leaves the
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Maria
Nov 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Dr. Markel's manages to do what the best nonfiction writers do when they tackle topics too terrifying or foreign to deal with - he puts a human face on six epidemics of contagious disease that have affected American lives. In six chapters - one for each of the six epidemics - he introduces us to diseases and the immigrant and domestic lives they've affected. And he introduces us to ourselves.

My main takeaway from this book is that people - perhaps especially Americans - are too often fearful and
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TBML
Jun 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
With current events what they are, it is interesting to read how the world reacted to historical outbreaks of disease. It certainly gives one perspective.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on the typhus "outbreak" in my hometown of El Paso, Texas around the turn of the 20th century. The majority of deaths that can be laid at the feet of this local outbreak had nothing to do with the disease itself but the fact that people crossing the border into the US from Mexico had a disturbing habit of bursti
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Kate
When Germs Travel takes a look at 6 epidemics: bubonic plague, typhus, trachoma, HIV, tuberculosis and cholera that arose in the US in the past century or so. If you read a lot of medical history, much of the information will be old news. What may not be, however, is Markel's analysis of the role that immigrants have played in bringing illness across national boundaries, and more importantly, how much undeserved blame is laid at their feet when epidemics do strike. Markel is a fine writer; he is ...more
Margaret von Fizzlewick
I especially enjoyed the chapter on the typhus "outbreak" in my hometown of El Paso, Texas around the turn of the 20th century. The majority of deaths that can be laid at the feet of this local outbreak had nothing to do with the disease itself but the fact that people crossing the border into the US from Mexico had a disturbing habit of bursting into flames when doused with kerosene, which border officials believed would kill the disease. And I suppose it did...in a way. A bit drastic, though.
Jb
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Here are six fascinating stories of invasive diseases (to U.S. borders, that is) and how authorities endeavored to cope: TB, plague, trachoma, typhus, AIDS, cholera. Most engaging is the author’s personal account of involvement with a cholera scare in Detroit in the late 1990s. Though diseases described are now largely contained in the U.S., many (even those not of the six) remain worldwide dilemmas never to be completely conquered.
Pancha
This book feels more like an examination of the attitudes America holds and has held towards immigrants and disease than the diseases themselves, although there is a lot of information on the diseases. While each chapter acknowledges the public health issues of the various diseases, they also focus on how racism, ignorance, and a lack of compassion effect the immigrant communities blamed as carries for the diseases.
Sarah
Dec 30, 2014 added it
Love the history provided of both the germ/disease, the places where the epidemic took place, and the lifestyles and hardships of immigrants both in their home country and upon their arrival in the US. The personal stories showed how strong and proud the individuals were and continued their battle even after they became ill.
Mark
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Broken into several readable chapters, each with their own study of a disease, location, and ethnic group different from each other, yet with the common theme of nationalism against the 'other' the author's final chapter is a humble, semi humorous warning of the dangers of 'knowing too much' (or thinking you do anyway).
Kelsey
Jun 10, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-books-read
A bit on the brief side, but plenty interesting. Published in the early 2000s, I often wondered if the statistics on certain things had changed. There's also a somewhat dated obsession with the terror attacks of 9/11. Still. The author has chosen interesting examples and writes in a clear, engaging manner. I'm obsessed with epidemics, and still found plenty of new information here.
Marie
Feb 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this late at night, then didn't sleep worrying how to avoid getting TB. Not as worried about bubonic plague, typhus or cholera . . . but the TB chapter kept me awake! I will no longer shake hands with anyone, wash my hands obsessively, stay away from anyone with a cough. In fact, I think I'll never leave my home. That's the answer.
Cecily
Mar 23, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cecily by: Ryan
This was really interesting as it combined immigration and medical anthropology. Of course every time I read about diseases I start worrying about every heart flutter, dry eye, itchy leg, etc.

The author does a great job of informing and providing the stories that make medical anthropology interesting. His writing style is clear.
Laurie Hale
Sep 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. Disease is linked to the experience of immigrants and racism in this country and how our public health policy is driven by the fear of the unknown and not altruism. Great read, but heartbreaking.
Sarah
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very readable series of vignettes about different epidemics in America. With a view to the historical, it gives a better understanding of the present and the future of contagious disease in the US.

David Wen
Interesting background regarding how US treated various disease, epidemics, and ultimately immigrants in the 19th and 20th century. The lack of knowledge and how far we've progressed since them is fascinating and yet disheartening at the same time.
Benjamin Bryan
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the read, but if you're going to ready anything by Dr. Markel, I would recommend "An Anatomy of Addiction" first.
Diane Henry
Via Rene Najera
Kelly
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Man am I a sucker for a microhistory; chalk it up to the insatiable consumption of knowledge.
winona
Apr 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
It's not as nail-biting as the title would have you believe. Interesting stuff, particularly the bits on disease etiology and progression, albeit kinda dry.
Sal
Jan 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Well-written and incredibly insightful as to the threat (and often misplaced blame) of world epidemics. Entirely recommended.
Colleen
Oct 24, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-nature
a good warning against the complacency americans can have re. infectious disease.Also an overview of how disease has influenced prejudice and impacted immigration in us history. Very interesting
Kaethe
Sep 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
my daughter and I are swapping medical nonfiction

library copy
Chole Allyson
Jul 16, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great book. I was able to see a disease progress through the eyes of an immigrant. I followed their story and felt as though I were a part of it.
Amanda
rated it really liked it
Apr 01, 2008
Kate
rated it really liked it
Mar 17, 2012
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Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases, professor of psychiatry, and director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. His books include the award- winning Quarantine! and When Germs Travel. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The New Engla ...more
More about Howard Markel...
“Beyond the cultural differences that must be bridged in any international effort, combined with factors of national politics, priorities, and values, we continue to grapple with the essential paradox of public health that began our discussion: when the system is working effectively, it is a silent venture and there are relatively few outbreaks of disease. These very successes lead most of us down a complacent path of false confidence, apathy, and assumptions that the endless dance is over. To complicate matters further, microbes themselves are hardly monolithic or permanently settled beings. For every attempt we make to destroy or weaken them, they respond with an equal and opposite force. The goal of both sides is to assume leadership of the evolutionary waltz ever in progress.” 0 likes
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