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Pandemic! At the Disco


Last month, at the 53rd Munich Security Conference in Germany, Bill Gates offered the world a dire warning.  In a bleak message, Mr. Gates cautioned that no country is adequately prepared for what he considers to be one of its largest existential threats: the next pandemic.  He emphasized the urgent need for the world to take significant measures in order to safeguard against an impending outbreak.  “Whether it occurs by a quirk of nature or at the hand of a terrorist, epidemiologists say a fast-moving airborne pathogen could kill more than 30 million people in less than a year," Gates said. "And they say there is a reasonable probability the world will experience such an outbreak in the next 10 to 15 years."  So, to commemorate Mr. Gates’ enchanting message and to revisit some of the delights of pandemics past, here is a list of some of the Metropolitan Library’s resources on some of history’s most devastasting diseases.



The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, The Most Devastating Plague of All Time John Kelly

In the middle of the 14th century, a previously unknown menace began to stalk its way westward across Asia, headed toward the European continent. Eventually spanning from the coast of China to the shores of Portugal, it produced suffering and death on a scale that, even after two world wars and nearly thirty-five million AIDS deaths worldwide, remains astonishing. Beginning its devastating journey across the European continent in 1347, the spread of La Moria Grandissima became so extensive that there was virtually no escape from infection. Five years later, over twenty million people were dead. Almost one-third of the continent’s population had been eradicated by a scourge that would come to be known as the Black Death. The Great Mortality is the extraordinary account of one of the worst natural disasters in European history. Shedding a vivid light on some of humankind's darkest days, author John Kelly presents a drama of courage, cowardice, misery, madness, and sacrifice.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World Steven Johnson

By the summer of 1854, London had begun to develop into one of the world’s first modern cities. However, the city’s lack of sanitary infrastructure to facilitate garbage removal, eliminate sewage and introduce clean water had left it struggling to support its rapidly expanding population. As a result, London soon became the perfect breeding ground for a terrifying disease, one for which there was yet to exist a cure: Cholera. As the outbreak began to take hold of the capitol with a vice-like grip, two men, John Snow, a physician, and Henry Whitehead, a local curate, would soon undertake their own converging quests to seek the source of the illness and attempt find a cure for the disease before it was too late for the city's population. Offering both a riveting history and a powerful explanation of how the Cholera outbreak shaped the world in which we live, The Ghost Map investigates the interconnectedness of the spread of disease, contagion theory, the rise of cities and the nature of scientific inquiry.

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History John M. Barry

In 1918, a plague swept across the world virtually without warning, indiscriminately killing anyone in its path. Presumed to have begun when soldiers in Kansas came into contact with sick farm animals, the malady would soon explode across the world. As the Great War raged on, overcrowded military camps and widely dispersed troop deployments allowed the highly contagious affliction to spread with unequaled ferocity and speed. It killed more people in twenty weeks than AIDS managed in twenty years, more people in a year than the plagues of the Middle Ages killed in a century and nearly seven times as many people overall than the First World War. The Great Influenza reveals the story of this first great collision between science and epidemic disease. Award-winning author John Barry tells the tale of the handful of researchers who stepped forward, risking their lives to confront this strange disease and, ultimately, revolutionize American science and public health practices.

The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic that Shaped Our History Molly Caldwell Crosby

For the city of Memphis, Tennessee, the summer of 1878 was one of sheer panic. As the threat of death at the hands of a raging yellow fever epidemic loomed, more than half the population began to flee. The disease had been transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which came in swarms on ships from the Caribbean or West Africa. Attacking every organ and poisoning the body from the inside out, the fever causes the body to hemorrhage and ultimately give out, eventually leaving its mark, tinting the skin and whites of the eyes a brilliant yellow. Striking 500,000 Americans and killing 100,000, Yellow fever shaped the history of the United States. Finding its lifeblood in the Mississippi River, it attacked port towns, touching states from Texas to Massachusetts and forcing the nation’s capital from Philadelphia to Washington, precipitating the Louisiana Purchase. It paralyzed governments, halted commerce, quarantined cities and altered the outcome of wars. Both compelling and terrifying, The American Plague depicts the story of yellow fever and its reign in this country and in Africa, where even today it strikes thousands every year.

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