Book Review: Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today

Title: Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today

Author: David Clark

While I try to find a balance between both fiction and nonfiction, if I’m being completely honest, I would have never read this book if it had not been offered for free from That being said, I am glad that I read it. 

I’m not a microbiologist or epidemiologist by any stretch of the imagination (I may have taken a couple of biology classes in college, but that would be the extent of that). However, I do watch television and read the newspaper. I’m in the know about the global AIDS crisis and outbreaks of SARS, bird flu, swine flu, and so on. This book is geared toward people like me, with a basic understanding of epidemics, biology, and history. No need to be a scientist.

“Germs, Genes, & Civilization” (GGC) explores how epidemics have shaped the history of humankind. Author David Clark makes connections between illness and politics, religion, warfare, social development and empire-building, many which I would have never seen without reading this. GGC starts with ancient civilizations, including Egypt, the Indus River Valley, and the Greek and Roman Empires, goes through the spread of the plague and tuberculosis, follows along with malaria and smallpox to the new world, and explores the future pandemics humans may face. 

While all living creatures suffer from illness, GGC also suggests that humans present a unique opportunity for diseases, “No other large animal in the know history of our planet has provided such crowds of individuals, packed closely together, just waiting for some pestilence to move in and multiply” (18).

Don’t be fooled by the seriousness of the subject matter here, Clark shows a great deal of humor in the pages of the book as well.

Bottom Line:

While stories about plagues and illnesses may not be well received at your neighborhood cocktail party, the information could come in handy if your ever a contestant on Jeopardy (which is a goal of mine). The book is an interesting read and the information is not too dense for the average reader to absorb. 

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