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Humanity's Burden


  • 2 b/w illus. 8 maps
  • Page extent: 250 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.34 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521670128)

Humanity's Burden provides a panoramic overview of the history of malaria. It traces the long arc of malaria out of tropical Africa into Eurasia, its transfer to the Americas during the early years of the Columbian exchange, and its retraction from the middle latitudes into the tropics since the late nineteenth century. Adopting a broadly comparative approach to historical patterns and processes, it synthesizes research findings from the natural and social sciences and weaves these understandings into a narrative that reaches from the earliest evidence of malaria infections in tropical Africa up to the present. Written in a style that is easily accessible to non-specialists, it considers the significance of genetic mutations, diet, lifestyle, migration, warfare, palliative and curative treatment, and efforts to interrupt transmission on the global distribution of malaria.

• Malaria kills millions every year and has existed for as long as humans – key to the history of humankind • Narrative style that draws in the significance of factors such as lifestyle and warfare – the topic is understandable by non-specialists • Incorporates the most recent research, providing information on the very latest understanding of the disease


1. Early tropical Africa; 2. Into Eurasia; 3. Into the Americas; 4. Bitter medicines; 5. Toward global public health; 6. Africa redux.


'No disease is more indicative of social and environmental change than malaria. Its geographical distribution and incidence have been intimately related to all fields of human endeavour, from the production of food to upheavals such as war and mass migration. James Webb's ecological history of malaria provides keen insights into this persistent affliction and into the history of humanity itself. His magisterial synthesis will be admired by historians and malariologists alike.' Mark Harrison, University of Oxford

'A lucid and stimulating account of how malaria has become the extraordinarily complex disease that it is today. The reader learns of the multitude of factors that have contributed to malaria's diversity and spread – physical ecology, population movements, war, agricultural practices, application of prophylaxis measures, availability of drugs, et al – each with its own history. Those who wish to control malaria will learn why their measures must be tailored to each situation according to how this history has played out locally, if they wish to avoid the trap of assuming that what works in one place will work elsewhere.' Socrates Litsios, Retired WHO Senior Scientist Author of The Tomorrow of Malaria

'Humanity's Burden is a remarkable effort; superbly researched, elegantly expressed, and possessed of an unstinting clarity of purpose.' The Lancet

'Humanity's Burden is testimony of a twofold success. The work offers a historico-epidemiological synthesis devoid of unnecessary technical language on a serious pathology of utmost importance in the world today. Epidemiologists, economists, anthropologists and students can draw on it with considerable benefit. It is also a very convincing essay on global history, both from inside (explaining the persistence of the virulence of the infection by studying the connections between different local epidemiologies) and from outside (integrating the advances in the social and natural science). The book is enriched by an abundant bibliography.' Medical History

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