Rats, Lice and History
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Rats, Lice and History

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Description

When Rats, Lice and History appeared in 1935, Hans Zinsser was a highly regarded Harvard biologist who had never written about historical events. Although he had published under a pseudonym, virtually all of his previous writings had dealt with infections and immunity and had appeared either in medical and scientific journals or in book format. Today he is best remembered as the author of Rats, Lice, and History, which gone through multiple editions and remains a masterpiece of science writing for a general readership.

To Zinsser, scientific research was high adventure and the investigation of infectious disease, a field of battle. Yet at the same time he maintained a love of literature and philosophy. His goal in Rats, Lice and History was to bring science, philosophy, and literature together to establish the importance of disease, and especially epidemic infectious disease, as a major force in human affairs. Zinsser cast his work as the "biography" of a disease. In his view, infectious disease simply represented an attempt of a living organism to survive. From a human perspective, an invading pathogen was abnormal; from the perspective of the pathogen it was perfectly normal.

This book is devoted to a discussion of the biology of typhus and history of typhus fever in human affairs. Zinsser begins by pointing out that the louse was the constant companion of human beings. Under certain conditions-to wash or to change clothing-lice proliferated. The typhus pathogen was transmitted by rat fleas to human beings, who then transmitted it to other humans and in some strains from human to human.

Rats, Lice and History is a tour de force. It combines Zinsser's expertise in biology with his broad knowledge of the humanities
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Product details

  • Paperback | 332 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 25.15mm | 516g
  • AldineTransaction
  • Somerset, United States
  • English
  • 1412806720
  • 9781412806725
  • 918,505

Review quote

-Zinsser's account of lice and men remains a delight. Written in 1935 as a latter-day variation on Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Zinsser's book gives a picaresque account of how the history of the world has been shaped by epidemics of louseborne typhus.....Zinnser's romp through the ancient and modern worlds describes how epidemics devastated the Byzantines under Justinian, put Charles V atop the Holy Roman Empire, stopped the Turks at the Carpathians, and turned Napolean's Grand ArmEe back from Moscow.-

--Gerald Weissmann, Emerging Infectious Diseases

-This book... is listed among the best sellers. The style is delightful, and the subject matter very interesting... [It gives an] account of man's defeats and victories against epidemics... Those who have read Dr. Zinsser's articles will enjoy this book, and to otehrs it will be a pleasant surprise.-

--Elizabeth Hard, The American Journal of Nursing

-No one who buys this book will feel cheated.-

--H. M. Parshley, Nation

-This book will surely be studied with great interest by the lay reader... [I]t presents -a fascinating blend of scientific and historical research, humour, and stimulating opinion.-

--The British Medical Journal

-I had the fun of editing Hans's book Rats, Lice and History, that unique account of what infectious diseases had done to change the fate of nations.-

--Edward Weeks, The Atlantic "Zinsser's account of lice and men remains a delight. Written in 1935 as a latter-day variation on Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Zinsser's book gives a picaresque account of how the history of the world has been shaped by epidemics of louseborne typhus.....Zinnser's romp through the ancient and modern worlds describes how epidemics devastated the Byzantines under Justinian, put Charles V atop the Holy Roman Empire, stopped the Turks at the Carpathians, and turned Napolean's Grand ArmEe back from Moscow."

--Gerald Weissmann, Emerging Infectious Diseases

"This book... is listed among the best sellers. The style is delightful, and the subject matter very interesting... [It gives an] account of man's defeats and victories against epidemics... Those who have read Dr. Zinsser's articles will enjoy this book, and to otehrs it will be a pleasant surprise."

--Elizabeth Hard, The American Journal of Nursing

"No one who buys this book will feel cheated."

--H. M. Parshley, Nation

"This book will surely be studied with great interest by the lay reader... [I]t presents "a fascinating blend of scientific and historical research, humour, and stimulating opinion."

--The British Medical Journal

"I had the fun of editing Hans's book Rats, Lice and History, that unique account of what infectious diseases had done to change the fate of nations."

--Edward Weeks, The Atlantic "Zinsser's account of lice and men remains a delight. Written in 1935 as a latter-day variation on Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Zinsser's book gives a picaresque account of how the history of the world has been shaped by epidemics of louseborne typhus.....Zinnser's romp through the ancient and modern worlds describes how epidemics devastated the Byzantines under Justinian, put Charles V atop the Holy Roman Empire, stopped the Turks at the Carpathians, and turned Napolean's "Grand ArmEe "back from Moscow."

--Gerald Weissmann, Emerging Infectious Diseases

"This book... is listed among the best sellers. The style is delightful, and the subject matter very interesting... [It gives an] account of man's defeats and victories against epidemics... Those who have read Dr. Zinsser's articles will enjoy this book, and to otehrs it will be a pleasant surprise."

--Elizabeth Hard, The American Journal of Nursing

"No one who buys this book will feel cheated."

--H. M. Parshley, Nation

"This book will surely be studied with great interest by the lay reader... [I]t presents "a fascinating blend of scientific and historical research, humour, and stimulating opinion."

--The British Medical Journal

"I had the fun of editing Hans's book Rats, Lice and History, that unique account of what infectious diseases had done to change the fate of nations."

--Edward Weeks, The Atlantic "Zinsser's account of lice and men remains a delight. Written in 1935 as a latter-day variation on Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Zinsser's book gives a picaresque account of how the history of the world has been shaped by epidemics of louseborne typhus.....Zinnser's romp through the ancient and modern worlds describes how epidemics devastated the Byzantines under Justinian, put Charles V atop the Holy Roman Empire, stopped the Turks at the Carpathians, and turned Napolean's "Grand Armee "back from Moscow."- Gerald Weissmann, New York University

For more reviews, see goodreads.com.
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About Hans Zinsser

Hans Zinsser (1878-1940) received his doctorate at Columbia University and also was an instructor of bacteriology at Columbia University. Throughout his career he was also a professor at Stanford University as well as Harvard University. His scientific work focused on bacteriology and immunology and he is greatly associated with Brill's disease as well as typhus. Gerald N. Grob is the Henry E. Sigerist Professor of the History of Medicine (emeritus). He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and has been the president of the American Association for the History of Medicine.
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Rating details

396 ratings
4.08 out of 5 stars
5 40% (158)
4 36% (141)
3 19% (76)
2 4% (15)
1 2% (6)
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