Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Book Review: The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years by Sonia Shah

For some time I have been interested in learning more about malaria. Of course I hear plenty about it because it’s the “hot” disease in recent years with all kinds of big names in philanthropy spewing money at the disease in hopes of bringing it to an end. But then I also have lots of African friends who seem not so urgently bothered by it. In some ways it seems as much a routine part of life for them as a cold is for Americans. So, I wanted to learn more about the history of the disease and find out what the dealio is. Which this book definitely did for me. 

Shah gives a history of malaria, from a variety of angles. She writes a bit about the disease cycle, which happens to be insanely complicated. I knew a little, but my mind blew up a little bit when I read about the ways in which the parasite manipulates its mosquito host as well as how there are 4 “strains” of malaria caused by 4 different parasite species that occur in different locations, have different life cycles and are more or less deadly. She gives accounts of malaria’s impact in various centuries in America, Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India, and Rome. Through wars and conquests, settlements and expansions, malaria was there making its mark. So fascinating. She also talks about the progression of drugs and technologies (including an entire chapter on DDT) to treat the disease, what has gone well, and what has not gone so well. Bed nets, sprays, pills, vaccines, prophylactics, treatment side effects, initiatives, research, politics. It’s all there. 

I learned a lot from this book, and found it to be approachable and readable, informative yet not overwhelmingly packed. If you want to know more about malaria and get a great overview as well as some reasonable depth, this is the book for you.

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