Its implied subject matter does not seem to command the interest of the layman the history -- or as he says, the biography of typhus , but the method and the manner are so breezy, original and touched throughout with humor, that it may well catch the public curiosity and interest. Not for a moment is it non-scientific; in fact he unqualifiedly discounts the popular scientist angle as misleading.
But -- in the course of definitely scientific marshalling of facts, he shows how typhus has won and lost seiges, even whole wars, has changed the face of the world, has played its part at almost every step of historical development. Not so popular in appeal as the DeKruif books, but those who liked Soldier in Science and others on the borderline, should find this fascinating reading. There was a problem adding your email address.
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Open Preview See a Problem? Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Rats, Lice, and History: The classic chronicle of the impact disease and plagues have had on history and society over the past half-millennium. Intriguingly fascinating and entertaining reading for anyone who is interested in how society copes with catastrophe and pain. Relevant today in face of the worldwide medical calamity of AIDS.
Continuously in print since its first publication in , with The classic chronicle of the impact disease and plagues have had on history and society over the past half-millennium. Continuously in print since its first publication in , with over 75 printings. Hardcover , pages. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Rats, Lice, and History , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Rats, Lice, and History.
Lists with This Book. Jun 29, Nancy rated it really liked it Recommended to Nancy by: Rats, Lice and History is written in an entertaining conversational style with with enough scholarly flourishes that you'll want your computer by your side to look up words and translate all the French, German and Spanish quotes. Generally the Greek and Latin are translated or explained. The author manages to weave in a wide range of historical musings along with up to date science for the publication date of The description of how "new" diseases arise is as true for AIDS as for typhus.
I found my copy of the book at the University of Oregon Science library. I really enjoyed the physical book. The bookplate for Vandevelde inside the cover, the obituaries for Dr. Zinsser pasted into the front and back of the book,the worn cover, and the pencil underlines all connected me to others who had read this exact same physical book. View all 3 comments. I am absolutely stumped on how to review this book. I love medical histories, so when I saw this at a used bookstore I picked it up. This book is about everything BUT typhus.
Religion, history, mathematics, politics--if it's a subject completely unrelated to typhus it's most certainly in there. So I should just give it one star and move on with my life, right? I wish it were that easy, because this book was hilarious. So off-topic, but the author is aware of how off-topic he is, "This, we promise, I am absolutely stumped on how to review this book.
So off-topic, but the author is aware of how off-topic he is, "This, we promise, is the last serious digression from our main theme" It is not At multiple points, he feels that so much extraneous matter is related to his subject that he just starts giving a list of random historical events with no explanation of their connection. The topic of typhus isn't truly brought up until page , and doesn't really start being addressed until page This, to me, is hilarious. I started this book in a serious mood, expecting to be informed about the progression and history of a serious disease.
Instead, I was caught off guard by all this randomness and burst out laughing. Let's go with 4.
It's a star number I picked randomly, and that should fit considering the random nature of this book. Even though this book was written at the turn of the previous century, it hasn't become any less interesting or funny. Hans Zinsser has created an eccentric view of history, rambling about rats, typhus, the Roman Empire, lice, and everything. You can't read it in one sitting, because you'll have to keep taking breaks to calm down from the experience. I liked the book because because I learned so much - this book is a classic microbiology textbook among other things.
My favorite foonote was assoc Even though this book was written at the turn of the previous century, it hasn't become any less interesting or funny. My favorite foonote was associated with a word I'd never heard -- it said, "If the reader does not know the meaning of this word, that is unfortunate. Very interesting content, but because of the writing style it was somewhat tough going.
Nevertheless, this book represents a curious look at the history of infectious disease and public health. Some parts were unintentionally funny - the Philistines beating the Jewish in an ancient war by getting their Gods to strike the Jews down with a plague. But not a plague of pestilance or dysentry, oh no. Historians believe it was a epidemic of haemorrhoids. Jul 01, Daphne rated it it was amazing. Contains the best footnote ever: I salvaged an old paperback copy of this book from the library's garbage bin one day when I was walking around with a very bad cold.
It seemed like an appropriate thing to read, as it had to deal with sickness and it was the kind of boring subject that is pleasant to read when one is stuck in bed and going nowhere.
It's a very strange, funny book- a shaggy dog with fleas. The first several or so chapters are a defense for why a doctor should be able to write a work of literature. Zinsser call I salvaged an old paperback copy of this book from the library's garbage bin one day when I was walking around with a very bad cold.
Zinsser calls science an art and goes on to quote much Gertude Stein in order to hold it up to ridicule. The next quarter or even more is then dedicated to wars and disease and destruction from the dawn of civilization onward. It would be an almost unbearably boring and depressing list if Dr. Zinsser didn't have such a sardonic wit and charm to him. He is both cynical of humanity and full of deep humanity, and because of this and his style he is reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut.
Zinsser wrote this book before World War II, and his thoughts on the buildup of that war are heartbreaking. He convincingly argues that most wars in history have had more fatalities due to disease than those caused on the battlefield, and that many famous battles and wars were dramatically changed due to the influence of diseases.
RATS, LICE AND HISTORY by Hans Zinsser | Kirkus Reviews
The next sections deal with lice, and mice and rats- and these are some of his funniest observations. Concerning the sex-life of the louse, Dr. Zinsser writes, "Nature has provided that the nymph- that is, what may be called the high-school or flapper age of the louse- is not yet possessed of sexual organs. These do not appear until the fully adult form develops, and reproduction is thus postponed until a responsible age is reached. Adolescent Bohemianism, 'living oneself out,' 'self-expression,' and so forth, never get beyond the D. Lawrence stage among the younger set.
How much physical hardship and moral confusion could be avoided if a similar arrangement among us could postpone sexual maturity until stimulated by an internal secretion from the fully established intellectual and moral convulsions of the brain! The loss of copy this would entail for Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and others would be amply compensated for by gains in other directions.
- Soldier Boy.
- The Wicked Wives: A novel based on a true story;
- A Tea Party Primer: The Development of the Centralized State.
This has been, either perfect or to some extent, achieved by ants and by bees, by some birds, and by some of the fishes in the sea. Man and the rat are merely, so far, the most successful animals of prey. They are utterly destructive of other forms of life. Neither of them is the slightest earthly use to any other species of living things. Bacteria nourish plans; plants nourish man and beast. Insects, in their well-organized societies, are destructive of one form of living creature, but helpful to another.
Most other animals are content to lead peaceful and adjusted lives, rejoicing in vigor, grateful for this gift of living, and doing the minimum of injury to obtain the things they require. Man and the rat are utterly destructive. All that nature offers is taken for their own purposes, plant or beast. Zinsser broaches the topic of typhus. It is very clear he even says it that Dr. Zinsser was inspired by Tristram Shandy in writing his rambling, preambling "biography" of typhus, digging out interesting but unrelated topics when they interest him, burrowing around history for the first signs of its existence.
It's a bumpy but no less enjoyable ride for being so, and in its casual, layman's way seems ahead of its time. The only faults I had with it are there are sometimes no translations of long passages in another language perhaps the average reading public knew more languages than I do back then and it can be quite repetitive, though pleasantly repetitive, and the chronological order of events is totally bananas Dr.
Zinsser will talk about the Dark Ages and plague then go back and talk about diseases in ancient Greece. Also, I'm not entirely sure what typhus is, or if it's even around anymore. But still, as a science book on a topic I usually show no interest in, it is a fascinating, intelligent, and well-written book. This classic of popular science has just had a welcome reissue. I say popular science, but Hans Zinsser regularly claims his book is nothing of the sort, as 'we detest and have endeavoured to avoid [popular science]'.
The use of the royal 'we' is another of Zinsser's foibles.
Rats, Lice and History
Yet popular science it certainly is - his attempt to avoid the label seems to be because it was somewhat despised as a type of writing by academics in the s when this book was written - and Zinsser wanted to make this This classic of popular science has just had a welcome reissue. Yet popular science it certainly is - his attempt to avoid the label seems to be because it was somewhat despised as a type of writing by academics in the s when this book was written - and Zinsser wanted to make this more personal than popular science tended to be back then, hence his instance that the book was a 'biography' of the disease typhus.
Such is Zinsser's enthusiasm to underline this more arty, biographical approach, he spends the first couple of chapters not talking about typhus, but rather the range of the arts and sciences, their relationship and the point of biography. If you are interested in these topics as I am this is interesting and amusing in part because of Zinsser's very obvious attempt to demonstrate his own breadth of interest and knowledge , if not what you'd expect in a book like this.
More surprisingly still, perhaps, it's not until chapter 13 that we really meet the disease typhus. Along the way, Zinsser teases us with little details, but then puts off the main topic as he dives into, for example, the natural history of the two main vectors of typhus, rats and lice. Finally, though, we do get a grounding in the nature of this unpleasant killer - as far as was possible, considering that a virus like typhus was too small to be seen under the microscopes of the day. How you find this book will depend to an extent how you cope with Zinsser's whimsical and eccentric approach.
I found the first 12 chapters more interesting than those on the disease itself partly because of an aversion to things medical , but there's no doubt that his writing can still be amusing and interesting. You wouldn't read it as you might a modern equivalent to get the latest science - but you will certainly find out a lot about typhus and the conditions including the wars and living conditions that made it possible for it to exist and thrive in human hosts.
Thanks to Happyreader, I realized my review of this book is associated with a totally obscure and out-of-print edition. So that no one will ever actually see my review, and I can't easily compare mine with others'. Since I really, really love this book, I'm moving my review.