I picked up a copy of Epidemics and Society in November of 2019, having no idea it had just been published, nor any hint of what would happen in China only a few weeks later. I thought that, well, I was trying to write a pandemic in my current NaNoWriMo novel and maybe some research would help…
Epidemics and Society is the best book on understanding the intersection of medicine and history I’ve ever read. When I took history classes in high school and college, public health was treated like a thing separate from historical events. This book shatters that illusion and shows that many points of upheaval took place during or directly after an epidemic of some sort.
It starts early with explanations of our understanding of disease and moves through history, epidemic by epidemic, around the world. Each is explained in context of the politics, public health policies, epidemiology, and even economics that impacted the response to the pandemic.
Ultimately the lesson is simple: all this has happened before, and all this will happen again. The best we can do is make public health a critical priority both in times of low concern and times of epidemic.
Also, hug your healthcare workers (consensually) because they’ve been through a hell of a ride for centuries now.