"In this remarkable account, evolutionary biologist Christopher Wills takes us on a voyage of discovery through the exotic pasts of the viruses and bacteria that periodically emerge with such disastrou"
Wills combines a vivid, gripping history of the impact of diseases upon civilization with a sobering survey of current plagues such as AIDS and resurgent tuberculosis. He examines bubonic plague in the Byzantine Empire, which reemerged eight centuries later as Europe's Black Death; dispassionately reviews the unresolved controversy over whether Columbus had syphilis and introduced it to Spain; and follows the devastating course of malaria in West Africa, bejel (a syphilis-like disease) among Middle Eastern Bedouins and such scourges as yellow fever; yaws, an infectious, contagious tropical disease; typhoid; and Ebola. A biology professor at UC-San Diego, Wills maintains that pathogens have helped shape the diversity of complex ecosystems as well as humans' immunological and biochemical diversity. Furthermore, he suggests, some germs have made a "Faustian bargain," an evolutionary compromise, altering their structures to become dependent on the specific behavior of their chosen hosts. This more balanced, less alarmist report deserves a place alongside Laurie Garrett's The Coming Plague and Richard Preston's The Hot Zone. Photos. (Oct.)