The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America

By Gerald N. Grob | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
New Diseases in
the Americas

"Great was the stench of the dead," according to a text written by the Cakchiquel Mayas recalling the events that followed the arrival of the Spanish. "After our fathers and grandfathers succumbed, half of the people fled to the fields. The dogs and vultures devoured the bodies. The mortality was terrible. Your grandfathers died, and with them died the son of the king and his brothers and kinsmen. So it was that we became orphans, oh, my sons! So we became when we were young. All of us were thus. We were born to die!"1

When Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in August 1492, neither he nor his contemporaries anticipated the tragic consequences for the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas. The Europe he left had experienced more than a century of plague and other infectious diseases, along with periodic famine, wars, and violence within and between groups and nations. Indeed, the very future of the Continent appeared threatened by forces seemingly beyond human control. In 1492 it would have been difficult to predict that within a relatively brief period, Europeans would not only transform the environment of the planet in unimaginable ways, but also create a hegemonic relationship with much of the rest of the world.

Reflecting upon the events set in motion by Columbus and his successors, the redoubtable Adam Smith wrote in 1776 that the "discovery" of the Americas and the passage to the East Indies by way of the Cape of Good Hope were "the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind" even though their full consequences were as yet unknown. By uniting distant parts of the

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The Deadly Truth: A History of Disease in America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Pre-Columbians 7
  • Chapter 2 - New Diseases in the Americas 26
  • Chapter 3 - Colonics of Sickness 48
  • Chapter 4 - The Promise of Enlightened Health 70
  • Chapter 5 - Threats to Urban Health 96
  • Chapter 6 - Expanding America, Declining Health 121
  • Chapter 7 - Threats of Industry 153
  • Chapter 8 - Stopping the Spread of Infection 180
  • Chapter 9 - The Discovery of Chronic Illness 217
  • Chapter 10 - No Final Victory 243
  • Notes 277
  • Index 339
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