A vivid, sweeping, and “fact-filled” (Booklist, starred review) history of mankind’s battles with infectious disease that “contextualizes the COVID-19 pandemic” (Publishers Weekly)—for readers of the #1 New York Times bestsellers Yuval Harari’s Sapiens and John Barry’s The Great Influenza.
For four thousand years, the size and vitality of cities, economies, and empires were heavily determined by infection. Striking humanity in waves, the cycle of plagues set the tempo of civilizational growth and decline, since common response to the threat was exclusion—quarantining the sick or keeping them out. But the unprecedented hygiene and medical revolutions of the past two centuries have allowed humanity to free itself from the hold of epidemic cycles—resulting in an urbanized, globalized, and unimaginably wealthy world.
However, our development has lately become precarious. Climate and population fluctuations and factors such as global trade have left us more vulnerable than ever to newly emerging plagues. Greater global cooperation toward sustainable health is urgently required—such as the international efforts to manufacture and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine—with millions of lives and trillions of dollars at stake.
“A timely, lucid look at the role of pandemics in history” (Kirkus Reviews), The Plague Cycle reveals the relationship between civilization, globalization, prosperity, and infectious disease over the past five millennia. It harnesses history, economics, and public health, and charts humanity’s remarkable progress, providing a fascinating and astute look at the cyclical nature of infectious disease.
Charles Kenny is a writer-researcher at the Center for Global Development and has worked on policy reforms in global health as well as UN peacekeeping and combating international financial corruption. Previously, he spent fifteen years as an economist at the World Bank, travelling the planet from Baghdad and Kabul to Brasilia and Beijing. He is the author of The Plague Cycle: The Unending War Between Humanity and Infectious Disease, Getting Better: Why Global Development Is Succeeding and How We Can Improve the World Even More, and The Upside of Down: Why the Rise of the Rest Is Great for the West. He earned a history degree at Cambridge and has graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and Cambridge.