Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague 1894-1901

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague 1894-1901

Article excerpt

Plague Ports: The Global Urban Impact of Bubonic Plague 1894-1901. By Myron Echenberg. New York: New York University Press, 2007. Pp. xvi, 30 illustrations. $48.00.

Epidemics of plague have been responsible for substantial mortality and adverse socioeconomic effects during the course of recorded human history. The third bubonic plague pandemic took an estimated 15 million lives as it circled the globe in the late nineteenth century. In Plague Ports, Myron Echenberg has provided a fascinating overview of the political, social, and medical responses to the third plague pandemic. This comprehensive, scholarly review provides insight into the shifting focus of public health measures as the world moved into the twentieth century and as the newly developed field of bacteriology matured.

The book describes the spread of the plague around the world, including outbreaks on six continents and the varying societal and governmental reactions to these local epidemics. This is a captivating review of the conflict between Western and Eastern cultural beliefs of medicine and public health control measures in China and India. The responses to the plague outbreaks were often based on concepts of disease that were well accepted at the time but which did not incorporate evidence from recent scientific understanding about the epidemiology of spread of the disease or potentially effective approaches to its prevention. Throughout this captivating description of the third plague epidemic, the history of the bacteriology of the plague pathogen, Yersinia pestis, is woven with spotlights on scientists who made key discoveries about this bacterium. The contrasting approaches of local politicians to the epidemics and their conflicts with public health practitioners provide insight into how the decisions of these parties had an impact on the level of severity of the local disease outbreaks. …

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