Contagion: How Commerce Has Spread Disease

Mark Harrison. Yale Univ, $38 (400p) ISBN 978-0-300-12357-9
Recent scares relating to food-borne illnesses such as SARS, swine flu, bird flu, and mad cow disease have focused attention on the tension between public safety and global trade, but as Harrison, an Oxford professor of the history of medicine, points out, that has almost always been the case. In his exhaustively researched account, he illuminates the connection between commerce and the spread of disease dating back to the 14th century when the plague traveled the trade routes between Europe and Asia. What followed, through cholera outbreaks and yellow fever epidemics, has been a centuries-old effort to manage the spread of disease through regulation and restrictions, and a history of using these restrictions to gain market dominance. As awareness of how disease spread met public outcry against the inhumanity of quarantines, global trade demanded global solutions, spurring the growth of international regulatory bodies. But as recent violations of World Trade Organization and World Health Organization guidelines during the swine flu scare have evidenced, efforts to manipulate public health policy for economic benefit remain unchanged. While the overabundance of dates and names and a heavy academic tone make for a daunting read, the story is a compelling one. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates (UK). (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/12/2012
Release date: 01/01/2013
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