The Pandemic Century
One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria and Hubris
A smart and lively journey through a century of pandemics, from the Spanish flu to Zika.
A Mail on Sunday 2019 Summer Book Pick, and a Financial Times 2019 Book of the Year
Ever since the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, scientists have dreamed of preventing catastrophic outbreaks of infectious disease. Yet, despite a century of medical progress, viral and bacterial disasters continue to take us by surprise, inciting panic and dominating news cycles.
From pneumonic plague in LA and ‘parrot fever’ in Argentina to the more recent AIDS, SARS and Ebola epidemics, the last 100 years have been marked by a succession of unanticipated outbreaks and scares. Like man-eating sharks, predatory pathogens are always present in nature, waiting to strike; when one is seemingly vanquished, others appear in its place. The Pandemic Century exposes the limits of science against nature, and how these crises are shaped by humans as much as microbes.
‘Some of the scenes in Mark Honigsbaum’s The Pandemic Century were so vivid they had me drafting movie treatments in my head . . . each chapter is deeply researched.’ — The New York Times
‘[A] riveting, vivid history of modern disease outbreaks … Honigsbaum has written a fascinating account of a deeply important topic – for if the past 100 years have taught us anything, it is that new diseases and viral strains will inevitably beset us.’ — The Observer
‘Magisterial.’ — Philip Ball, The Guardian
‘Timely but disturbing.’ — Mail on Sunday
‘A gruesome round-up of the pandemics that have plagued us over the past 100 years … A lively but less than reassuring read for those on exotic travels.’ — Financial Times
‘Gripping.’ — Nature
‘Ultimately, this book celebrates medical curiosity. [It is] a cautionary tale about the need for medical science to be open minded. Practitioners need to be aware that their knowledge of what is possible and impossible when it comes to infectious diseases will be challenged by the forces of globalisation, urbanisation and climate change.’ — International Affairs
‘Lively, gruesome, and masterful . . . Honigsbaum mixes superb medical history with vivid portraits of the worldwide reactions to each [pandemic] event.’ — Kirkus (starred review)
‘Offers a mixture of gripping storytelling and insightful science . . . alternately chilling and optimistic, Honigsbaum’s reporting on a recurrent public health issue deserves wide attention.’ — Publishers Weekly
‘Engrossing. . . . Combining history, popular science, and policy, he describes each pandemic with journalistic immediacy, emphasising the patterns that characterise responses to them. . . . An important and timely work.’ — Booklist (starred review)
‘An engaging and thoughtful journey through some of the world’s greatest medical and social crises in recent decades. Honigsbaum is a worthy historian and guide to these dramatic reminders of human fallibility.’ — David L. Heymann, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
‘Infectious diseases remain among the most urgent health threats we face, but too often are considered something that happens to other people, far away. In our interconnected world, this is no longer true, as Honigsbaum shows. His unique account drives home the human impact of epidemics, and the need for increased preparedness.’ — Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust
‘Mark Honigsbaum does a superb job covering a century’s worth of pandemics and the fears they invariably unleash. The moral of his cogent tale is that the next deadly pandemic is not a matter of “if” but of “when” and preparing for that fact is a far better prescription than reacting with panic, fear, or indifference.’ — Howard Markel, Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan
Mark Honigsbaum is a medical historian, journalist, and author of, amongst other books, The Fever Trail: In Search of the Cure for Malaria and Living with Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918. He is currently a lecturer at City, University of London.