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Mosquito Empires
Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914

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Part of New Approaches to the Americas

  • Date Published: January 2010
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521459105

$ 29.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • This book explores the links among ecology, disease, and international politics in the context of the Greater Caribbean - the landscapes lying between Surinam and the Chesapeake - in the seventeenth through early twentieth centuries. Ecological changes made these landscapes especially suitable for the vector mosquitoes of yellow fever and malaria, and these diseases wrought systematic havoc among armies and would-be settlers. Because yellow fever confers immunity on survivors of the disease, and because malaria confers resistance, these diseases played partisan roles in the struggles for empire and revolution, attacking some populations more severely than others. In particular, yellow fever and malaria attacked newcomers to the region, which helped keep the Spanish Empire Spanish in the face of predatory rivals in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the late eighteenth and through the nineteenth century, these diseases helped revolutions to succeed by decimating forces sent out from Europe to prevent them.

    • Casts new light on imperial rivalries in the Americas, 1650–1820, and on the wars of revolution (1775–1898)
    • Shows how important malaria was in winning the American Revolution, and how yellow fever helped keep the Spanish Empire in America Spanish
    • An environmental history of the political and military events that shaped the Americas from the 17th through the early 20th centuries
    Read more


    • Winner of the 2010 Albert J. Beveridge Award from the American Historical Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    "Brilliant. Ranging freely across the 'Greater Caribbean' … McNeill makes a riveting case that the primary driver in the colonial conflicts there was not political or economic but microbiological."
    Charles C. Mann, Wall Street Journal

    "J. R. McNeill’s new book does more than exhibit his usual gifts – breadth of range, mastery of material, depth of insight, freedom of thought, clarity of expression. It has changed the way I think about empires of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and will challenge many readers’ assumptions about the limits of human agency in shaping great events."
    Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, University of Notre Dame

    "In this authoritative and engaging book, J. R. McNeill argues convincingly that disease played a pivotal role in many of the momentous events of Caribbean history. He shows how the region’s disease ecology changed following the advent of European colonization and how this served and then subverted the interests of the Caribbean’s oldest colonial powers. Mosquito Empires is indispensable to any student of Caribbean history or the history of disease."
    Mark Harrison, Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, University of Oxford

    "Who would have guessed that the mosquito played such a vital role, shaping the fate of empires and revolutions, in such a vitally important part of the world? This provocative book is an eye-opener, written with great verve and wit."
    Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

    "For most of the last five centuries, the Atlantic empires – European and North American – wrested, fought wars, and killed thousands of citizens and slaves for possession of the wealth swaying in the fields of the Caribbean islands and coastlines. The dominant factors in the long conflict, no matter what the protagonists claimed, were not political or religious or even economic but septic, that is, the microbes of yellow fever and malaria. J. R. McNeill’s book is by far the clearest, best informed, and scientifically accurate of the accounts available on this sugary conflict."
    Alfred W. Crosby, Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies, University of Texas at Austin

    "Drawing on an enormous documentary source base, culled from many archives and texts in several languages, and ranging effortlessly across military history and medical science, J. R. McNeill's book is a major achievement. Henceforth, histories of empire, warfare, and international relations that neglects the environmental context of the events they recount will be seriously deficient."
    Gabriel Paquette, Times Literary Supplement

    "… this is a truly impressive book that makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Greater Caribbean and beyond."
    Matthew Mulcahy, William and Mary Quarterly

    "McNeill's seminal and path-breaking new study will surely play a leading role in providing a clear historical understanding of colonization and its aftermath in a vast area of the Western Hemisphere."
    American Historical Review

    "This ambitious work is an enjoyable, convincing read. Highly recommended."

    "… a valuable addition to the historiography of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Caribbean."
    Mariola Espinosa, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

    "… a welcome addition to maritime and imperial history."
    Paul Webb, International Journal of Maritime History

    "… a fine study that will be read and admired for generations to come."
    Paul Kopperman, The Journal of Southern History

    "In his compelling new book, J. R. McNeill asserts that over the course of two centuries historical events in the Americas shifted on tides of fevered sweat and black vomit."
    Jennifer L. Anderson, European History Quarterly

    "… gives a valuable framework for understanding the biology of colonization and independence in the Americas."
    Lynn A. Nelson, Florida Historical Quarterly

    "… a wonderful book, as fun to read as it is thought-provoking and informative."
    Molly A. Warsh, Journal of World History

    "Mosquito Empires should appeal to a broad range of readers. Its greatest strength, aside from the lucid and persuasive arguments it makes, is McNeill's masterful handling of large and complex events."
    Jefferson Dillman, H-Caribbean

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    Product details

    • Date Published: January 2010
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521459105
    • length: 390 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 12 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. Setting the Scene:
    1. The argument: mosquito determinism and its limits
    2. Atlantic empires and Caribbean ecology
    3. Deadly fevers, deadly doctors
    Part II. Imperial Mosquitoes:
    4. From Recife to Kourou: yellow fever takes hold, 1620–1764
    5. Cartagena and Havana: yellow fever rampant
    Part III. Revolutionary Mosquitoes:
    6. Lord Cornwallis vs anopheles quadrimaculatus, 1780–1
    7. Revolutionary fevers: Haiti, New Granada, and Cuba, 1790–1898
    8. Epilogue: vector and virus vanquished.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Armed Conflict in Modern Latin America
    • Caribbean and Central American History
    • Comparative Readings in World Environmental History
    • Cultural Studies: Latin American History & Culture
    • Early American Material Culture
    • Environmental History of the Americas
    • Health Policy Challenges
    • History of the US Through 1865
    • Honors Environmental Philosophy
    • Imperial History of North America
    • Latin America & the Atlantic World, 1500-1800
    • Readings in Comparative History
    • Regional Studies in Latin America (Caribbean)
    • U.S. History Through 1865
  • Author

    J. R. McNeill, Georgetown University, Washington DC
    J. R. McNeill is University Professor in the History Department and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. His books include The Mountains of the Mediterranean World (Cambridge University Press, 2003); Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (2000), co-winner of the World History Association book prize and the Forest History Society book prize and runner-up for the BP Natural World book prize; and most recently The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History (2003), co-authored with his father, William H. McNeill. He has also published more than 40 scholarly articles in professional and scientific journals.


    • Winner of the 2010 Albert J. Beveridge Award from the American Historical Association

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