For readers of Mary Roach and Jared Diamond, an innovative look at the histories of different epidemics and what it meant for society, alongside what lessons different diseases have to teach us as society battles the novel coronavirus.
Throughout history, there have been numerous epidemics that have threatened mankind with destruction. Diseases have the ability to highlight our shared concerns across the ages, affecting every social divide from national boundaries, economic categories, racial divisions, and beyond. Whether looking at smallpox, HIV, Ebola, or COVID-19 outbreaks, we see the same conversations arising as society struggles with the all-encompassing question: What do we do now?
In “poignant yet relevant detail” (Niki Kapsambelis, author of The Inheritance), Quarantine Life from Cholera to COVID-19 demonstrates that these conversations have always involved the same questions of individual liberties versus the common good, debates about rushing new and untested treatments, considerations of whether quarantines are effective to begin with, what to do about healthy carriers, and how to keep trade circulating when society shuts down.
This vibrant social and medical history tracks different diseases and outlines their trajectory, what they meant for society, and societal questions each disease brought up, along with practical takeaways we can apply to current and future pandemics—so we can all be better prepared for whatever life throws our way.
Kari Nixon is a professor specializing in social reactions to infectious diseases. She works at Whitworth University, where she teaches about social responses to contagion and quarantine in medical humanities and Victorian literature courses. Her work on public health has been published for lay audiences in HuffPost, YES! Magazine, and CNN. Her academic book, Kept from All Contagion: Germ Theory, Disease, and the Dilemma of Human Contact, was published by SUNY University Press, and tracks the social history of humankind’s responses to disease in Victorian literature and popular culture. She regularly teaches about zombies, medical ethics, the problematic pressures on the health care system, and social justice issues for marginalized races and genders. She has edited numerous books on diseases in society.